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 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

Week 11: well, even apple pie is sometimes a little forgettable…

I think the reason it’s taken me so long to post about last week’s pie is that it was perhaps the only pie that has disappointed me so far on this pie journey. It was a little forgettable, and so I considered not even posting about it. The perfectionist in me was thinking, why bother?

But that would be cheating. That would be against my mission statement. I promised I would present every single pie, good, bad, and just a little forgettable. Besides, I did learn a thing or two from this pie, not to mention it raised a pie mystery that I hope to solve in the weeks ahead. However, since I don’t want you going and making a pie that is less than worth it, I’m not going to bother posting the recipe. You get a picture, you get my musings, you get a great song, and that’s it!

Here’s what I think went wrong with this pie. I rushed. I really didn’t have time to be making a pie last weekend, but I tried to anyway. I didn’t have time because I was going with our friends to an amazing food event north of the city, called Foodstock. You can learn more about it here, and see some great pictures that really capture the spirit of the day here. In a nutshell, a mega-quarry is being planned on some of Southern Ontario’s more beautiful and productive farmland (genius, right?) and so chefs and musicians and local folk planned an amazing event to raise money that will be used to hire experts to help create the best plan to fight it. It was awesome and delicious and inspiring. I have to hope they have a chance to stop it. I grew up not too far from the proposed quarry site and the idea that more of this rich land could be devastated angers and saddens me profoundly. It was heartening to see so many people come together to say we need to start really thinking about the future of what is left of our landscape.

So, I rushed the pie for a worthy cause. I underbaked the pie and the apples did not have time to reach that luscious sort-of-falling-apart, melting caramely stage that is most desirable. I do not like it when the apples end up with a little crunch to them – it makes me think of grocery store apple pie. The flavour of the filling was good, but the texture was lacking.

Which brings me to the pie mystery. I sent the pie into the oven loaded up with apples. I really packed them in there. It looked bountiful as I draped the top crust over the fruit. However, after I took the pie out, I noticed that somehow in the baking process the top crust had set and the apples seemed to have shrunk away from it, leaving about an inch worth of sad, fruitless space between the top and the filling – a gaping black hole of sorts. This did not please me. Not one bit. This is a mystery to me. Aside from underbaking and using a different filling recipe (the same apples though), I can’t think what factor could have caused this. If you know, or if you have a good guess, please pipe up.

Finally here’s a great song, which I chose for this week because Sarah Harmer was at Foodstock, and she sang it that day. It brings tears to my eyes. (I didn’t cry over my mediocre pie though, just so you know!)

Week 10: Thanksgiving part two, in which we find a friend for our pumpkin pie

I didn’t want my pumpkin pie to be feeling all the pressure on our Thanksgiving table, so I did the only thing I could: I baked an apple pie too. I figured that my family of traditionalists would be satiated.

And so they were.

You know that saying, “we eat first with our eyes”? Well, this apple pie was something to behold:

Can’t you just feel the Thanksgiving love? (Don’t you wish your screen was scratch and sniff?)

I should have taken a side view shot, because the height of this pie really added to its promising, applause-worthy beauty. (Another reason I need to get myself more of these, I think). You can’t really see it in this picture, but this pie practically sparkled. All of the tiny grains of sugar sprinkled over the golden crust worked together to whisper at you, “Eat me! I am as tasty as I am beautiful!” This pie will make your loved ones be thankful that they have a pie maker in the family. Continue reading

Week 9: when cheddar cheese and an apple pie really love each other…

One of the very first pies I made when I was a teenager just starting to teach myself how to bake, was an apple pie with a cheddar cheese crust. The recipe came from a Gourmet magazine which made me feel a little snooty but in a good way, like I was starting to know things about the world of food that existed far beyond my middle-of-nowhere town. (Note: I loved that middle-of-nowhere town a lot, but it is a sad thing that I had never even seen – let alone eaten – an avocado until I was past twenty). It was a funny thing that I chose this recipe, because I had never gone for the slice-of-cheese-with-pie experience, and almost nobody in my family enjoyed that either. So I can’t say what inspired me to make this particular pie, but am I ever glad I did. Everyone loved it. Everyone thought it was pie heaven.

That pie taught me some of my first lessons about pastry, and it was a very forgiving place to start. It helped me discover that it really does matter the type of apple you use, that cold pie from the fridge can sometimes taste even better than warm pie, and that a deep dish pie is something extraordinary to behold. Making that pie made me feel proud, like I had accomplished something impressive and worth celebrating.

The Gourmet magazine is long gone, but thank goodness I copied the recipe into a notebook of my grandmother’s recipes a long time ago. This week I was inspired by that pie. I decided to try another cheddar crust apple pie and compare, but I’ll have to make the original before I tell you which one wins. If you like salty / sweet and if you like a slice of cheese with your apple pie, then you will certainly be satisfied by this pie experience. And the smell when it’s baking… lemony, cinnamon, apple-buttery goodness. It made me remember those first days baking in my mom’s kitchen.

Continue reading

Week 8: rustic apple crumb crostata (near)perfection


Funny that given I’m a perfectionist, the more I bake, the more I tend to fall in love with rustic baked goods. This is why pie suits me well I think. A gorgeous pie might have edges that are a little uneven here and there, and juices that bubbled up out of the crust unexpectedly while baking, and a little sag someplace or other and still, someone will look at it and say, “That’s one beautiful pie.”  Rustic perfection. That’s what I’m after every time I bake a pie.

The apple crumb crostata I made this week might have ended up near perfect, but along the way, I had my doubts. The dough was a little tricky to manage, very sugary and so quite granular and hard to manipulate without cracking. I had more crumb mix than I needed so some was fed to the compost troll and I had to add a bit of cornstarch to the apples to thicken the buttery liquid as it cooked. As the crostata baked, it spread quite a bit, leading me at one point to say upon opening the oven, “Man, you aren’t much to look at, are you?”

I am sorry apple crumb crostata. You proved me wrong. You proved that I shouldn’t be so quick to judge because you are in fact quite lovely to look at, in that rustic way I hope for whenever I send a pie into the oven. Not only that, you are exactly what I felt like making with my first basket of Ontario apples of the year. Can we be friends after all?

Before:

After:

I might be tempted to make this with the hazelnut crumb topping from my pear pie, just because I don’t think you can beat it, but this was pretty delish, as is. Thanks Martha. Continue reading