“Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what’s to come. But that night, I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be. Other days. New days. Days to come. The thing is, we didn’t have to hate each other for getting older. We just had to forgive ourselves… for growing up.” (The Wonder Years)
Last week, the graduate student Piggy works with invited us over for dinner. There was a certain amount of mounting excitement and anticipation as the day arrived. We were all worked up over what to bring, and I was personally apprehensive about how best to act – afterall, the other guests would all be much older.
What would we talk about? What could I possibly say to a bunch doctorates or people with more degrees than names without sounding absolutely ridiculous? Despite the apprehensiveness, we decided on a Fruit Tart à la Dorie Greenspan and Joy of Baking.
During dinner, I couldn’t help but notice a sense of being out of place. The pace of the dinner could not have more different from our usual Family Dinner, where everyone and everything is chaos and laughter. This dinner was composed, contained, and very mellow. We conversed over wine and olives before dinner; and during dinner, the dialogue continued over frittata and rosemary potatoes, among other tapas. There was an almost overwhelming sense of control that Piggy described as slightly restrictive or repressive relative to Family Dinner.
I, for one, appreciated the European pace that allowed everyone to truly savor the food and appreciate the delicate herb flavors infused into the potatoes and frittata. There was an elevated level of food appreciation and sophistication that I think we lack at our Family Dinners but was ever present at this dinner. All-in-all, the whole experience made me feel old. Older. I am starting to appreciate dinners like this. It is a premature sign of aging. Uh-oh.
You think I over react. No – this just happened to be the apex of an already accumulating pile of indicators. I now come to understand the term “growing pains.” There is this new surge of emotions that I have to cope with and I don’t know how best to do it. Some people age gracefully; right now, I feel like that process is rather choppy and disjointed. I think about things I didn’t use to, and forget how to have fun and be spontaneous. It’s a real problem. Between work, home and the kitchen, I don’t do much else. I work seven days a week and I guess the monotony that comes with growing up is taking a real toll on me. And I don’t mean to complain and whine, because it is inevitable, I just wish that I was more in control of my personal growth – such as I could dictate the terms and means of growth rather than having it ramble about in a confused manner.
This dough was fairly easy to make, even for a novice like me. I did everything by hand as I don’t have a food processor at the apartment. But it worked out wonderfully. The dough itself is nutty and sweet and very tasty. The recipe makes enough for 3 9-inch tarts, so plenty of left over for another time as these freeze well.
2 1/2sticks (10 ounces; 290 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2cups (150 grams) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Lightly packed 1/2 cup (2 1/4ounces; 70 grams) ground blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (490 grams) all-purpose flour
By hand, blend butter and confectioners’ sugar well in a large bowl. Add the ground almonds, salt, and vanilla and continue to stir/mix until smooth. Separately, lightly fork the eggs and drizzle into the sugar/butter mixture while continuously stirring the bowl. Add the flour and mix only until JUST combined. DO NOT OVERMIX.
At this point, the dough should be very soft. Mine resembled cookie dough. Gather the dough into one mass and divide into three equal portions. Shape each portion into a disk and plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 4hrs-48hrs before rolling and baking. The dough can also be frozen for up to a month if wrapped air-tight.
When you are ready to roll out and bake: Working with one dough disk at a time (the others can be left in the fridge), place a sheet or two of plastic wrap on your work surface as the dough is rather sticky. I also placed another sheet of plastic between my Pom glass (in lieu of a rolling pin) and the dough to prevent sticking, flipping the crust over several times and redoing the plastic sheet to ensure there were no creases in the dough. Starting from the center of your dough dish, roll outward to the edges, applying an even pressure all the while. Roll until large enough for your pie tin, with excess fringe. If at any point the dough gets too soft to work with, place the entire dough sheet on a cookie sheet and refrigerate.
Remove one plastic sheet and center the dough (exposed side down) over the tart pan. Press the dough against the bottom of the pan and up the sides, removed the top sheet of plastic wrap and roll your rolling pin across the rim of the pan to cut off the excess. Use excess dough to patch up any cracks. Chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator before baking.
Preheat oven to 350*F. Line the crust with foil and fill with beans or rice to ensure even baking.
Depending on your needs (whether you need a partially baked or fully baked pie crust), bake for 20-30 minutes, keeping a vigilant eye after 20 minute mark. Before further working, remove crust from oven and allow to cool completely to room temperature.
We used this pastry cream only after my attempt at SK’s Strawberry Tart Cream failed. And it was fairly simple to make and didn’t require too much time. Just don’t speed up the process or you will end up with an unspreadable, lumpy mess. Take it easy and follow directions to a point. If there was ever a situation where directions were essential, I would say it would be for tart making.
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
1/8 cup (20 grams) all-purpose flour
Scant 3 tablespoons (20 grams) cornstarch
3/4 tablespoon (10 ml) liqueur (Grand Marnier, Brandy, Kirsch) (optional)
In a bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together. Do not let the mixture sit too long or you will get pieces of egg forming. Sift the flour and cornstarch together and add to the egg mixture, mixing until a smooth paste forms. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan combine the milk and split vanilla bean on medium heat until boiling. Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. If you get a few pieces of egg (curdling) in the mixture, pour through a strainer. Remove vanilla bean, scrape out seeds, and add the seeds to the egg mixture.
Place the egg mixture back into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly. DO NOT heat on high because it will thicken up too quickly and you will have a lumpy mess. When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30 – 60 seconds until it becomes very thick and it is hard to stir.
Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the liqueur (if using). Pour into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Cool. If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Beat before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.
Spread a thin layer of apricot glaze or melted chocolate over the bottom and sides of tart to prevent the crust from getting soggy. Allow the glaze to set for 20-30 minutes in the fridge. Spread the Pastry Cream into the tart, filling about 3/4 full. Level with an offset spatula.
To decorate: the freshest fruits of the season! And for once, looks matter! So, use bright fruits like berries, kiwis, mango, pineapple, whatever happens to float your fancy. We used thinly sliced kiwi and strawberries, whole blueberries and ribbons of mango. Arrange to your own fancy and design.
So this has been a terribly long entry. I realize that I am definitely a Tolkien, so I apologize for the verbosity and (at times) excessive details. As a side note, the non-tart pictures on this entry were taken that night either on the walk over to our friend’s apartment or at the apartment itself. I am still musing over that inevitable thing called ‘growing up’ and I find it bothersome and irritating. But as it is inevitable, I’m just going to let it run its course and try to muster up as much graciousness as possible to help the transition, all the while, keeping the heart young and spontaneous. So God help me.
Salutations from the Kitchen!