Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A tart by request

I was having fun coming up with slightly off-color titles for this post about the rosewater tart pictured in my last blog entry, but then I felt terrible about reinforcing the subjugation of women... so, my apologies, and here is a link to a New York Times discussion about legalizing prostitution which you should all read.

And now back to fruit pastries!

Way back in July, some girls from school came over and we had a big feast of... well... fried chicken... and other things.  (See, there's this new fried chicken place in my neighborhood.  One day Comrade MM saw a famous rapper going there with his family, so we figured if it was good enough for a famous person and his family, it would be good enough for us.  And it was pretty tasty, though fried chicken is really a once-every-few-years kind of thing.)  Anyway, I decided to make this tart I'd seen in the New York Times for dessert since it sounded delicious and there were lots of berries on sale at the supermarket.

Here's a link to Melissa Clark's description of her recipe; you can find a link to the recipe itself on the left: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/27/dining/a-fresh-fruit-tart-perfumed-with-roses.html?hp (her photo is also really beautiful)

In her introduction she says though berry tarts are traditional and delicious, she never makes them because they are so clichée.  Well, I never make them because I think that pastry cream is weird and usually doesn't taste very good.  I like pie, but tart is just usually too sweet and squishy for me.  However, the rose flavor just sounded too good to pass up.  If we grew roses here I would have just steeped my own rose petals, as Ms. Clark suggests, but we don't.  I found some rosewater at the local organic food store, though, and it was quite inexpensive.

Since I made only a few changes to the original recipe, I've copied it here in her own format and then added my little tweaks.  Most of my changes were to make the cream a little less sweet and a little more rosey.  I'll put my comments about the success of the recipe at the end.


1 hour 30 minutes, plus chilling and cooling.  Tart shell must chill for 4 hours, plus time after baking, and the pastry cream for an hour, so beware that this recipe takes some time to put together.

For the tart shell

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds (or almonds of another form if you so prefer)
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 lime (or lemon)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the pastry cream

  • 2-3 tablespoons of rosewater, to taste (M. Clark calls for 1/2 tsp, so I'd recommend beginning with a small amount in case mine--though very fragrant--is somehow lacking and then adding generously after you discover it doesn't taste like roses)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 to 2 pints berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, you name it.)
  • Lime juice to taste (or lemon)


1. For the crust, place 1/4 cup flour and the almonds in a food processor. Run until the almonds are finely ground, about 1 minute. Pulse in remaining one and a quarter cups flour, sugar, lime zest and salt.

2. Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Add the egg and pulse until the dough comes together. Press dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for 4 hours or up to a week.

3. To make the cream, pour milk into a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the rosewater.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk flour and sugar. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Return mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture just starts to boil, 1 to 2 minutes.

5. In a large bowl, whisk yolks until pale and thick. Whisking constantly, pour the hot milk mixture into the yolks. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until custard is thick and smooth (170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Add lime juice to taste (I found it to be too sweet).  Do not let the mixture boil. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve if it looks chunky.  It may not; I don't think I strained mine in the end because it seemed smooth, plus straining custards/curds is somewhat irritating. Chill 1 hour before using or up to 5 days.

6. To bake the tart crust, first preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll the dough out between two sheets of plastic/waxed paper to a 3/8-inch thickness (it's very fragile).  Do not roll too thin!  Remove plastic/waxed paper and line a 9-inch tart pan with the dough; chill for 30 minutes.

7. Line the tart shell with foil and fill with baking weights/a slightly smaller pie tin. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and weights. Continue baking, uncovered, for 5 to 10 more minutes, until pale golden. Allow tart shell to cool completely before filling.

8. Spoon chilled pastry cream into cooled tart shell. Arrange berries over the top of the tart. Ms. Clark says to serve within 2 hours for the best texture; I found it to be just fine a day later.

So.  I thought that this was generally delicious, especially after I tweaked the recipe to suit my tastes.  Aside from adding a lot more rosewater than Ms. Clark indicates (about six times as much) I also decided to use lime instead of lemon.  I like fruit salads with lime, and I thought it might make for a more complex flavor than the more expected lemon.  Unfortunately I think I made my crust too thin, and it was ultimately too crispy for the consistency of the filling; next time I'd make sure to both roll it out thicker and bake it for a shorter period of time.  All these issues are really quite easy to overcome, so my one serious reservation is the number of egg yolks required.  It's not so much from a health standpoint, since one only eats so much dessert at a time anyway, as a practicality/what-will-I-do-with-five-egg-whites standpoint.  A whopper batch of macarons?  I like those, but recipes usually call for three egg whites and that already makes a large number of delicate, time-consuming cookies.  Meringue?  I hate that, so not for me.  Maybe an egg white omelet, for those who like such things?  At any rate, it's a recipe that requires both a fair amount of time to prepare and also a modicum of planning to use up the egg whites.  On the plus side, it's not a difficult recipe and the results are really beautiful and different, and would be well suited both to an afternoon tea and maybe even a dinner of Indian food (or, in my experience, fried chicken).  It's also light enough to work well in the summer but complex and creamy enough to lend itself to heavier food later in the season.  So perhaps I will give it a whirl later on this year--we shall see!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Apron Tutorial

Whoa there, Nellie! Where has the summer gone? I wrote this post back in mid-July, intending to publish it after I gave the present that is described below... but then I forgot... I guess I was busy at Orford and then Lake George, and then I plumb forgot. But never fear--I shall post this tutorial and then shortly one for the cutest little baby dress you ever did see, which I made just since coming home after my long peregrinations, and maybe that will be enough to get me back in the swing of things.

So, here goes!
The finished apron with the spoils of apricot picking.

Recently it was Comrade MM's birthday. When I was home in California I was trying to find her a birthday present, but I couldn't come up with anything that seemed right. I did remember her admiring an apron a little while back, though, and she has been spending even more time than ever in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, so I thought that I might be able to make one for her.

I did my customary search for free internet patterns and came up with this one for a "retro/vintage-style" apron. I really liked it, but thought that it might be a little bit involved for the amount of time I had at home. Still, the pattern and tutorial seem really easy to follow and the product is super cute! Someday... Anyway, that afternoon I poked around the Davis SPCA thrift store, hoping I might find an interesting garment to modify into a cute apron. I only had a few minutes before they closed so I only had time to pick out a blouse. That evening I went up to Jo-Ann's, shirt in tow, to try to find some complementary fabric. I purchased two yards of a green ruffle, some extra wide double fold binding tape, and 3/4 yard of a twill-like heavier weight fabric.

I had initially planned to double the fabric for the apron skirt in order to make it sufficiently heavy duty, but the fabric was heavy enough already that I decided to cut it in half, making it 3/4 yard wide and a half bolt high. If I had chosen a lighter weight material I think I would have doubled it. Using my colorful binding tape I put a border on the sides and bottom of the skirt. For some really helpful tips on how to do the corners, see this tutorial.

Look at that nice corner!

Next, I determined the length of shirt material I wanted based on my approximation of MM's height and the placement of the darts from the shirt. I decided to keep the shirt doubled up, sewing the front and back together, in order to give it enough heft. I cut off the bottom of the shirt with a few inches to spare and used the iron to mark the desired hem (about a half inch). I next removed the sleeves using a seam ripper and cut off the top of the shirt in a straight line a few inches below the shoulder so that it would hit above the bust. I then straightened the edges of the shirt, folding in the seams until there was a relatively straight line from the waist up. I pinned and ironed everything and then sewed down the sides of the shirt to keep the front and back together, leaving about a half inch at the bottom in which to insert the skirt.

In order to make sure that the apron skirt would be roomy enough when worn, I wanted to give it some gathers. Using my machine set on the lowest tension and widest stitch size I sewed two parallel lines over the unadorned top part of the skirt. Then, I knotted together the two bobbin (bottom) threads on one side and gently pulled the bobbin threads from the other direction until it reached the appropriate width. I wanted the skirt to be almost the same width as the bottom of my shirt, with a few inches on either side of straight fabric to extend the skirt a little wider. Positioning the skirt so it was centered to the shirt and inserted between the front and back, I sewed the sandwich together, tacking the edges with some vertical stitches (to keep the gathers from coming apart). I then opened up the two inches of material I left on either side to extend and prepared to sew the ruffles on top.

I had purchased this pre-made green ruffle that was attached to binding tape but didn't have a use for the binding tape material, so I wound up sewing two parallel lines with a contrasting thread, one to close the tape and the other along the preexisting seam, from one end of the two yards of tape to the other, including over the front of my apron. Later I hand-tacked the extended side of the skirt to the ruffle so that it would all lay flat and no stitches would show.

Requisite hand stitching.

The only thing remaining was the top! I remembered I had a ruffle from a skirt I modified a few years ago, so I cut off a piece long enough to run along the top, folding the edge back behind the ruffles to hide it. I also took the remaining piece of binding tape, sewing it shut as I had with the ruffle, to use as the neck strap. Not knowing how long to make it, I left it very large; Comrade MM will just need to a tie a knot to make it the correct length. Like the skirt, I inserted the top ruffle and the neck strap ends (being careful not to twist the material) in between the two layers of shirting and then sewed one seam to close the sandwich. Because of the placement of the button on the shirt I was not able to sew completely across the front; I later went back and handsewed that little segment.

Last, but not least, I wanted to have a pocket. I think what had inspired me most about this entire project was the idea to have a pocket made out of a sleeve. So, taking one of the sleeves I removed earlier, I cut it to a hand's length and, after ironing the seams, I pinned it to the skirt to attach. Because I used a blouse, I was able to unbutton the sleeve and open it wide enough to sew along what became the back of the pocket, and then sew on top of the other three sides. I made sure to reinforce the upper corners.

The sleeve-pocket.

Et voila! That's it! It was so much fun I made another one that someone among you readers will be getting for Christmas. At least I hope she reads it! And if she doesn't, it will be even more of a surprise...

Next up, a suuuuuuper cute and easy baby dress!

But first, a really beautiful rosewater tart (also made by me, perhaps with recipe to follow. It's easy but requires a lot of eggs):