A Tart! A Tart! My Kingdom For A Tart!

Well, I don’t suppose that was truly the line, but we unfortunately missed that particular part of Richard III last night.  Yesterday 9 of us got together in Bloomington, IL to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Ky, you should turn 30 more often 😉

It was a lovely evening with everyone contributing something for a picnic dinner of bread and wine and cheese, spinach salad, pasta salad, a giant sandwich, and of course I brought mini-tarts for dessert.

The grounds of the Ewing Manor are simply fabulous and it was a perfect evening for a picnic.

I had tucked some Off! in my bag, but didn’t even need to pull it out. There were wandering minstrels and a group stopped to sing Happy Birthday to K.

The down side of an open air theatre, is the chance of being rained out, particularly in the Midwest. That is exactly what happened to us, not long after intermission. I must say they chose a very good time to call the play off. Just as we arrived at the car, it started to really pour and we would have gotten on a good drenching had we still been in our seats.

Nevertheless, it was a fabulous evening. KT’s car is equipped with video so A and I got to watch The Reduced Shakespeare Company perform the complete (abridged) works of Shakespeare on the way home. It was hilarious! So, thanks, Ky for turning 30 and letting us participate in the celebration. Now, if I can just figure out another excuse to go back . . .

Gluten Free Picnic Fun

The end of May was a busy time for the Fruit Tart household — a farewell party, a reception for visiting friends, an end-of-year picnic for preschool, the blog’s birthday, and Tartlet 3’s birthday. For two of these I made trifle. At the end of April I made a trifle with Alton Brown’s angel food cake, but in May I made one with a store bought angel food cake and the other I made a gluten free angel food cake, based on Alton Brown’s recipe and method.

It didn’t have quite the same texture as a regular angel food cake, and it browned faster, but since I was tearing it up to make trifle anyway, the texture wasn’t a big detractor. I thought it had good flavor and because I didn’t use any rice flour there was no grittiness in the texture. I would definitely make this again for gluten free friends, but I might tweak the ratios of flours and use more tapioca and less potato starch or use a little white sorghum. Still, it was very popular when layered with Cool Whip and fresh fruit (strawberries, blackberries, mango, kiwi, and blueberries), and most people didn’t realize it was gluten free.

Gluten Free Angel Food Cake (adapted from Alton Brown’s Angel Food Cake)

1 3/4 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 c. potato starch
1/3 c. tapioca starch
1/3 c. corn starch
1/2 t. xanthan gum

12 egg whites (the closer to room temperature the better)
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a food processor or blender spin sugar about 2 minutes until it is superfine. Sift half of the sugar with the salt, starches and xanthan gum, setting the remaining sugar aside.

In a large bowl, use a balloon whisk to thoroughly combine egg whites, water, extract, and cream of tartar. After 2 minutes, switch to stand mixer. Slowly sift the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks, sift enough of the starch mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula fold in gently. Continue until all of the starch mixture is incorporated.

Carefully spoon mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry).

I Could Be Converted

Despite the fact that I’ve been on something of a cheesecake kick in the last couple of years, I’ve never been a big fan of cheesecake. I’ve made Chocolate Chip Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce, Marbled Cheesecake, Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Ganache, and Mint Chocolate Cheesecake. Although some people raved about the taste of them, I was fine if I didn’t get any. I think it was only the Turtle Cheesecake that could have made me a convert, but there was enough chocolate and caramel to not dwell on the cheesecake much. Still, I often make a cheesecake at Easter and this year was no exception.

I decided I wanted something slightly different but wanted to serve it with fresh fruit so I didn’t want an overpowering flavor. I went with Meyer lemons (Meijer Meyer lemons, as I noted when someone asked where to find them!) It wasn’t until after I had already started mixing my typical cheesecake mixture that I wondered, “What would Dorie do?” so I pulled down my Baking book and, sure enough, she talks about cheesecake, even lemon. She adds sour cream and/or whipping cream to her batter and bakes it differently than I have done in the past (in a hot water bath rather than just a pan of water on the rack beneath it) and for much longer. I decided that I would give this a go. Although I may have been a little hesitant to try new methods on such a big day, I trusted Dorie to not lead me astray.

I think one of the failures people have with making cheesecake is not allowing it to beat long enough. I’ve had several people tell me they still have lumps of cream cheese in their batter and I always encourage beating until smooth and creamy. I was pleased to note that Dorie recommends beating the cheese for 4 min and another 4 min after the addition of the sugar, as well as a full minute after the addition of each egg. Talk about smooth and well aerated!

For the baking, I wrapped the base of the springform pan with two layers of Al foil and then placed it inside my 13 inch cast iron skillet and poured boiling water into the skillet until it reached 1/2 – 2/3 up the side of the springform pan. Dorie has you bake the cheesecake in this manner for 1 1/2 hours and then leave it in the bath for another hour with the oven turned off and the door propped open with a wooden spoon. By the time I finally opened the oven door, there was little to no water left in the water bath, so I’m not sure how much benefit it actually had from that. My greatest disappointment was in how brown the top was, not at all like the creamy white cheesecake pictured in the book. I think in the future I would cover the cheesecake with a loose foil tent to prevent browning. Since I wanted to serve it with fresh fruit, I just used that and some whipped cream garnish to masque the brown top.  (The sides were creamy white, I didn’t cut anything off — the lines you see on the sides below are from running a hot knife around the sides to slip it from the springform pan.) But the texture! Ooooh, man, did this cheesecake have perfect texture! This could convert me to being a cheesecake lover.

Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Fresh Fruit (most of the directions come from Baking, pp. 235-237)

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 c. melted butter

Stir together ingredients. Press into the bottom and slightly up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 F. for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool while mixing the cheesecake.

Cheesecake:
4.5 8-oz packages of cream cheese, softened

1 1/3 c. vanilla sugar
1/2 t. salt
2 t. vanilla extract

4 large eggs, at room temperature

zest and juice of Meyer lemon

1 c. whipping cream

In a larger mixing bowl, beat cream cheese at medium speed until soft and creamy (about 4 min). Add the sugar and salt and continue to beat for another 4 minutes or until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a full minute after each addition. Add the zest and juice of lemon. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the whipping cream.

Cover the base of the springform pan with two layers of aluminum foil. Place the pan inside a larger pan. Pour the batter into the springform pan. It should reach nearly to the rim of the pan. Place the pans in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the outer pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top should be browned and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven and prop the oven door open with a wooden soon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lifte the spring form pan out of the outer pan — be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil — and remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

I decorated mine with fresh fruit and sweetened whipped cream about 12 hours after it was baked and about 12 hours before it was served.

American Black Forest Cake

I always thought Black Forest Cake had to have kirsch to be ‘real’ but learned today that it is common in America to leave it out and still call it by the same name. An example of ‘lost in translation’? At any rate, I wanted to make a chocolate layer cake and loved the idea of using cherries, but I didn’t have kirsch and thought it might turn off some of our Easter guests anyway. So while I called it a Black Forest-esque cake, presently I learn that it is simply the American version.

The chocolate cake wasn’t quite as dark as I thought it would be, but with the whipped cream as frosting rather than decorator’s frosting, the flavor of the cake comes through and isn’t squelched in a sugar bath. After smoothing the whipped cream on top of the cake, I wanted to give a hint of the chocolate lying underneath, so I sprinkled the top with shaved chocolate. The cake was hugely popular and will definitely be repeated, although I’d like to make it with kirsch next time. 😉

American Black Forest Cake

Dark Chocolate Cake (from Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Cookbook, 1985)

2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter (recipe calls for shortening)
3/4 c. water
3/4 c. buttermilk (I soured the milk with lemon juice)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. baking powder
2 eggs
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 2 round 9-inch pans. (I also use parchment paper on the bottom of the pan).

Beat all ingredients on low speed, scraping bowl constantly, 30 seconds. Beat on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally, 3 minutes. Pour into pans.

Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 minutes or so. Cool cake 10 minutes; remove from pans.

Filling:
1 pint whipping cream, whipped with 1 t. almond extract
1 can cherry pie filling

Fold the pie filling into the whipped cream.

Frosting:
1 pint whipping cream (may need another 1-2 c. for decorating, if piping is desired)
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 t. almond extract

Whip ingredients together until stiff.

Assembly:
Slice the cooled cakes in two, as evenly as possibly. Place one cake layer on the plate, spread with filling. Repeat with two more layers. Top with final cake layer. Frost with sweetened whipped cream and garnish as desired.

My Daring Valentino

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

I made the flourless chocolate cake part of the challenge twice. The first time, I used Nestle milk chocolate chips and baked them as cupcakes to be served alongside the gluten free cupcakes for Tartlet 4’s preschool party. They were very good, despite lacking the strong chocolate flavor. I piped a little whipped cream in the center and topped them with the same orange buttercream frosting I used for the other cupcakes. They were quite popular.

The second time around I used Scharffen Berger chocolate, combining 62% and 70% cacao, and I baked these in heart shaped molds. I think I overbaked this batch slight as they were a little drier than I would have liked, but the flavor was very good.

The second part of the challenge was a bit more involved for us. And here I include The Husband.  Last fall he went to an auction and picked up an ice cream maker for $1, more interested in the motor the guy had innovatively installed than in the ice cream maker itself. It is a White Mountain 6 qt hand crank but had been left in a garage for years, leaving the bucket quite dry. It leaked like a sieve so The Husband sat outside cranking that thing for 2 hrs, eventually putting on his insulated coveralls when the snow flurries started. It still wasn’t solid, so we left it outside overnight (25 F) and the next morning he and Tartlet 1 put it in containers to freeze. After a few hours in the freezer, it became firm.

Because I was using a 6 qt freezer, I didn’t follow either of the recipes given in the challenge but modified one I found online. It is soooo rich and creamy! The Tartlets are certain we should never buy ice cream again but only make it. The good news is the bucket finally seems to have absorbed enough water to no longer leak so it should work faster next time! 😉

Thanks to Wendy and Dharm for a fun and tasty challenge! Recipes after the jump. Continue reading

Chocolate Pecan Pie

I’ve been in a chocolate mood lately. It’s not all bad. 😉 Lately I’ve been baking a few repeats, such as mint brownies, but Saturday night I made this chocolate pecan pie. It wasn’t as popular with the Tartlets as the apple pie, but that’s not all bad, either! I’ve made this before and added a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier or Cointreau to the batter and that’s a very good variation.

Fudgy Pecan Pie

9-inch pie pastry, I used my usual recipe

1/3 c. butter
1/3 c. cocoa

2/3 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 c. light corn syrup

1 c. chopped pecans

1 c. pecan halves

Prepare pastry shell. Set aside. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In medium saucepan over low heat melt butter, add cocoa and stir until mixture is smooth. Then remove from heat. Cool slightly. Stir in sugar, salt, eggs and corn syrup. Blend thoroughly. Stir in chopped nuts.

Pour into pastry shell. Place pecan halves on top. Bake 40-45 minutes. Cool. Garnish with whipped cream, if desired. Serves 8.

Hay, Hay, It’s Donna Day In Deuces!

How did we get so lucky? In the last HHDD event (the wonderful tribute to Donna Hay facilitated by Bron Marshall) there were two winners, so each selected a recipe for twice the Donna Hay pleasure (and even in two languages)! Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? (perfect blog title!) chose a chicken satay for us, while Tartasacher of Mil Postres (thousand desserts, I love it!) selected a lovely grilled fruit with yogurt. It was the perfect pair for our lunch today.

At our house, anything that screams ‘Meat On A Stick’ sounds like a winner. I tweaked the Donna Hay recipe slightly to match what I had in the kitchen and it turned out so perfectly I’m afraid the kids will ask me to make it again and I won’t be able to repeat it! Tartlet 1, who naturally tends toward carnivorous behavior, ate *six* skewers of meat (seriously, that’s as much as pictured above!). Instead of cashews I used pistachios and I added some grated lime rind to the marinade, giving the resulting skewers an odd green tinge that wasn’t entirely appetizing at first look, but the taste was wonderful. My other modifications were minor. Thank you Meeta for choosing a winning recipe that is sure to be repeated in our house.

For the grilled fruit and yogurt, I had intended to make something slightly different but the bottle of nutmeg that I *know* I purchased this week could not be found. No doubt someone will find it in the potato bin next week or in the drawer with yogurt cups or something absurd! Instead I used the cinnamon as called for in the recipe but found other ways to make it unique.

Because I was using my homemade yogurt, made this time with whole milk, rather than a thicker commercial yogurt, I didn’t mix it with cream. I added the sugar and cinnamon and then grated some orange rind into the bowl, not bothering to clean the grater after the lime I had used in the chicken marinade, so there were bits of lime zest also. It had a lovely flavor. The kids who thought they weren’t going to like this dessert at all were practically licking their plates to get the last drops!

The sugar grilled fruit would work fabulously for dessert for two, but was a bit more time consuming for six. I was using a smallish pan and opted to only clean it after every two batches rather than after each one. I was also finding the sugar was not adhering symmetrically to the fruit so after a couple of batches I started just sprinkling some sugar in the bottom of the pan, placing the fruit slices on top, and sprinkling the tops with a little more sugar. That worked very well for me. I chose two varieties of apples — Jazz (oh, YUM!) and Pinata (not as spectacular but good), pears, and peaches for my fruit. Although I originally chose those because I like them with nutmeg, they also work fabulously with cinnamon and orange. As I said, we were all scraping up the last bits of our dessert today. Thank you, Tartasacher, for a fabulous simple dessert that the kids have already requested that I not only make again, but teach them to make also!

Recipes after the jump. Continue reading