11 September 2011

Plum Frangipane Tart in a Spelt Crust

I've lived in Britain now for two years. Two years! I can hardly explain how quickly it's gone by, how different my life is, or how much I love it here.

I'm still an American, though, and my foray into British food has been slow-coming. First was a world of curries, which I've only just begun to understand (and love passionately). Puddings were even slower to get on my good side. Maybe it's because the word "pudding", to an American, means something different than it does here, where the word is used as a generic term for what I would call dessert. I'll never forget ordering a "chocolate pudding" in the first few days after I moved to England... which came to me as a piece of soggy chocolate cake. This is the traditional, accurate usage of pudding, a steamed or boiled cake, and I still haven't tasted one I like.

I'm so familiar with American baking that British flavours and styles took a lot longer for me to get my head around. I'm proud to say that I've finally scratched the surface with this plum tart! While I have a suspicion that the tart itself might be Italian (or French?) in origin, to me it is a standard British dessert (ahem, pudding).

Oh, success, I love you!

I decided to use a spelt crust instead of a plain crust, for no other reason than that I love spelt. It has a rich, nutty quality that is so flavourful, and I think it adds a nice touch to this tart. Also, this isn't your typical pastry crust method, and is a favourite of mine because it's so easy! The filling is almond-y and rich and beautiful. Yum.

Spelt Crust
adapted from David Lebovitz
90g (6.5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
75g plain/AP flour (just over 1/2 cup)
75g wholegrain spelt flour (just over 1/2 cup)

Frangipane Filling

adapted from Gordon Ramsay
6-8 Victoria plums, stoned and sliced into quarters.
120g unsalted butter (8.5 tablespoons), softened to room temperature
120g ground almonds (4.25 oz)
120g caster sugar (just over .5 US cup)
20g plain flour (1/8 US cup)
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (DiSaronno)
1 medium free-range egg (if using a large egg, add 5g weight to each ingredient)

Preheat the oven to 210ºC (410ºF)

Combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt in a glass oven-proof bowl (e.g. Pyrex)

Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and starts to brown just around the edges.

Remove from oven and add the flour quickly, stir it fast until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a 9-inch (23 cm) tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula. Allow to cool a bit before handling.

Pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough for patching any cracks.

Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork, then bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown. I didn't feel the need to use pie weights, and it was just fine. While crust is baking, prepare filling.

Place all filling ingredients together in a bowl (except plums) and blend together using an electric mixer. Stop when mixture is just uniform -- don't overwork it.

Remove tart shell from the oven and if there are any sizable cracks, use the bits of reserved dough to fill in and patch them. Put back in the oven for 5 minutes if you've patched anything.

Turn the oven down to 150ºC (300ºF). Let the shell cool before filling.

Spread frangipane mixture into the baked tart shell and smooth with the back of a spatula. Arrange sliced plums on top of the mixture, skin-side up, pressing down gently so that they are embedded in the frangipane. Sprinkle top with granulated or caster sugar.

Bake 30-35 minutes until golden, and the middle is just-set. Cool 10 minutes in the tart ring, then remove ring and slice at will!

07 September 2011

Butter & Garlic Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

This is real life.

I got home from the office today and just stared into the refrigerator. Do you do this, too? I love cooking, but every day is not a masterpiece kind of day. Today especially. After staring into the fridge for a while, I gave up on that and then started staring into cupboards. Braindead.

Usually I know exactly what to make. Usually I think about it the whole way home, and stride into the kitchen with purpose. Not today.

Brain-dead me ended up making a super-easy pasta dish.. And it was amazing! After the first bite, I said, out loud, "why haven't I eaten this before?" This is nothing new. I didn't hit upon some long-forgotten secret. This is easy stuff. Because this is real life.

Cooking the tomatoes in the skillet (instead of just adding them raw) concentrates their flavour. They lose some water and become something really wonderful. If you wanted to, you could roast them in the oven instead, but why dirty another pan? Why turn on another appliance? There's no need for all of that. One tomato-ey bite lifted the fog from my brain and I was suddenly back among the living.

For the pasta, I used the angel hair variety. Next time, I want penne. Anything will do! Get crazy and try bowtie pasta. Yeah, do that!

Butter & Garlic Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

knob butter
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
8-10 cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced (not too small - I occasionally like a bigger chunk)
sea salt
pasta of your choosing, cooked al dente
handful black olives

Saute onion in butter until it begins to brown. Quarter tomatoes and add to the pan, then add garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in cooked pasta once tomatoes are shriveled. Top with black olives. Eat up!

Serves 2