Week 18: mincemeat tarts, my holiday happy place

It’s been a struggle to get festive this year. No snow. Working until December 23rd. A really sick doggy who has been in the pet hospital and may not be home in time for Santa. I can’t say I’m feeling the spirit the way I usually do. Good thing I did almost all of my Christmas baking two weeks ago.

I can tell you that it’s pretty hard to eat one of my homemade mincemeat tarts and not at the very least taste everything that Christmas is supposed to be. Maybe if I eat six of them, I will suddenly feel uber-Christmassy? Hmmm…

I already shared my mincemeat recipe last week. I decided to go with Maury Rubin’s pastry recipe from his Book of Tarts. It’s so simple, and it is sugar-cookie delicate and delicious. Plus, you could roll it and re-roll it and keep on going and it’s still going to be just fine thank you very much. Here’s the recipe:

13 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp heavy cream

1) The butter needs to be cool but malleable. Put it and the confectioner’s sugar into a mixer and use the paddle to cream it until you can’t see the sugar any more. Scrape down the bowl.
2) Add the yolk and beat until blended. Scrape down the bowl again.
3) Add half of the flour and beat until it looks crumbly. Add the rest of the flour and the cream and beat gently until it sticks together.
4) Form the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic. Chill until it’s firm, about 2 hours.

As you can see, I made little tarts, but you could do larger ones, or even a full-sized tart. Just roll out the shells, chill them, and then fill to the top with the mincemeat. I baked mine at 350 for about 20-25 minutes.

Happy Christmas. All I’m really wishing for is a small Irish Terrier, 10 years and 8 months old, a little skinny, a little smelly, but a total sweetheart. I hope Santa delivers.

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Week 17: I made mincemeat. Just mincemeat. Crust comes later.

Normally, at this time of year I’d be making my traditional marzipan fruit cake. It’s a Nigella recipe, from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, and I lurve it for all of its squidgy booziness. It’s reminiscent of this cake which also looks delightfully tempting (and so pretty with those toasty almonds on top). But since this year is the year of pie, I had to look for another equally festive and fruity baking option. I admit that I considered making pie and fruit cake, but that madness did not last long. Good thing too, because there has not been so much running these days. Unless you count running from store to store with my Xmas list.

Have you made mincemeat? Do you even like mincemeat? I think it’s one of those polarizing foods. It’s hard to grow up with a British parent and not be on the pro-mincemeat team. This is the first time I’ve made it, and I think I chose well in the recipe department. I also made my own candied peel which is something I usually do at this time of year. It’s not hard, and it is infinitely better than the waxy stuff you often find in the store. I always use Martha’s recipe for my peel, so I guess it’s no surprise that I also turned to her for a mincemeat recipe. This one has no suet (veggie version or otherwise) which means it’s good for anyone who finds the idea of suet a little yucky. Making mincemeat will fill your home with the cozy scent of spices and fruit and booze, a.k.a. Christmas. I’m planning on turning the filling into tarts this weekend. Here’s the recipe… Continue reading

Week 16: I may not be in Paris, but I can still eat Tarte Tatin

When I go to Paris (the “when” makes it sound like I “go to Paris” all the time – just keep on thinking that), I always feel a little guilty and a lot like a tourist when I order Tarte Tatin. I can’t help but feel like I’m ordering something safe and predictable and I wonder how many real live Parisians actually order it when they’re out for dinner. As soon as I say Tarte Tatin, I imagine the waiter thinking, “Touriste!” in his/her head. Well you what, I don’t care. I don’t care because who could argue that caramel soaked apples against crunchy sweet crust is not worthy.

There’s this tiny bar in the Marais called au petit fer a cheval and it is an itty boite of a place with perfectly composed salads and the smallest terrace possible and what I think is the best tarte tatin a girl could hope to discover after shopping the streets of Paris. Here’s the place:

I love their Tarte Tatin so much because the apples are deeply caramelized. They are dark and rich and melty. Also, the crust is generous and thick against the apples and the whole thing is served with a dollop of creme fraiche that is as thick and tangy as sour cream. I tell you it is stellar. Plus you will feel oh-so-Parisian sitting out front if you are lucky enough to snag one of the 8 seats.

I’ve made the Tarte Tatin from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini a bunch of times, and it hasn’t let me down once. By the way, every recipe I’ve made from that little book has been worthy of repeating. You should buy it if you love all things French. Now I don’t pretend that this tatin is as good as the one I love in Paris, but it is a strong second. The apples are not as richly caramelized, and I’m thinking this might be because it’s harder to judge the darkness of the caramel if you’re using brown sugar. Next time I’m using white and I’m going to take the caramel a bit darker (and make more of it too, I think). I want the apples to be absolutely soaked with it, the colour of amber. The crust is delightfully easy to work with and retains its crispy bottom even after refrigeration. Plus, when you present it to people, they will think you slaved for hours and that you are a talented apple-arranger, and you can simply smile, shrug in an effortless and vaguely French way, and say “Merci.” Continue reading