Fig Tart

When I was a kid I had a story book about a couple of country mice who sneak into town to get a taste of the high life. They broke into a mansion (whose owners had apparently vanished right in the middle of a feast) and dined of all sorts of tasty treats I had never heard of, like Yorkshire pudding and mincemeat pie, and for dessert -- figs!

I had no idea what figs were. The illustrations weren't very good, so for ages I though they were a type of fancy potato chip. When I finally tried fresh figs years later I fell in love with the sticky-sweet fruits. The season is tragically short here, so whenever they're available I buy as many as I can and see what I can do. This recipe for fig tart (along with the crust and frangipane) is from The Purple Foodie.

This is as close as I could get to the vanilla seeds -- they're almost like very, very tiny caviar.

Frangipane is just sort of a generic, sweet almond filling. It can be used with almost any fruit or flavor -- figs, chocolate, even on it's own -- usually in a tart-type pastry.

Bake the tart on the bottom rack of your oven -- the crust is so thin if it's not properly crispy it'll just collapse if you try to pick up a slice.

Galette pastry crust

1 1/2 cups flour
2-3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 stick cold butter, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk, beaten
Ice water to combine the dough

Mix the sugar and flour together. Blend in the cold butter and the egg yolk with a pastry cutter. It’s faster when you use your hands, but be sure to do this quickly, we don’t want the butter to melt away or we lose the flaky texture. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, add the ice cold water, a spoonful at a time, until the dough is just combined. Divide it into two and let it rest in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Vanilla Frangipane

1/3 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup sugar
6 tbsp. butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 vanilla bean

In a bowl combine together the almonds and sugar, then the butter and egg until everything is pretty homogenous. Split the vanilla bean with a knife and scrape out all the tiny seeds, mixing them in. If you don’t want to use it right away, divide the frangipane into four equal parts, wrap each tightly in plastic. They will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, and up to a month in the freezer.

Fig tart

1 9″ pastry dough
about 10 large figs or about 15 small ones
1/4 the recipe of frangipane above

Preheat the oven to 400F

Roll out your pastry dough to about 10-inch diameter. Prick a fork through it every inch or so apart.

Place the dough on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Spread about 1/4 of the quantity of frangipane on the dough, leaving about 1 inch perimeter around the outer edge of the dough. Slice the figs and place them from outside inwards to form concentric circles to cover the frangipane. You want the figs to over lap some – they’ll shrink down during cooking.

Fold the edges in, pinching a little to make sure they stick. Brush the dough with eggwash and give it a good shower of sugar. Bake for about 45-50 minutes on the bottom rack, or until the pastry edges are golden brown.

August 28, 2011

Lavender Butter

Whenever I see a recipe calling for compound butter it always goes something like, "Take butter. Mix in [ingredient]. Voila!" Rarely do you see instructions calling for butter to be actually made. Making your own butter is really not necessary most of the time, but it's still cool.  I don't do it often because I'm lazy, but it's fun every once in a while.

The mechanics of butter-making are pretty simple -- take cream, shake until it's butter. The cream has tiny, tiny globs of butterfat floating around in it, and when you shake or churn it those little packs burst and stick together, making one big clump of butterfat (and lots of watery buttermilk).

The left picture is before I started shaking, and the right is when the fat is just starting to come together, before I poured off any of the buttermilk. It sort of comes together all at once, getting thicker and thicker until it suddenly congeals into butter.

Lavender Butter

1 pint good quality heavy whipping cream
2 sprigs worth of lavender leaves, finely chopped
Large jar with trustworthy lid

Add the cream and lavender to the jar, filling it up about halfway. Screw on the lid and start shaking. Shake until your arms hurt, rest, shake some more. After fifteen minutes of shaking the cream will start to puff up (this is why you need the large jar), then begin to separate into a clumpy solid and a liquid. Pour out the liquid and shake some more, repeating until no more liquid comes out. Wrap the butter in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge (no more than a weekish).

September 1, 2011

Banana Bread with Walnut Streusel

My family is big on bananas, but not so big on coordinating shopping lists. Bunches and bunches of bananas pile up on the banana stand and in the fruit basket. People eat as many bananas as they can but it's never enough -- some always go bad, and that's when I step in with my trusty banana bread recipe (adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe).

Can you really call banana bread "bread"? Sure, it's baked in a loaf pan and doesn't have frosting, but that's just surface stuff (and after all, who needs frosting when you have streusel?). I know that whenever I make banana bread it's a "Don't Eat Until After Dinner" thing, which automatically elevates it to cake status in my mind. Sort of a mix between carrot cake and fruit cake (but better).

I think the raisins are really the star of this recipe, little juicy-sweet bits that lighten up a bread that can be pretty solid. My mother likes to wrap up a thick slice and take it with her for lunch.

Banana Bread with Walnut Streusel Topping

1/4 c flour
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp melted butter
1/4 c chopped walnuts

3/4 c raisins
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c water
1 1/2  c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
10 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 c white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 small, overripe bananas, mashed
3/4 c chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a small bowl completely mix together the flour, sugar, butter and walnuts for the streusel. Store in the fridge until needed.

Put the raisins, 1/4 c brown sugar and the water in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. When the water is mostly gone take them off the heat and let them sit.

In a medium bowl mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl mix the sugars and melted butter until well blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Stir in the raisins, walnuts and vanilla. Add the flour mix a bit at a time and scrape into a loaf pan. Sprinkle the streusel over the top and bake in the oven for 60-75 minutes.

August 24, 2011

Asparagus and Roasted Garlic

Some vegetable -- think brussels sprouts, cabbage, whatever -- get an undeservedly bad reputation. Asparagus was one of those for me. I haaaated asparagus. Hated it.

But now -- at long last -- vindication! No longer steamed or boiled, asparagus is now SAUTEED. With BUTTER. And VARIOUS FLAVORINGS. Very tasty, and pretty to boot.

As for the roasted garlic, that never needed any defending. Just say it out loud: Roasted. Garlic. Nobody can resist.

Side note: taking pictures of dinner is much more difficult than taking pictures of dessert. It's at  night, so my sun is gone and I have to light my picture corner with enough watts to set my hair on fire. And it's dinner, which means I'm surrounded by hungry hordes going on about how they're starving and they want their food. So that's why everything's a bit dim this time.

Sauteed Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp melted butter
1/2  c. vegetable stock
olive oil
salt to taste

Trim the woody bottoms off each asparagus stalk (trim more than you think you should) and chop the onions and garlic. Toss them with butter and salt and let it sit while you heat up some oil in a pan over low heat.

Add the asparagus and 1/4 cup stock. When the stock begins to bubble cover the pan and let it cook for about 7 minutes. Check the liquid levels periodically, adding more stock when necessary. 

When the asparagus is tender (but not goopy) take the lid off and let the liquid boil away. Keep them cooking in the pan until they’re nice and browned. 

Roasted Garlic

1 head garlic
olive oil

Set your oven to 375. Trim the top off the cloves, keeping the bulb intact. Set that garlic in your chosen dish and sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Cover it with a lid or foil and bake for one hour, or until the cloves are soft and brown.

August 19, 2011