October 17, 2011

My First Tart (and Maple Almond Milk Ice Cream)

Despite having a full Saturday afternoon's worth of work to do, when I started thinking about the dinner party for which I had promised to make dessert, I felt compelled to embark on a serious project. Well, perhaps it was because I had a Saturday afternoon's worth of work to procrastinate on. I decided to it was high time I try to make a pastry crust: a rustic tart would be just the place to start.

The final product was well-received, but the process was replete with one near disaster after another. All the product, at least in part, of deciding not to follow a single recipe from start to finish. I began with Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, and a good go-to for skill building in the kitchen. His section of tarts and pies was full of useful information: illustrations to guide rolling, diagrams to direct shaping the dough, and (what would be my near downfall) an informative section on pre-baking. The second recipe I moved on to was from Smitten Kitchen. This tart was of the more rustic variety. The rough edges of the dough were folded over the fruit, and it looked delicious. That was what I wanted mine to look like.

But that tidbit on pre-baking stuck with me. That was something it seemed like one did with pie crust. So I whipped up some dough, following Mark Bittman's recipe, rolled it into a ball, chilled it, rolled it out flat, shaped it into a tart pan, chilled it some more, and then, foolishly, covered it with a piece of buttered tinfoil weighed down with dried kidney beans. Why? Because Mark told me to. After sliding it confidently into the oven, it occurred to me that if I pre-baked the dough for the full twelve minutes Mark suggested, I wouldn't be able to fold the dough over the edges of the fruit. As a compromise, I thought, "I'll just bake it for five minute." Genius.

Of course, after five minutes, a dough full of butter becomes a dough full of melted butter. To make matters worse, my recycled whole food aluminum ripped when I tried to move it and then I had to pick kidney beans out of the soggy dough. Eh, it is still flour and butter, so I think I'll just keep going. I piled in the fruit, and put it back in the oven. Back on track.

Except. After twenty-minutes the kitchen started to filled with smoke. The tart pan had one of those removable bottoms and some excess butter was pooling on the floor of the oven and burning. I had followed the instruction to place the tart pan on a cookie sheet, but I had picked one with no rim! Now I had a kitchen full of smoke and a half-done tart, so I did what any one would do who didn't want to give up on a such a serious investment of baking time. I pulled the tart out of the oven, put on two oven mitts and used them to sop up as much of the burning butter as possible. This worked relatively well (although, let me just say, in case you ever find yourself in this situation, don't put those oven mitts in the washing machine with your sheets). Back on track.

The final product was a bit buttery. The crust didn't have that nice flake to it. But it was a tart. And it was eaten. The recipe below will, I am almost certain, produce much better results that I achieved.

While all of this was going on, I was also making maple almond milk ice cream. This was much less eventful. It thickened like it was supposed to. It froze like it was supposed to. It tasted sweet and mapley.

- Franklin

Pear Apple Tart
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and Smitten Kitchen
Total Time: 2.5 hours
Sweetness Factor: 4; Indulgence Factor: 7; Difficulty Factor: 8; Chance I'll Make it Again: 8.

For the Crust:
1.25 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
8 tablespoons cold butter cut into chunks (I used 10, too much)
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons ice water

For the Filling:
3 ripe pears
2 apples
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 an egg white

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a cuisinart. Add the butter all at once and pulse 10-15 times until it looks like a very coarse meal. There should still be lots of visible bits of butter. Add the egg yolk and pulse a few more times. Dump the dough into a bowl and add the water. Mix with your hands until the dough will form a ball. Wrap the ball in plastic and chill about fifteen minutes.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic until it is a few inches larger (all the way around) than your tart pan. Press the dough into the pan, push gently into the corners. Cover with one of the pieces of plastic and freeze for about a half hour (or refrigerate for an hour). You could also leave it in the refrigerator over night.

In the meantime, peal, core, and slice up the fruit. Unless you want to do neat rows of apples and pears there is no reason not to mix it all together. I meant to do neat rows, but ended up going for a jumble because who wants a slice that has only one or the other!

Preheat the oven to 425. Arrange the fruit in dough. That's right. Don't prebake it. Pull the extra edges over the fruit, pinching occasionally to make it look professional. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and brush the dough with a little of egg white. You could also brush with cream or melted butter. You may also want to brush the fruit with melted butter, but I think that step is optional.

Bake about 45 minutes (set on top of a rimmed cookie sheet) until the dough is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Let it cool on a rack for about ten minutes before removing the edge of the tart pan. If you're feeling brave you can also slide the tart off the bottom of the tart pan and on to a plate once it has totally cooled. Serve with maple almond milk ice cream!

Maple Almond Milk Ice Cream
Total time: 4 hours (including chilling time)
Sweetness Factor: 8; Indulgence Factor: 6; Difficulty Factor: 6; Chance I'll Make it Again: 10.

1 quart unsweetened plain almond milk
3/4 grade B maple syrup (this makes for a very sweet, very mapley ice cream, you could use a 1/2 cup or even a 1/4 if you want to preserve more of the almond milk flavor)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons hot water

Combine the almond milk, syrup, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until butter melts and mixture is on the verge of a boil. Dissolve the cornstarch in the hot water. Add it to the butter/milk/syrup mixture. Whisk regularly (make sure to get into those corners!) until the mixture begins to thicken. It should start to get thick by the time it starts to boil. It is done when it can coat the back of a spoon. Pour it off into another bowl, set in an ice bath. Once it has cooled a bit, put it in the refrigerator and let it cool COMPLETELY.

Once it has cooled COMPLETELY, churn in ice cream maker per ice cream maker instructions. Put it the freezer for at least an hour before serving (or just eat it straight from the ice cream maker while no one is looking).

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