Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quince Tart Tatin

Tart Tatin.  You've had it with apples.  You might have even had it with pears.  But have you ever tried it with quince?  

On one trip to France, I tried 10 different Apple Tart Tatins in search for the best one.  They ranged from just ok to very good, but none quite matched the ideal of caramelized fruit in a perfect pie crust that I had in my head.  There is no way around it.  As yummy as an apple Tatin is, it never quite rises above the homeliness of comfort food due to apples proclivity for softening a bit too much during cooking. A pear Tatin is a whole different story, particularly when made with ginger.  It's juicy, toothsome, exotic.  It's my go to Tatin on Thanksgiving that never fails to please.  But a quince Tatin can even give the pear one a run for its money.  It never fails to stop the conversation when the guests put the first forkful in their mouth.  It looks just like an apple Tatin, but what a surprise when you taste it.  The fruit is denser, more complex.  The cheese lovers often find the taste familiar, yet can't quite place it.  What it reminds them of is dulce de membrillo -- the quince paste often served with cheeses, particularly Manchego.  You can give them this hint, but it's sometimes fun to watch as they struggle to figure it out.  

About quince: quince is a fruit related to apples and pears.  It is bright yellow when ripe.  You'll need a sharp knife to cut it since it tends to be extremely hard.  Don't bother tasting it raw.  It's not at all juicy and tastes quite awful -- kind of like eating a raw potato.  Don't worry about discoloration after you cut it. There is no need for lemon juice here.  After baking with caramel, the quince will take on a gorgeous auburn color.

Caramelized Quince Tart (Tart Tatin)

Note about skillet: I use a 10 inch stainless steel all-clad or tramontina skillet. Non-stick pans also work. Cast iron might be a bit heavy to lift and flip. If you haven't done much weight lifting in the gym lately, this might not be the best pan for this tart.

Burnt quince tip: If the quince burns a little, don't panic. Those dark edges are some of the best parts.

How many quince you'll need: quince vary a lot in size.  If the variety you are using looks like an average apple, you'll need about 5.  if they are a lot larger, you might only need 3.

3-5 quince (see the note above)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pâte Brisée (pie and tart dough) for one 10-inch tart

Peel, halve, and core quince.  Slice them into thick wedges.

In a 9- to 10-inch heavy skillet heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides. Stir in sugar (sugar will not be dissolved). Arrange a layer of quince wedges to cover the bottom of the skillet. Cut the rest of the wedges coarsely into chunks that are about 2/3 inch big and add to the skillet.  Do not move the quince during cooking.  Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet and cook for 10 minutes.  Uncover and cook until the sugar and butter around the quince turn the color of cinnamon.  Don't worry if the top pieces are still hard and look raw.  They'll soften during baking.  Cool completely in skillet. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 425°F and set a rack in the upper third of the oven.
On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll out dough into an 11-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) and arrange over caramelized quince. Tuck edges into the skillet around quince. Bake tart in the upper third of the oven until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. 

Have ready a rimmed serving plate slightly larger than skillet. As soon as the tart comes out of the oven, invert plate over skillet and, wearing oven mitts and keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert tart onto plate. Do this over the sink in case some juices spill. This is a bit scary, but it works! The trick is to do it in one very fast motion. If some pieces of quince are left in the skillet, place them on top of the tart.

Let cool until warm, 10 - 15 minutes. Serve tart warm with whipped cream or ice cream.  Can be made up to 24 hours in advance and served at room temperature or rewarmed.

Monday, December 19, 2011


"I was up till 1am last night," said one woman in my pilates class.  "Rough night with the kids?" I asked.  "No, just baking Christmas cookies.  I bake 30 trays every year.  It's not just the family, you know.  Every teacher of every one of my children gets cookies."  I was really grateful that the class started at that point and no one asked me how many trays of cookies I baked that week, which was zero.

I hate Christmas cookies.  Most of them are much more appropriate to hang as an ornament on a Christmas tree than to put in your mouth.  I am definitely not the heroic Mom who gives cookies to every teacher and neighbor, but once in a while I do need to bake something for my children's school or dance recital bake sale.  Somehow, pots of pork rillette -- my favorite holiday food gift -- is not something pre-schools appreciate.  "If only I could bake a cookie as good as a pie," I thought, and then it hit me -- how about rugelach.

I started with a recipe from Gourmet Magazine (oh, how I miss it) that I found on epicurious. Although this was my first time baking rugelach, I decided to be daring and mess with the recipe a bit.  Since it was in the pâte brisée category (one of my fortes), I thought I can get away with it. I added a little sugar to the dough for tenderness.  Instead of creaming butter with cream cheese and incorporating the flour to form an even dough, I pulsed the flour with the fats in the food processor into a crumbly mixture that I squeezed briefly by hand to form a dough.  The little specs of butter and cream cheese baked into fantastic flaky layers.  

Oh, what a cookie!  The only problem was that my family ate most of them before I could be a good Mom and give it to the teachers and the neighbors.

Inspired by a recipe by Melissa Roberts-Matar published in May 2004 issue of Gourmet.

Weighing is the only way to guarantee that you'll use the right amount of flour.  If you are using cups, make sure to fluff the flour a lot, scoop with a dry measuring cup very gently without packing, and level off.  This makes or breaks the dough.  You can easily double this recipe, but if your food processor is only 7 cups (mine is), do the dough in 2 batches.  This recipe produces 2 logs.  If you double it, you can bake all 4 logs on the same baking sheet.

Makes 20 cookies

For the Dough:
5 oz all-purpose flour (1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
1 tsp sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, sliced 1/4 inch thick, kept cold
4 oz cream cheese, sliced 1/2 inch thick, kept cold

For the Filling:
2 Tbsp sugar (less if you prefer it less sweet) + 2 tsp for sprinkling finished logs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup apricot preserves or preserves of your choice
zest of 1 orange (or lemon) removed with a vegetable peeler, and minced extremely finely
1/2 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Milk for brushing cookies

Special equipment: scale for measuring flour; parchment paper; a small offset spatula

Dough Instructions (at least 1 day before baking):
  1. Put flour, salt, and sugar into a food processor and process for 10 seconds to incorporate evenly.  
  2. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse in 1 second intervals until the mixture looks like couscous (about 15 one second long pulses).  Turn the mixture out into a small bowl and squeeze very firmly with your hands until it comes together into one big clump.  Shape the clump into a 1.5 inch thick rectangle that is roughly 5 by 3 inches.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.  The dough can be kept in the fridge for 5 days or frozen indefinitely.  

Filling and Baking Instructions:
  1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottom of a 1- to 1 1/2-inch-deep large shallow baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Cut dough into 2 pieces that are half the thickness of the original piece (still 5 by 3 inches, but now about 2/3 inch thick).  Chill the piece you are not working with, wrapped in plastic wrap, and roll out remaining piece into a 12- by 8-inch rectangle on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Transfer dough to a sheet of parchment, then transfer to a tray and chill while rolling out remaining dough in same manner, transferring each to another sheet of parchment and stacking on tray.
  3. Whisk 2 Tbsp sugar with cinnamon.
  4. Arrange 1 dough rectangle on work surface with a long side nearest you. Spread 1/4 cup preserves evenly over dough with offset spatula leaving 1.5 inch border on the long side furthest from you and 1/2 inch border on right and left. Sprinkle with half the zest.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 cup walnuts over jam, then sprinkle with 1 Tbsp cinnamon sugar.
  5. Roll up dough tightly into a log. Place, seam side down in lined baking pan, then pinch ends closed and tuck underneath. Make another log in same manner and add to the pan.  If doubling the recipe to make 4 logs, space them 1 inch apart.  Brush logs with milk and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of remaining sugar.  Chill for 30 minutes.  
  6. With a sharp large knife, make 3/4-inch-deep cuts crosswise in dough (not all the way through) at 1-inch intervals.
  7. Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes rotating pan 180 degrees half way through. Cool to warm in pan on a rack, about 30 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board and slice cookies all the way through.  If some of the filling leaked out during baking, don't panic.  It usually ends up around the logs, not underneath.  Carefully, scrape it off when transferring logs to cutting board. 
Can be cooled completely and stored in an airtight container, but they are outrageously good warm.  If you want warm rugelach with minimal hassle, you can freeze unbaked logs and bake them later.  Move them to the fridge a day before you want to bake.

Browning Meat (Video)

How confident are you when you place a piece of meat, fish, or poultry into a skillet?  Does that steak sometimes sick?  Do the scallops fail to brown?  Here is a video with some browning (searing) tips and tricks.

YouTube link: Browning Meat

Here are some questions I frequently get in class about browning in a skillet.

What type of skillet do you use?
My go to skillet for searing is a good stainless steel one.  It browns beautifully and leave you brown bits to make a pan sauce.  The only exception to this is searing fin fish.  Only the firmest fish (tuna, swordfish, shark, and marlin) can be seared in a stainless steel skillet.  Other fish will stick.  In that case, use a well seasoned cast iron skillet or a teflon one.  Scallops, shrimp and seafood will be fine in a stainless steel skillet.  Here is my post on pots and pans that includes my favorite brands and sizes.

How do you wash a stainless steel skillet?  It always takes me forever to scrub everything off.
Boil water in the skillet for 5 minutes.  Pour out the water and wash while the skillet is still pretty hot.  If all else fails, try Bar Keeper's Friend.  Works like a charm for stainless cookware.  Here is a video on how to wash a stainless skillet.

What type of oil do you use?
I use canola because the smoke temperature is a little higher than olive oil.  You can use whatever you like (grapeseed, olive, peanut).  If you want to produce faster browning on lean proteins, try using 3 parts oil to 1 part butter combo.  The milk solids in the butter will brown quickly giving you beautiful color and flavor on things like scallops and halibut.

What salt do you use?
Diamond Crystal Kosher.

What proportion of salt to pepper do you use?
I use about 5 parts salt to 1 part pepper, but you can do whatever you like.  Just keep in mind that you want way more salt than pepper.

Can you achieve good browning on electric stove?
Yes, you can achieve good browning on any stove.  What's much more important is the quality of your skillet.  Just make sure to preheat your skillet long enough so that the meat sizzles at first contact.  If you are working on electric stove and need to lower the heat, you might need to move the skillet off the burner temporarily to avoid burning.

What was that about not washing chicken and any other proteins?  Isn't it dangerous?
No.  It's actually safer.  Even USDA recommends you don't wash proteins.

What stunning dish should you make this holiday season to practice this technique?
How about this rack of lamb

or a perfect steak

If meat is not your thing, the seared tuna with pomegranate topping is a fun and festive dish.

16 down / 34 more to go

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Slicing Fennel (Video)

Let's get a few things straight about fennel.  There are fennel seeds used as a spice, and fennel bulb used as a vegetable.  This post is about the vegetable.  It is often sold as "anise," but don't let that scare you.  Even people like me who hate licorice and can only tolerate star anise (that's a spice) in small amounts can be huge fennel fans.

Fennel is the bluefish of the vegetables.  Huh?  Let me explain.  It's the ingredients my students expect not to like in the beginning of class and end up loving by the end of class.  Here is a video on fennel preparation (trimming, coring, slicing thickly for cooking, and shaving on a mandoline for salads or other raw uses).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bell Pepper Video -- slicing and dicing

YouTube link: Slicing and Dicing Bell Peppers

Videos you might want to watch before this one:
The barley salad I mentioned last week is a good opportunity to practice dicing a pepper.  This is an ultimate test of your knife skills since it needs a brunoise (1/8 inch dice) of zucchini, minced shallots, and plenty of minced herbs.  Luckily, there is not much active work besides chopping and you'll be rewarded with a delicious and healthy meal.  Ratatouille is another lovely dish, especially in the summer.
Barley Almond Salad with Zucchini and Red Peppers

14 down / 36 more to go