Rich Tart Dough

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I admit it. I’m sometimes scared of making pastry. Yes, it’s true. I would like to say my confidence is as high and secure as that of the most successful pastry chef, or even my late grandmother. But let’s face it. Usually when we have to make pastry it’s for a special occasion like Thanksgiving or Christmas or a celebratory summer gathering. So the pressure is on.

Here, though, is a recipe I have developed and used repeatedly for a variety of desserts and savory items. It is just right for folding over fruit to form a rustic tart; shaping a pretty unbaked shell for quiche; or, as the method below reveals, forming a perfectly golden prebaked base for a savory or sweet large tart or mini tartlets.

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Unlike traditional pie dough, this is a rich, almost cookie-like pastry. Slightly yellow in color from the egg yolk and just a bit sweet from a small amount of sugar, it bakes into a beautifully formed golden vessel.

As with all pastry, keep your ingredients cold and work quickly. As soon as the dough just starts to come together in the food processor (it will appear a bit crumbly and shouldn’t form a ball), turn it out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and set it aside to rest in the refrigerator. If the dough becomes too hard from chilling, let it set out for a few minutes until it is workable. If you need to prepare the dough ahead of time, this recipe will keep well in the freezer for about two months.

Makes enough for one 8-inch tart pan or 16 to 18 tartlet pans

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into about 1/4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons water

1 large egg yolk

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment. Pulse several times until the ingredients are incorporated. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. The pieces of butter should be no larger than peas or lentils.

Whisk together the water and egg yolk in a small bowl and, while pulsing the processor, gradually incorporate the liquid mixture. The dough might look dry, but should just begin to clump. If it does indeed appear too crumbly, drizzle in a bit more water. You don’t want the dough to gather into a ball, however. Drier is better here. Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, gather it into a flat disc, and wrap tightly. Set in the refrigerator to chill and rest for at least 20 minutes.

Butter sixteen to eighteen 2 1/2-by-3/4-inch tartlet pans and set aside on a large baking sheet. (Of course, you can use any size you prefer.)

Using about 1/2 of the dough at a time, roll it out on a generously-floured work surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into discs using a 2 3/4-inch round cutter. If you find the discs are becoming too soft, arrange them on a baking sheet and set in the refrigerator to chill a bit. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner, re-rolling the scraps, as necessary. Fit the rounds of dough into the prepared tartlet pans, pressing down the sides to create stability and removing any excess from the edges by scraping it off neatly with your fingers. Arrange the prepared tart shells once again on the baking sheet and set in the refrigerator to chill until fairly firm, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prick the bottoms of the formed tart shells, using the tines of a fork. (This will help prevent the dough from puffing in the oven.) Bake until the tart shells are golden brown and fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool at least to warm before carefully turning the shells out of the pans to cool completely. If not using immediately, store the prepared shells in an airtight container in a cool dry area for up to 5 days.

Roasted Heirloom Grape Tomatoes

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If you find yourself with a lot of grape tomatoes on hand at summer’s end, this is the dish to try. One-color red tomatoes will do nicely, but, of course, a multi-colored variety will make this recipe even more special. (The tomatoes don’t have to be heirloom, but they are particularly lovely.) Quickly tossed with olive oil, fresh herbs, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and slices of red onion concentrate as they roast and caramelize.

This combination of flavors makes for the perfect warm or room-temperature side dish for virtually any type of meat. It would also be delightful tossed into a salad.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds heirloom grape tomatoes (varied colors are nice here)

1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into about 1/4-inch-thick slices

4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, divided

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss together the tomatoes, onion, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of the oregano on the prepared baking sheet. Season with about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and roast until the vegetables are softened, caramelized, and fragrant, about 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven, season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oregano. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tomato Jam

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This sweet-tart jam is a great way to utilize a basket-full of late-summer tomatoes. It does take some time to prepare, but it’s worth it in the end. Keep it on hand to dollop on top of slices of manchego or Comté cheese and whole-grain crackers, drizzle over warm baked Brie, or even add to a vinaigrette. For a special hors d’oeuvre, spoon a bit over a tartlet shell filled with herbed cream cheese, goat cheese, or Boursin. Packaged in a pretty jar with a decorative tag, this addictive condiment would also certainly come as a welcome hostess or holiday gift.

The following canning method relies simply on sterilized jars for vacuum packing, but if you are experienced in sealing your preserves in a boiling water bath, try it. Your jam will last even longer and won’t require refrigeration.

Makes about 6 cups

6 pounds tomatoes, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more as desired (optional)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Combine the tomatoes, sugars, salt, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar in a large (at least 8-quart) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the jam is thickened and reduced to about half, about 2 1/4 hours.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and the vanilla extract. Fill sterilized jars, seal with lids, and set aside to cool and create a vacuum seal at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

Strawberry Butter Cakes

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Almost no other food says spring like strawberries, and these petite butter cakes celebrate them in two ways. First, a traditional butter cake is perfumed and flavored with the fresh fruit, and then an exceedingly rich Swiss buttercream transforms into a red-speckled elegantly pale pink confection with the addition of strawberry jam. Making them the perfect sweet ending to a brunch, both the cakes and the buttercream can be prepared ahead. Wrapped well in plastic wrap, the cakes will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days and in the freezer for at least one month. The buttercream, too, stores well refrigerated or in the freezer (see the recipe for details). For an extra special detail, decorate the cakes with sugar decorations or flowers.

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Strawberry Butter Cakes

Makes 10 cakes little cakes or about 20 cupcakes

Strawberry Buttercream

4 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups strawberry jam

Strawberry Cakes

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into about 1/4-inch pieces

To make the strawberry buttercream, set a medium saucepan filled with about 1 inch of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and maintain at slow simmer. Whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl in the saucepan over the simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water) and, using the whisk, gently stir the mixture until the sugar begins to dissolve and it is warm to the touch (about 1 or 2 minutes). Immediately place the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at high speed until the meringue is fluffy and cool, 5 to 7 minutes or so. Reduce the mixing speed to medium low and gradually incorporate the butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping until the buttercream is smooth and glossy and stopping once or twice to scrape the sides of the bowl. Incorporate the vanilla and strawberry jam, reduce the mixing speed to low, and continue to beat for another 2 to 5 minutes to dissipate any air bubbles. Transfer the buttercream to airtight containers or cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until the cakes are ready.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 10 six-ounce ramekins and arrange on a large rimmed baking sheet, or line about 20 standard muffin cups with paper liners.

To make the strawberry cakes, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Drop in the eggs, one at a time, beating until each one is fully incorporated. Stir together the milk and the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixing speed to medium low. Alternately incorporate the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour and stopping several times to scrape the sides of the bowl, until the batter is thick and smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the strawberries.

Divide the batter between the prepared ramekins and bake until the tops are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool the cakes on wire racks in the ramekins until only slightly warm, at least 15 minutes.

Carefully run a paring knife around the edges to loosen the cakes and turn out onto another baking sheet or serving plate, or transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool. Briefly whip the buttercream again on the machine or whisk by hand and pipe or spread onto the cakes, as desired. (Store the remaining buttercream in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 2 months.)

Shortbread Hearts

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When prepared properly, shortbread is the perfect comforting old-fashioned treat. The best shortbread is tender and just firm enough so that it doesn’t fall apart when you take a bite. It should have a delightful buttery flavor, enhanced by a bit of salt, and just sweet enough to satisfy a sugary craving. This is a simple confection, but because it contains so few ingredients, they all must be of high quality and combined properly. Like many baked goods, the environment will effect how dry or moist the dough becomes in the mixer. Traditional shortbread calls for no other moisture than that found in the butter. If, however, the dough seems too crumbly, add a bit of milk or water to it until it begins to come together in the bowl.

Even though shortbread’s ingredients are simple and few, sometimes it is worthwhile to adjust them a bit in an attempt to produce an even finer product. Part of the flour, for instance, can be replaced by another starch, such as rice or cornstarch (corn flour), both of which give shortbread a finer, more tender quality. The type of sugar used can vary, too. As in this recipe, typical granulated sugar is replaced with confectioners’ sugar, which makes for a finer, more delicate cookie, as well.

Bake the cookies plain, or brush them with a little egg white and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Either way, they will be a delicious addition to your cookie repertoire.

Makes about twenty-four 2 1/2-inch cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

About 1 large egg white (optional)

Coarse colored sugar for decorating (optional)

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until smooth.

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl. Reduce the mixing speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture to the butter, mixing just until the dough begins to form crumbly clumps. If the dough appears too dry, add some water or milk, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until the dough is just moist enough to hold together. Transfer the dough to sheet of plastic wrap, shape into a disc, and set in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

If the dough is too firm to roll, allow it to sit out at room temperature for a few minutes until it’s pliable enough to work. Roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/4 inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Arrange on the baking sheets and set in the freezer or refrigerator to chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

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If desired, brush the edges of the chilled cookies with egg white and dip in colored sugar. Arrange again on the baking sheets and bake until very light golden brown and firm, about 15 minutes. Set on wire racks to cool on the pans for about 3 minutes before transferring to the racks to cool completely.

Lemon Meringue Chiffon Cupcakes

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Lemon, of course, is an ingredient that inspires us year round. Somehow, though, using the bright, refreshing flavors of lemon zest and juice in these cupcakes seems perfectly suited to the colorful, hopeful, sunny, and happy season that is spring.

This recipe relies on the two essential ingredients of traditional lemon meringue pie: lemon filling (or, better yet, curd) and meringue. What makes this dessert unique, however, is the replacing of soft lemon chiffon cakes for the crisp pie crust. Moist and perfumed and flavored with citrusy lemon zest and juice, they form a delicious pillowy vessel into which the creamy, lemony curd is spooned and then topped with billowy dollops or swirls of meringue.

The cupcakes can be prepared in a couple of hours, or make the lemon curd and cakes ahead and finish them later with the meringue. Once the cakes are assembled, I have called for caramelizing the meringue in the oven. If you have one, though, a small kitchen torch (available at most cookware stores) works just as well and more quickly, too.

Makes 12

Lemon Curd

4 large egg yolks

Zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)

Juice of 1 large lemon (about 5 tablespoons)

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Cakes

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, separated

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 tablespoon)

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Meringue

6 large egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

6 tablespoons sugar

Pinch of salt

To make the lemon curd, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon zest and juice, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Set over medium-low heat and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the curd has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the butter, 3 or 4 pieces at a time. Strain into a small bowl, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the curd to prevent a skin from forming, and set in the refrigerator to chill.

To make the cakes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottoms of a standard 12-cup (1/2-cup capacity each) muffin tin with parchment paper rounds.

Whisk together the flour, 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together the egg yolks, oil, lemon zest, water, lemon juice, and vanilla in a small bowl until combined. Add to the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until foamy, and add the cream of tartar. Gradually incorporate the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and whip to stiff, but not dry, peaks.

Immediately fold about one-third of the whipped egg whites into the batter, mixing until incorporated. Add the remaining whipped egg whites and fold until combined.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups, bang the pan firmly against a firm work surface to dissipate any air bubbles, and bake until the cakes have risen, are fragrant, and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, set on a wire rack, and cool the cakes completely in the pan. To unmold the cakes, run a paring knife around the edges of the cakes and carefully coax out of the muffin cups. Peel off the parchment paper rounds. (If you’re not serving the cakes immediately, they can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight or frozen for about 2 weeks.)

To finish the cakes, reheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut a cone-shaped piece out of the top of each cake, leaving about a 1/2-inch rim and cutting about 3/4 inch deep into the cake. Remove the very tips of the cones. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of lemon curd into each cakes, replace the tops, and set aside. (You might have a bit of curd left over, or you can divide the remainder evenly among the cakes.)

To make the meringue, put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until foamy, and add the cream of tartar. Gradually incorporate the sugar and pinch of salt and whip to stiff, but not dry, peaks.

Using about half of the meringue to start, spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a star or plain tip, and pipe swirls or stars on top of the cupcakes. Refill the bag as necessary. You might have some meringue left over, depending on how much you pipe onto each cake. (You can also simply dollop about 1/3 cup of meringue on top of each cupcake and, using a spoon or an off-set spatula, swirl it and create pretty peaks.)

Arrange the cakes about 2 inches apart on a large baking sheet and bake just until the meringue is golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Serve the cakes immediately, or store in an airtight container (the top should not touch the caramelized meringue peaks) and chill for up to 24 hours.

Old-Time Gingersnaps

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(photo courtesy of Jennifer Corbett)

 

For years I have been searching for a satisfying gingersnap recipe. I have spent many hours perusing cookbooks and magazines, hungry for that perfect combination of crunchy, sweet, spicy goodness. I do believe with this recipe I have found success. It delivers a consistently satisfying gingersnap complete with the mandatory crispness and gingery sweetness we seek in a spicy ginger cookie.

This recipe comes together easily and, what’s more, requires no electric mixer. It’s likely that no store-bought ginger cookie will satisfy you once you bake these amber-colored lovelies, but that’s okay. With this recipe, you can always keep some on hand. The cookies store well in an airtight container for several weeks, or in the freezer for about two months.

Makes about 30 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling

1/4 cup molasses

1 large egg

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl.

Combine the butter, sugar, and molasses in a large bowl and stir until combined. Drop in the egg, mixing until incorporated. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, mixing to form a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Shape the dough into walnut-size balls, roll in sugar, and arrange them about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. (If your kitchen is quite warm and the dough balls become soft, set them in the refrigerator until chilled and fairly firm.)

Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies have spread, are light golden brown, and the cracks still appear moist. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets set on wire racks for about 1 minute before removing them to the racks to cool completely.

Store the cookies in an airtight container or in a re-sealable bag for up to 1 week.