Classic Fresh Berry Tart

August 11, 2010

Margaux says..

When I graduated college, my mom and aunt Judy took me on a trip to France: one week in Paris and one week in Provence.  It was an amazing trip, and I can’t wait to go back…Paris is definitely my favorite city, out of all the cities I’ve visited.  The food was probably the best part for me…we pretty much planned our days around meals and restaurant locations.  But one thing that has always stood out to me (besides the croissants that we had in Montmartre) was the strawberry tart that I bought on a whim in a little pastry shop around the corner from our hotel.  Whenever you get a tart in the U.S., it looks beautiful, but there isn’t much flavor.  This tart tasted like it looked.  It was absolutely gorgeous, with ruby red whole strawberries coated in a glossy glaze, rich pastry cream, and the crust was the best of all–it was buttery, slightly sweet, and crispy.  I’ve never had a tart shell like it…it was almost like it was made partly out of graham crackers or maybe brown sugar.  Anyway, it lasted only about 1 minute, and I’ve never had one like it since.

I’ve been wanting to attempt recreating this tart since, but never really had the tools (no tart pan), and was a little bit overwhelmed by it.  I don’t know why…I make cakes from scratch often, and I’ve been making pies since I was about 12…but for some reason a tart seemed too daunting.  But within the past year or so, since my kitchen was remodeled and I’m baking more often again, it’s been on my mind.  Then my mom got me a tart pan for my birthday, so I started looking for recipes.  I went to my favorite source for trying something new, Cook’s Illustrated.  Their instructions are so specific and detailed for everything, so I always like to use their recipes for my new cooking endeavors.  This recipe claimed to be for a tart that tasted as good as it looked, unlike most bakery tarts, which was another reason I used it.

Since strawberries aren’t in season anymore, and the farmer’s market was overflowing with raspberries and blackberries, I went for a mixed berry tart.  It did taste as good as it looked!!  It was absolutely delicious.  The crust wasn’t the same as the one I had in France, and now that I’ve made one tart, I’m going to start trying others…but this crust was pretty perfect (nice and buttery, crispy and slightly sweet).

You definitely have to have some time on your hands to make this.  And the dough is pretty difficult to work with, so have some patience.  I had to stick it in the fridge after rolling it out because it wouldn’t come off the parchment, and then it was too stiff to roll onto my rolling pin, so I had to let it sit for a few minutes to soften again.  Also, next time I might lightly grease the aluminum foil before lining the pan with it and filling it with weights, because it was really difficult to lift out (it stuck in a few places and had me swearing a lot).  But it is all totally worth it, I promise!  Plan on making it for company, because after the first day, it isn’t as good (although it was edible…we had no problem finishing it up the next day.  :))

Classic Fresh Fruit Tart
from Cook’s Illustrated, July/August 2001

Makes one 9-9 1/2″ tart, serving up to 10

Chalazae are cordlike strands of egg white protein that are attached to the yolks–removing them with your fingers is easy and eliminates the need to strain the pastry cream after cooking.  The pastry cream can be made a day or two in advance, but do not fill the prebaked tart shell until just before serving.  Once filled, the tart should be topped with the fruit, glazed, and served within a half hour or so.

Pastry Cream
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch salt
5 large egg yolks, chalazae removed (see note)
3 tbsp cornstarch
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Tart Pastry (Pate Sucree)
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8 tbsp very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces

Fruit and Glaze
Fruit, unwashed
1/2 cup red currant or apple jelly

1. For the Pastry Cream:  Heat half-and-half, 6 tbsp sugar, and salt in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.
2. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in medium bowl until thoroughly combined.  Whisk in remaining 2 tbsp sugar and whisk until sugar has begun to dissolve and mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds.  Whisk in cornstarch until combined and mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.
3. When half-and-half mixture reaches full simmer, gradually whisk simmering half-and-half into yolk mixture to temper. Return mixture to saucepan, scraping bowl with rubber spatula; return to simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until 3 or 4 bubbles burst on surface and mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla. Transfer mixture to medium bowl, press plastic wrap directly on surface, and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 48 hours.
4. For the tart pastry: While pastry cream is chilling, whisk together yolk, cream, and vanilla in small bowl; set aside. Pulse to combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; pulse to cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1 second pulses. With machine running, add egg mixture and process until dough just comes together, about 25 seconds. Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and press into 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour or up to 48 hours.

5. Remove dough from refrigerator, let stand at room temp until malleable. Unwrap and roll out between lightly floured large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 13 inch round. (If dough is soft and sticky, slip onto baking sheet and refrigerate until workable, 20 to 30 minutes.) Transfer dough to tart pan by rolling dough loosely around rolling pin and unrolling over 9 to 9 1/2 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Working around circumference of pan, ease dough into pan corners by gently lifting dough with one hand while pressing dough into corners with other hand. Press dough into fluted sides of pan. (If some edges are to too thin, reinforce sides by folding excess dough back on itself.) Run rolling pin over top of tart pan to remove excess dough. Set dough-lined tart pan on large plate and freeze 30 minutes (can be sealed in gallon-sized zipper-lock plastic bag and frozen up to 1 month.)
6. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Set dough-lined tart pan on baking sheet, press 12-inch square of foil inside frozen tart shell and over edges and fill with metal or ceramic pie weights (dried beans or rice work just fine too). Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and carefully (VERY carefully) remove foil and weights by gathering edges of foil and pulling up and out. Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes longer. set baking sheet with tart shell on wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
7. To assemble and glaze the tart: When tart shell is completely cool, spread cold pastry cream over bottom, using offset spatula or large spoon. (Can press plastic wrap directly on surface of pastry cream and refrigerate up to 30 minutes.) Arrange fruit on top of pastry cream, following a design on page 22, if desired.
8. Bring jelly to boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to smooth out lumps. When boiling and completely melted, apply by dabbing and flicking onto fruit with pastry brush; add 1 tsp water and return jelly to boil if it becomes to thick to drizzle. (Tart can be refrigerated, uncovered up to 30 minutes.) remove outer metal ring of tart pan, slide thin metal spatula between bottom of crust and tart pan bottom to release, then slip tart onto cardboard round or serving platter; serve.

Cookie Showdown!

May 19, 2010

Margaux says . . .

Slate Magazine pittedCook’s Illustrated against food52 in a cooking/baking showdown, and of course I had to participate!!  I’ve always been a huge Cook’s Illustrated fan (as you have probably already figured out), and have subscribed to their magazine since I was in college.   I just learned about food52 when Aunt Suzy sent me the article about this competition, and signed up on the spot.  I’m still not 100% sure what they’re all about, but the website has great recipes, and I can’t wait to try some of them out.  The competition stemmed from the two entities coming from completely different places: Cook’s is “America’s Test Kitchen.”  They perfect recipes by testing them over and over, changing small things about them along the way, until they come up with the best.  Food52 is all about the “home cook.”  Its a website started by passionate cooks, who come up with their recipes in their own home kitchens.  So one recipe in the showdown has been tested over and over by professionals.  The other was developed by a home cook.

Just out of curiosity, and to make things interesting in my own house, I also baked a batch of my family’s favorite sugar cookie recipe, “Freaky Sugar Cookies.”  These are the cookies I grew up with, but hadn’t had in several years, and I wanted to see how they held up the professional’s recipes.

So on top of working my part-time job all weekend, I came home each night and baked 3 different batches of cookies.  And now we have sugar cookies coming out of our ears!  Add to it a late-night trek out to Whole Foods due to a missing ingredient, and I’ve had a very busy weekend.  Luckily the recipes were for sugar cookies, which are typically pretty easy to make.  Even the Cook’s recipe just took me a few minutes to whip up, despite having several more ingredients.

And the winner is….Cook’s Illustrated!!  And actually, Freaky Sugar Cookies were a very close second!    There were four testers: me, my husband Jason, my sister-in-law Mandy and her boyfriend Jorge.  The Cook’s recipe was a winner for three of us, but Mandy preferred the food52 recipe.  The Cook’s recipe was liked for both its texture and flavor.  It was crispy on the edges, very chewy on the inside, and was very subtly spicy and not too sweet.  The food52 recipe was too sweet in our opinion (which is why Mandy liked it), and had a cakey texture in the center that we didn’t like.  The flavor actually reminded us of snickerdoodles more than sugar cookies. The Freaky Sugar cookies were a perfect classic sugar cookie, and had an amazingly delicate and crispy texture.  Actually, I almost like them better than the Cook’s recipe!  The Cook’s barely ekes out the win for me just because they’re more interesting due to the spices.

For those of you who are only interested in sugar cookies as a vessel for your frosting, I wouldn’t recommend any of these.  I have a different sugar cookie recipe for that, which you HAVE to try.

(clockwise starting at Desi’s finger: food52, Cook’s Illustrated, mine)

The Recipes:

Cook’s Illustrated Chai Spice Sugar Cookies
Note: The final dough will be slightly softer than most cookie doughs. For best results, handle the dough as briefly and gently as possible when shaping the cookies. Overworking the dough will result in flatter cookies.

Makes two dozen cookies

2¼ cups (11 ¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
1 ½ cups (10 ½ ounces) sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch ground black pepper
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Set aside.

2. Combine 1 ½ cups sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and black pepper in large bowl; add cream cheese. Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in shallow baking dish or pie plate and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine. (Some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later.) Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft homogenous dough forms.

3. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces about 2 tablespoons each. Using hands, roll dough into balls. Working in batches, roll balls in sugar to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, 12 dough balls per sheet. Using bottom of drinking glass, flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops of cookies evenly with 4 teaspoons remaining sugar (2 teaspoons per tray), discarding any remaining sugar.

4. Bake, one tray at a time, until edges are set and beginning to brown, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets for 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

food52 Chewy Sugar Cookies #2

Serves about two dozen

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour (I use King Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup turbinado, or coarse sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two large sheet pans with parchment

2. Cream butter and sugars for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl. Continue beating for another minute. Scrape bowl again.

3. Add vanilla. Beat for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl.

4. Add egg. Beat for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl.

5. Add flour, salt and baking soda. Beat 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl and beat for another

6. Place course sugar in small, shallow bowl. Using a small cookie/ice cream scoop (mine is 1½ inches in diameter), scoop balls of dough, and drop a few at a time in the course sugar and gently roll around. Place balls of dough on parchment, leaving about 1½ inches of space around each. My pans fit 12 cookies very comfortably.

7. Do not press the balls down. This will ensure a chewy middle.

8. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, turning and reversing pans midway through baking. Resist the urge to bake your cookies longer, or they won’t be chewy. The tops don’t get much color but the bottoms will be nicely golden.

9. Place pans on cooling racks. When cool, store cookies in air-tight containers.

Freaky Sugar Cookies

makes about 2 dozen

Cream together:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar

1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Sift together and add:
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 cups flour

Form into balls the size of walnuts.  Roll in sugar.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Flatten with the bottom of a sugared glass to about 1/4″ thick.  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, until they start to brown around the edges.  Let cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

The dough will be very soft and a little difficult to handle, so be careful!

P.S.  I have a feeling that the food52 recipe is going to win based on all the comments from Slate Magazine readers.  A lot of people have issue with “snooty” Cook’s Illustrated.  I guess they didn’t know that Christopher Kimball is really just a huge food nerd, and not snooty at all!

Lemon Layer Cake

May 15, 2010

A few weeks ago, we hosted my mom’s retirement party, which of course is a reason to make a cake! I’ve been wanting to make this cake for years, but haven’t due to the numerous steps and seemingly complicated instructions. But I knew my mom was going to come up a day early for the party, which would mean I had someone to watch the little munchkin while I baked! And its spring, which is the perfect time for a lemon cake.

This cake was particularly appealing to me because of the lemon curd and the 7 minute frosting. My grandma Major used to make cakes with 7 minute frosting, and they were always so lovely. Yet the icing was always kind of sickingly-sweet, and wasn’t so lovely the next day. The article that went with this recipe advertised an icing not like the old-fashioned version, and my curiosity was piqued. I wanted the cake to be pretty like my grandma’s, but taste better. This definitely was the best 7 minute frosting I’ve ever had…it was sweet, light, and slightly lemony. It stayed beautiful for DAYS afterwords. And it was a perfect balance with the tart lemon curd filling. The cake was really delicious as well, and I think I’ll use this cake recipe again for vanilla cake lovers, and frost with a plain vanilla buttercream.

I made this cake the day before, and refrigerated it over night. If possible, I will make it the same day I served it when I make this cake again. The frosting and lemon curd were still perfect, but I’m not a huge fan of refrigerated cake…it wasn’t as light and fluffy as it was when I put the cake together.

Oh, and it wasn’t as complicated as it looked. 🙂

Lemon Layer Cake
(from Cook’s Illustrated, March 2007)

Lemon Curd Filling
1 cup fresh lemon juice from about 6 lemons
1 teaspoon gelatin (powdered)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon table salt
4 large eggs
6 large egg yolks (reserve egg whites for cake)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen

2 1/4 cups cake flour (9 ounces), plus extra for pans
1 cup whole milk , room temperature
6 large egg whites , room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar (12 1/4 ounces)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 12 pieces, softened but still cool

Fluffy White Icing
2 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon corn syrup

1. FOR THE FILLING: Measure 1 tablespoon lemon juice into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over top. Heat remaining lemon juice, sugar, and salt in medium nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot but not boiling. Whisk eggs and yolks in large nonreactive bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly pour hot lemon-sugar mixture into eggs, then return mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with heatproof spatula, until mixture registers 170 degrees on instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to leave trail when spatula is scraped along pan bottom, 4 to 6 minutes. Immediately remove pan from heat and stir in gelatin mixture until dissolved. Stir in frozen butter until incorporated. Pour filling through fine-mesh strainer into nonreactive bowl (you should have 3 cups). Cover surface directly with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm enough to spread, at least 4 hours.

2. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch-wide by 2-inch-high round cake pans and line with parchment paper. In 2-cup liquid measure or medium bowl, whisk together milk, egg whites, and vanilla.

3. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt at low speed. With mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs with no visible butter chunks. Add all but 1/2 cup milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. With mixer running at low speed, add remaining 1/2 cup milk mixture; increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium speed and beat 20 seconds longer. Divide batter evenly between cake pans; using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops.

4. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 23 to 25 minutes. Loosen cakes from sides of pans with small knife, cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto greased wire rack; peel off parchment. Invert cakes again; cool completely on rack, about 1 1/2 hours.

5. TO ASSEMBLE: Following illustrations below, use serrated knife to cut each cake into 2 even layers. Place bottom layer of 1 cake on cardboard round or cake plate. Using icing spatula, spread 1 cup lemon filling evenly on cake, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge; using cardboard round, gently replace top layer. Spread 1 cup filling on top. Using cardboard round, gently slide bottom half of second cake into place. Spread remaining cup filling on top. Using cardboard round, place top layer of second cake. Smooth out any filling that has leaked from sides of cake; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while making icing.

6. FOR THE ICING: Combine all ingredients in bowl of standing mixer or large heatproof bowl and set over medium saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water (do not let bowl touch water). Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and transfer mixture to standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and continue to beat until mixture has cooled to room temperature and stiff peaks form, 5 minutes longer. Using icing spatula, spread frosting on cake. Serve. (Cake can be refrigerated for up to 1 day before serving.)

The filling can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, but it will become quite stiff; fold it with a rubber spatula to loosen it before spreading onto the cake. For neater slices, dip a knife into hot water before cutting the cake. Leftovers can be stored covered in the refrigerator, with the cut side of the cake covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.

Brown Sugar Cookies

May 15, 2010

Margaux says

These are the BEST cookies I have ever made. Hands down. It helps that the recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated because they make things pretty much foolproof, they have such detailed instructions. As boring and mundane as the recipe sounds, its not…these cookies are rich and buttery, with a crispy outside and a chewy inside, slightly salty and perfectly sweet. Plus, they’re very easy and require just a few standard ingredients.

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (about 1 3/4 ounces)
2 cups packed brown sugar (14 ounces)
2 cups unbleached flour plus 2 tablespoons (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


1. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter to melt; set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large (18 by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. In shallow baking dish or pie plate, mix granulated sugar and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, rubbing between fingers, until well combined; set aside. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in medium bowl; set aside.

3. Add remaining 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and salt to bowl with cooled butter; mix until no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 1 minute. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed. 

4. Divide dough into 24 portions, each about 2 tablespoons, rolling between hands into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Working in batches, toss balls in reserved sugar mixture to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart, 12 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but it will take 3 batches.)

5. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned and still puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone; see photo below), 12 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.

6. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Checking Doneness:

Achieving the proper texture—crisp at the edges and chewy in the middle—is critical to this recipe. Because the cookies are so dark, it’s hard to judge doneness by color. Instead, gently press halfway between the edge and center of the cookie. When it’s done, it will form an indent with slight resistance. Check early and err on the side of underdone.