Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ful Medames (fava puree)

I have split and peeled fava beans in my pantry, and they are generally there for one purpose only: to make falafel. This is a noble purpose, enough to warrant them permanent residence on my over-full shelves. But still, it seems a little silly. I can't but wish I had something else I could do with them. Which is why I was quite excited to come across a recipe for ful medames.

Ful medames are a beloved Middle Eastern fava bean preparation. Not the ridiculous-amount-of-work fresh favas, but the fully mature beans, cooked into a simple yet satisfying dish. I'm a big fan of the dish, but pretty much exclusively from a can. My local Middle Eastern store stocks a full shelf of ful cans with enthusiastic banners on the label — Egyptian style! Saudi style! Palestinian style! — each a slight tweak on whole or pureed beans, maybe some cumin, lemon juice, possible garlic or tomato paste. I love em all. But while the can is easy-peasy, I figured fresh was best. And cheapest. Also: I had the favas on my shelf.

And so I tried this recipe. And I liked it. It's sort of like a tweak on your usual hummous, but with the favas' slightly deeper flavor (and, thanks to the dried beans being peeled and split, quicker cooking time). I soaked the beans overnight, then simmered them up to a mush (which I then pureed into an even smoother mush). Garlic, tomato paste, and lemon juice give it a nice balance, but really the fun comes in the toppings. I brought it to a brunch (as this dish is actually a common breakfast offering in the region), and sprinkled on some olive oil, cilantro leaves, and the *sniffle* last of the garden tomatoes. But you could just as easily go with a dollop of tahini, drizzle of yogurt, or sprinkle of aleppo pepper or sumac. With favas as your canvas, it's hard to go wrong.

Ful Medames (split fava puree)

adapted from Ya Salam Cooking
yields ~2 cups

1 cup dried split fava beans, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt to taste
toppings: cilantro leaves, chopped tomato, olive oil, plain yogurt

Place the beans in a pot with water to cover by an inch or two. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beans are totally soft, ~30-40 minutes. Halfway through, add the tomato paste and garlic cloves.

When the beans are cooked through, drain off the excess water, and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the cumin and lemon juice, and a bit of salt, and process until smooth.  Taste and adjust flavors — feel free to doctor it up to your taste (and keep in mind the lemon will fade upon standing).

Transfer the ful into a bowl (I like to create a bit of a depression, so as to better contain what's coming next), and top with any or all of the toppings. Scoop up with wedges of pita bread.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Horns

When you move, there are things you miss immediately. The local market, the friends you cooked dinner with, the bar where you ruled at trivia. And then there are things that, years later, you suddenly realize oh wait! Where did that go? Has it literally been years? Seriously, why is it that no bakery around here seems to be selling almond horns?

Now, it's possible I'm just looking in the wrong places (a side effect of not liking to venture too far from my house). But it's also possible that the by-the-pound Italian bakeries of my New York youth just don't exist here. Which would be a shame. Especially when it comes to chocolate-dipped almond horns.

These cookies are lovely. Just lovely. And, requiring a tube of almond paste for just a half dozen cookies (large, but still), they ain't cheap. And yes, you can make your own almond paste (more on that later). But they're worth it. So when I came into a tube of the stuff thanks to a generous friend, I knew just what I wanted to make.

The almond paste (reinforced with almond meal and sliced almonds) creates a cookie that is rich and moist, but not overly sweet. That's what the glaze is for. They're so, so perfect for enjoying with a cup of coffee. I hid the leftovers in the freezer, where they stay perfectly fresh (and, if you're generous, at the ready should you want to treat an unexpected visitor). As a huge trafficker in nostalgia, I of course still miss the bakeries (sfogliatelle, anyone?). But honestly, this recipe is just as good. Maybe better.

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Horns

adapted from Love and Olive Oil
yields 6 large cookies

8 ounces (about 3/4 cup) almond paste (not marzipan)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten in a small dish
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons almond meal or almond flour
~3/4 cup sliced almonds (they'll toast up in the oven, so no need to pre-toast)

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pat of butter
squirt corn syrup (optional, but makes for a nice gloss)
generous 1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate


Line one baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease well and hope for the best. Set aside.

In a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, break almond paste into almond-sized chunks. Add sugar and 3 tablespoons of the beaten egg whites (reserving the remainder), and mix on medium-low speed until a smooth, sticky dough is formed, with no lumps. Add almond flour and mix until combined.

Whisk 1 tablespoon of water into the remaining tablespoon or so of egg whites, and set aside.

Pour the sliced almonds onto a shallow dish or plate. Take 1/6th of the dough, shape into a rough ball, and drop onto the plate sliced almonds. Roll, using the almonds to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands, into a 4-inch log. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and gently shape into a crescent, pressing down to flatten slightly. Repeat with remaining dough.

Let cookies sit, uncovered, for 30 minutes, to dry out slightly. As they're drying, preheat your oven to 375° degrees Fahrenheit. When the cookies are ready, brush with the remaining egg white mixture. Bake for ~15 minutes, or until bottoms and almond edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool on cookie sheet while you prepare the glaze (if the bottoms are too brown, you can transfer to a rack to cool — but be careful, as they're delicate while warm).

When the cookies are cooled, make the glaze. Place the cream, butter, corn syrup and chocolate in a dish, and melt on low in the microwave in 10-second bursts (alternately, melt carefully in a saucepan or, less carefully, a double boiler). Cool slightly, and dip half the cookies into the glaze (or sort of spoon it over the top). Return to the baking sheet, and let sit for 30 minutes until glaze is set (or longer, depending on the temperature — you can place in the refrigerator to speed the process). Enjoy immediately, or transfer to an airtight container or the freezer.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Salmon Gefilte Fish Terrine

There are some novelists who seem to write the same book over and over. Whether it's a lost child, a distant parent, a romance soured — the titles may change, but the themes stubbornly persist. It's as though they try to move on to new ideas, but these tropes push their way in and demand to be reworked again and again, until they finally are made right. And I know how this is. I'm the same way with gefilte fish.

My gefilte fascination has become something of a running joke. I tell stories of West Coast variations, and Russian gefilte history. I make fancy chefs and scholars eat several variations. You would think that I would run out of gefilte stories to tell. But please. There are always more.

This year, as the Jewish holidays approached, I explored the surprisingly rich story of the sweet-savory gefilte divide. But you can't eat a story. And so, when it came to my own holiday table, I had find a new way to bring the gefilte to the plate.

I've long been fond of this smoked gefilte fish recipe, yielding patties that are both smoky and delicate. But I was ridiculously busy this week, and didn't quite have the time to shape and steam round after round of hand-shaped patties. And so when I saw a recipe for a single gefilte terrine made in a bundt pan — not to mention using our local West Coast salmon — I was sold.

But, of course, I couldn't resist changing the story a bit. I added some smoked fish and scallions, as I love what they add to my other variation. And instead of grating, I simmered and pureed the carrots, to integrated them a bit more fully into the mix. I dropped the dill and mustard, to better let the fish flavor come through (and allow it to better pair with a carrot-citrus horseradish). And it was delicious. I may just tell this same exact gefilte story next year.

Salmon Gefilte Fish Terrine

adapted (heavily) from Joan Nathan, via Tablet Magazine
yields ~ 15-20 slices

2 carrots, peeled and chunked
3 tablespoons olive or other oil, plus addition for topping the terrine
3 medium onions, peeled and diced
1 bunch scallions, sliced
2 pounds salmon fillets, cut into large (~2 inch) cubes
1 pound cod, flounder, rockfish, or whitefish (I used Oregon petrale sole), cut into cubes
1/2 pound smoked whitefish or mackerel (this gives a subtle smoked flavor — if you prefer, you can swap out more smoked fish for some of the fresh white fish, but you'll want to reduce the salt to accommodate)
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons matzo meal
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place the carrot chunks in a small saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are quite tender, ~7-10 minutes. Set aside.

While the carrots are simmering, pour the oil into a large saucepan or Dutch oven, and bring to a medium-high heat. Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring, until soft and translucent but not browned, ~15 minutes (lower heat as needed to keep them from coloring). When done, stir in the scallions, cook for another minute, then turn off the heat. Let cool slightly.

Drain the carrots, and place them in a food processor, along with the onions and scallions. Puree until smooth. Toss in the eggs and matzo meal, and pulse to combine. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Place all of the fish in the bowl of the food processor, and pulse until reduced to small bits, but not totally pureed (you want a bit of texture). Transfer this to the mixer bowl with the onions and carrots. Add the eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper, and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes.

While the mixture is beating, preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Grease a large Bundt pan, and find a casserole dish that it can fit inside. Heat a kettle of water until it's not quite boiling.

When the fish mixture has beaten,  pour it into your prepared Bundt pan, then place the pan in the casserole dish. Smooth the top of the mixture with a spatula, and pour a little bit of oil over the top, then cover tightly with foil.

Place the pan-in-dish in your preheated oven, then carefully pour some of the warm water (not boiling hot, lest you shatter the pan) into the casserole dish, until it comes a few inches up the side of the Bundt pan. Bake for one hour, or until the center seems solid.

When the terrine is cooked, remove from the oven, and remove the Bundt pan from its water bath. Let the terrine cool for at least 20 minutes, and up to about an hour. When cool, slide a long knife around the inner and outer edges (both!) of the pan to free the terrine, then invert onto a flat serving plate. Cover, and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Slice and serve with horseradish. Keeps up to five days.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

There are so many little niceties that fall by the wayside of modern life. But really, they only take a few minutes, and they can turn someone's day around. Get-well cards. Sickbed food deliveries. And don't get me started on thank-you notes. Do I sound like a grandma? Well, let me make you a pot of soup.

I can get as wrapped up in my busy life as the next person. But lately, I've been trying to step up in these little ways. I happened to have a get-well card on hand the other day (because I could not resist a letterpressed illustration of a dog in the Cone of Shame), and so it just took a few minutes to write a note to a friend who broke her ankle (also, Portland has overnight local mail delivery, which always seems like something of a modern miracle). Then the other day, a friend posted that he had a miserably high fever (he described his state as 'writhing'). And since this is a friend who's helped me out many times, I couldn't sit back. So I channeled my inner grandmother, and made up some matzoh ball soup.

But there was one complication — despite what the calendar may say, summer is still kind of in effect. And, in the midst of hot, sunny days, a bowl full of my usual dill-and-garlic, parsnip-filled standard just seemed a bit too much. So when sickbed duty called, I gave matzoh ball soup a summer update. And it turns out to be delicious.

I threw my frozen bag of vegetable trimmings in the stockpot, with a few additions and subtractions to create a sunny broth heavy on the carrots, garlic and parsley. Then I shaved the kernels off a few ears of corn, and threw the cobs in to simmer as well. I used my standard matzoh ball recipe (also grandparental in origin), but gave it a similar summer update with a mix of chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil. I kept the simmered carrots for a bit of depth, but rounded the soup out with those oh-so-summer corn kernels, and a few halved sungold tomatoes, both floated in the soup right before serving. And then topped the whole summery mess with another dose of those fresh herbs.

The resulting hybrid is clearly matzoh ball soup, full of all that healing goodness. But it's lighter and brighter, perfect for a warm sickbed evening. My grandmother would be proud.

And speaking of trying to be half the people our grandparents were, I recently produced a radio story about learning to be a man in prison (and beyond). You can take a listen over at NPR.

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

yields 1 generous sickbed delivery, plus a few bowls for yourself

Matzoh Balls:
5 eggs
1/2 cup neutral oil, like canola
~3/4-1+ cups matzoh meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
~2 teaspoons salt
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill, and basil

To Finish:
~2 quarts broth (homemade is nice, but if you've got a premade broth you can simmer it with the peelings from your carrots, a few garlic cloves, and the corncobs)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
corn shaved off of 2 ears
~12 sungold tomatoes, halved
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil, mixed together

To make the matzoh balls: Whisk together the eggs and oil. Add as much matzoh meal as needed to make a texture somewhat like thick mud — you want it to have some body, but not thick enough to even mound on a spoon (the mixture will firm up upon standing). Stir in the baking powder, salt, pepper, and chopped herbs. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed (it should be fairly salty). Chill for at least 10-15 minutes.

While the matzoh ball mixture is chilling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Check the chilled mixture — if it's not firm enough to just scoop after resting, add more matzoh meal, and let rest a bit longer. Shape matzoh balls of your desired size with a small ice-cream scoop, two oiled spoons, or oiled hands, and plop them directly in the simmering water. Turn the heat down just enough to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally to rotate, for at least 30 minutes. They're done when you can cut them open to reveal a ball that's fully cooked through. When done, turn off the pot, and let them cool in the water.

While the balls are resting/cooking, pot the carrot coins in a small pot, and add water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until fully tender, ~20 minutes. Let cool.

To serve, add the carrots (and their delicious cooking liquid!) to the broth. Remove the matzah balls with a slotted spoon, and add to the broth. Heat everything up, and add the corn and tomatoes (just a small bit for each person) for the final minute or so, until just heated through. Ladle into bowls, and top each serving with a smattering of fresh herbs. If you're bringing this as a sickbed delivery, it's best to package the tomatoes and corn together, and the fresh herbs in a separate parcel as well, so that they each can be added later to preserve their fresh taste.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn

This salad. Oh, this salad. It's substantial, light, and totally summer. It's the salad that was demolished — but demolished — at a recent party, causing a friend to declare that I had "won the potluck."  It's the salad you should make right now.

This comes from the cookbook Vibrant Food, and it more than lives up to the title. Cooked rice (brown basmati in this case, so it's even all fiber-ful and healthy) is tossed with a spicy-tangy puree of cilantro, parsley, fresh green chile and lime (juice and zest, for even more zip). Then topped with fresh corn — the recipe called for grilled, which would go with the salsa verde flavors, but I can't resist the juicy pop of just shaving the stuff right from the cob. Also, I am lazy. Then add some sliced sweet nectarines, and crumble of creamy-salty cheese.

I have seen this on several blogs recently, and each time the picture looks just as delicious as in the cookbook. Even my lousy cellphone pic of a half-eaten platter still looks tasty. And it tastes even better than it looks. It's easily doubled for potlucks, and makes an amazing packed lunch. And yes, I know the food of every season has its charms. But this salad, all zippy and tangy and sweet and juicy? It's a taste of summer that will be a bit hard to leave behind.

Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn

adapted from Vibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes and Colors of Each Season, by Kimberley Hasselbrink
serves 4-6 (double for a potluck)

1 cup brown basmati rice
1 2/3 cups salted water
heaping 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional leaves for garnishing
heaping 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus additional leaves for garnishing
1 small jalapeƱo or serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
zest and juice of 1 good-sized lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ears fresh corn, shaved from the cob
2 medium-ripe nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a small pot, combine the rice and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Simmer, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Let the rice stand for a few minutes, then fluff. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

When the rice has cooled, transfer it to large bowl. In a blender, combine the cilantro, parsley, hot pepper, lime zest and juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Blitz, scraping down as needed, until it makes a smooth mixture (if you can't get things to liquify, add a spoonful of water as needed to get things to catch). Plop this salsa over the rice, scraping out every last delicious bit, and mix to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed (the feta will add some salt, but you want it to be flavorful). If you're making the dish in advance, refrigerate the rice at this point, and then let it come to room temperature before serving.

To finish, transfer the rice to a serving dish. Top with the corn, then the nectarines and feta, and garnish with the additional parsley and cilantro leaves if desired. Serve.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pistachio Piecrust Pinwheels

These cookies started out as one of those delicious little accidents. I was slated to get together with a new friend, and both of us, short on weekday inspiration, listed off some of our neighborhood go-tos. Pleasant walks and dinners and parks, to be sure, but a bit of the usual rut. And then, in a last-minute burst of inspiration, we decided to drive out for a sunset picnic in the Columbia River Gorge.

Portland proper has many undeniable charms and green spaces. But the gorge, cutting between Oregon and Washington, is just ridiculously breathtaking. And I easily forget that in just a half hour or so, you can be taking in a scene so dramatically, panoramically staggering it makes your heart explode a little bit.

The Vista House is a little turban of a building on a summit of the gorge, intended by its builders to be “an observatory from which the view both up and down the Columbia could be viewed in silent communion with the infinite.” Sounds about right. But with the destination set, and just a few workday hours remaining before we set out, I needed to figure out what to bring.

My friend Adrian did the heavy lifting, promising some leftover pizza, smoked salmon, and a bottle of wine that we ended up bashing the cork into due to our failure to remember a bottle opener (leaving us with some fibrous bits and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment). I didn't have enough time to hit the store, so I shopped in my kitchen. I grabbed a couple of carrots, a bag of cherries, a jar of pickles fermented by a friend, and a few squares of chocolate. But it didn't seem like I was quite pulling my weight. And then I remembered the small lump of pastry dough, left over from my recent spate of tart-making.

So I rolled out the dough, and sprinkled it with a generous sanding of coarse sugar, and some roughly-bashed cardamom seeds and finely-chopped pistachios. Because I only had a small lump of dough, I ended up with delicate little cookies, just an inch-plus in diameter. But they're actually kind of fun that way. Just teensy little spirals, a lovely match for a saucer of tea.

Or, in this case, a picnic. These perfect little rounds capped off a perfect little evening, full of open-hearted talks and breathtaking beauty and a reminder of how open the world can be. The unexpectedness of these cookies — and of the shape of the evening itself — made everything all the sweeter. 

Pistachio Piecrust Pinwheels

As you can see, this is more of a template than a recipe (as seems to be a trend lately), easily adapted to whatever amount of pastry you have on hand.

leftover pie/tart dough (I used the cookie-like pate brisee, but standard piecrust will make for a nicely flaky variation)
coarse sugar
cardamom seeds, pounded to not-too-big bits in a mortar and pestle
pistachios, finely chopped
egg, beaten with a pinch of salt and splash of water/milk (optional)

On a lightly floured countertop, roll out your leftover dough to a rectangle that is about 5 inches high, and 1/4-inch thick (the length needed to achieve these dimensions will vary based upon how much dough you've got). Sprinkle the dough with a generous sanding of sugar, then the cardamom seeds and pistachios to your taste (the cardamom seeds are fairly strong, so don't go too nuts with those). Then roll up the dough like a jelly roll, tightly, making sure the end seals. Wrap the dough tightly in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about half an hour.

When the dough is almost finished chilling, preheat your oven to 400° degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or just grease it, and set aside.

Take your chilled log of dough, and place it on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/4-inch pinwheels. Transfer to your prepared cookie sheet, and repeat with remaining dough. If desired, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle with additional sugar. Bake until lightly golden, ~10-12 minutes. Let cool, then pack for your picnic.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fresh Fruit Tart

There's nothing like making a recipe over and over (and over and over) until you get it down. Grandmothers who bake biscuits every Sunday or challah every Friday don't have to think about recipes — they have the technique in their fingers. They sprinkle in extra flour if it's damp, or less if the eggs were large, knowing without even thinking how things should feel. I once read a story about culinary school in a sweet little now-defunct food zine, where the author mentioned her terror at the beginning of egg-poaching day. "I don't really know how to do that well," she admitted. "Just think," her instructor enthused, rolling out a rack with dozens upon dozens upon dozens of eggs, "after today, you're never going to be able to say that again."

This mastery can sometimes be out of reach, for those of us who didn't go to culinary school, or are enthusiastic generalists rather than single-minded specialists. But, if I do say so myself, after a rather deep-diving month, I must say that I feel I know the fresh fruit tart backwards and forwards.

The inspiration for this obsession was a friends' wedding. The couple asked if I'd be willing to make up six fruit tarts, to round out a dessert table that ended up including 3 delicious half-sheet cakes, and a small vegan and gluten-free layer cake (adorably iced with the words "vegan and gluten-free"). These are good people, with an appreciation for good food (and good stories — the bride and I co-produced this piece last year), and a love that deserves a beautiful fruit tart. Or six of them. But in order to make desserts worthy of the occasion, I needed to call in some advice.

My friend Olga coached me through my initially slumping crusts, and Adrian provided additional advice (and even offered to let me break into her home while she was on vacation to borrow some tart pans). The former pastry chef who teaches my Women on Weights class fielded far, far too many questions in the 60-second bursts allotted each station, and shared a pastry cream recipe using some whole eggs (meaning I was only left with two- rather than three-dozen leftover yolks at the end). Multiple friends (bride included) loaned tart pans, and tasted versions along the way. And then, the night before, when I realized holycrap I've been focusing on recipes and don't even know how these things should look, Leela and Rebecca graciously responded to my last-minute freak-out ("Abundance is key to a beautiful tart. Some pics to describe my philosophy are attached. Almost no pattern is needed, just go MORE xoxo"). Mastering the fruit tart clearly takes a village.

With this mountain of input, and tart after tart, I just got good at things. These were lessons that came from other people's hard work and wisdom, a few failures, and, more than anything else, a mountain of butter and milk and eggs that let me just go at it until it was in my bones. And, while it's still tart season, I wanted to share some of the overall delicious lessons I've learned:

  • Freeze your rolled-out tart dough. I used to make tarts in a ceramic pan, which works well enough (especially for tarts that are filled prior to baking). But if you want wedding-worthy perfection, you need a metal pan that you can freeze. Not refrigerate. Not freeze "until firm." Freeze for an hour, at least.
  • Weigh down your tart dough. Yes, some of the magic recipes don't need to be baked with pie weights. But again, we're going for wedding perfection, sans slumping. Butter up some foil, line the dough (pushing down into the edges), and weigh it down. And use pennies! They're heavy, and they conduct (thanks, Olga!).
  • Do not use a nonstick pan. Aside from the perflourinated chemicals that just might kill you, these also shrink/slump much, much more than your standard metal pan.
  • Keep your dough from getting soggy. This takes two forms: don't actually assemble the tarts that far in advance, and brush the crust with some sort of barrier — you can use white chocolate (props to Gillian for that professional trick), or an egg wash brushed on the last few minutes of baking.
  • Fully cook your pastry cream. In the fear of curdling (which, if you're careful in integrating your ingredients, shouldn't be a problem), many bakers snatch their pastry cream off the stove before it's fully cooked through. You need things to bubble (while furiously whisking) for a good solid minute or two, allowing the cream to thicken and the starch to cook off any remaining raw taste.
  • Abundance! Leela is so right on this one. Summer (and weddings) are about love and bounty bursting forth, and you want your tarts to show the same. You really can't go too far. Fan out cut fruit to show its beauty, but this isn't the time for perfect spirals. You should have fans of fruit bumping up  against each other, going beautifully in multiple directions, covered over or propped up by other fruits, because the days are not full enough and the nights are not full enough and we are gathering the rosebuds while we may and all that. I took the Tartine trick of glazing the cut fruit (in this case, an assortment of peaches, nectarines and plums), but then tumbling the berries just as they are, which gave a nice mix of messy and polished.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. These tips, a distillation of all the good advice I received, will put you in a fine starting place. But there really is no substitute for getting it down, and the sixth tart will undoubtedly be a different animal than the first. The wedding definitely gave me a crash course, and I'm happy that I could add some additional sweetness to a truly beautiful night. But I'm going to keep at it. This may be some lifelong learning here. Which is fine with me.

Fresh Fruit Tart

crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, pastry cream from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (I ended up using a different one for the tarts, which used weights, which was better for my mass quantities and irregularly-sized farmer's market eggs, but this one is also delicious and great for the single tart), and a hundred other assists from the lovely folks listed above.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg yolk (since my eggs were on the smaller side, I used 1 yolk and 1 full egg per double batch, which worked well)
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt and splash of milk/water, for glazing

To make the crust: Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients, and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in (you want pieces between the size of oatmeal and peas). Add the yolk, and pulse in long pulses until it forms clumps and curds (just before this happens, the sound of the machine will change — head's up!).

When the dough clumps, turn it out onto a clean work surface or bowl, and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. Wrap the dough ball in plastic or parchment, and refrigerate for about two hours (and up to two days).

When the dough is chilled, butter a 9-inch tart metal tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out the dough to about an inch larger than your pan — it's easiest to do this between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment, peeling them back frequently so they don't get rolled into the dough. Press the rolled-out dough into your pan, folding over the sides to a double thickness and making sure everything is smooth and even. Freeze the crust for at least an hour.

When the crust is frozen, preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil, and place it, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Fill it with pie weights (pennies!). Place on a baking sheet (because the butter, it will drip out a bit), and bake for ~20-25 minutes, until lightly golden. Carefully remove the foil and weights. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon (or prick it with the tip of a small knife — not all the tines of a fork, or you may end up with a bigger hole). Bake the crust for another 5 minutes, then brush with an egg wash. Bake another few minutes, until firm and golden brown (color = flavor). Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature. If making a day in advance, wrap the crust in plastic wrap or slip into a bag once fully (and I mean fully) cool.

Pastry Cream:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided in half
pinch salt
1/2 vanilla bean (if you prefer, you can use 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead, stirred in with the butter, or a combination of the two)
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the seeds, and place both the bean and seeds in the saucepan. Cook over a medium heat, until the mixture just begins to steam.

While the milk is heating, in a large bowl whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch, then the yolks, mixing until smooth.

When the milk mixture is steaming, take about 1/2 cup of it, and, whisking constantly, slowly pour it into the egg yolk mixture, whisk-whisk-whisking until incorporated. Tempering! Repeat with remaining milk mixture, then transfer everything back into the saucepan. Raise the heat to medium-high, and, whisking constantly (notice a theme?), bring it just to a simmer. The mixture will thicken, but continue to cook 1-2 minutes when it's at the bubbling point. Remove from heat, stir in the butter, and fish out the vanilla bean. Transfer immediately to a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap or parchment, pressed directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.

To Finish:
lots and lots of fruit!
a relatively neutral jam or jelly (I used quince)
a few sprigs of mint or other fresh herbs

To finish the tart, take your chilled pastry cream, and whisk it until it becomes smooth again. Spread it evenly in your prepared tart shell. If you're using fruit that you're going to slice (stone fruits, pomes, supremed citrus segments, etc.), heat up 1/4 cup jam or jelly in a saucepan over a low heat, until it gets runny. Jam needs to be strained, but jelly is fine as it is.

Slice any fruits you're going to slice, and fan them on top of the tart in any patterns to your liking. Dip a pastry brush in the heated jelly/jam, and gently brush the cut fruit to keep it beautiful. Take any remaining fruit that doesn't need glazing (berries, cherries, currants, pomegranate arils, etc.), and scatter them generously in overflowing clusters. Tuck a few fresh herb sprigs here and there, and return everything to the refrigerator for an hour or so to set. Serve.