Weigh-In

Chocolate cake sample #5

Chocolate cake sample #5

 

Stepping on the bathroom scale this morning, I was incredulous of the 3-digits that materialized in the window. I’m 6.5 lbs. heavier than anticipated, 9 lbs. more than two weeks ago. This cookie, tart and chocolate cake tasting is overtaking my inadequate exercise regimen, to my detriment.

It’s not you, it’s me

Apricot Almond Tart

Apricot Almond Tart

With clammy hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, I gulp pranayama breaths of air, desperately trying to calm down. A cake box filled with my future slides around on the passenger side floor. I am running late.

I’m taking my tarts to the Steakhouse for final judgment. My worst critic, me, appraises the product harshly. A week before, I was a proud cock, crowing about my tarts – the best key lime ever! Today, as I test and decorate them, my confidence crumbles. The key lime is too sweet and its crust is gummy. I re-bake it. The coconut cream is dry, flat and lacking coconut flavor. I re-bake it. The lemon tart is cloudy on the surface and a little undercooked. If I had more filling, I would re-bake it as well. I attempt to cover up its flaws with powdered sugar and whipped cream. The apricot-almond seems overcooked and lacking flavor, I also re-bake it. The hours tick by; my kitchen is a war zone with sheet-pans and counters scattered with the bodies of discarded tarts.

Can’t I call him and cancel, start over and wait until I produce something remarkable?

I can’t endure criticism and my fear of it has only grown with each new plan, scheme and pursuit. Negative comments sear my skin and positive ones bounce off the scars, unable to sink in. It’s a throwback from my youth, I am sure. In our house, crushing another’s confidence was how you buoyed your own worth and superiority. Now, it’s paralyzes me.

I drive the tarts to him and gather courage in the parking lot. He gives me bottles of wine as payment for my work and we chat. He doesn’t fear failure and I admire him for that. We talk about how difficult it is to tell a vendor their product isn’t any good, like breaking up with someone – “It’s not you, it’s me!”

I can’t do it. I can’t watch as my work is judged. I ask him to taste them after I leave, share them with the staff, and call me with his feedback. I cannot bear a breakup, not from him, not now. I wait. My phone is silent and I am deflated.

Garnish

key_lime_pie 2

Never garnish edibles with the inedible.

After much delay, the tart preview is scheduled for next week – exact date to be determined. I’m guardedly optimistic about the outcome. I’m including lemon, key lime, and coconut cream. I’m also presenting the apricot-almond tart. It’s off the mark from what was requested, but it remains my particular favorite. I intended to present bare bones, unadorned tartlets so the tasting could focus solely on flavor. Let the flavor come first and leave the presentation for later. But, that axiom, “you taste with your eyes first” keeps rolling around in my head. Flavor is paramount, but just as a little Lancôme ensures they stick around to discover your winning personality, a little culinary zhushing can’t hurt either. Why not make the book AND the cover praise-worthy?

The research begins. An image search for ‘Key Lime Tart” resulted in pages of whipped-cream and meringue topped sweets garishly garnished with a slice of fresh lime, zest and all. If a slice of pie was served to me so garnished, my reaction would involve yanking the bitter fiend from its whipped cream lair and tossing it to the side of the plate. What’s appealing about that?

lg_key_lime_pie

Finally, I discovered this Fauchon lemon tart adorned simply with a thin square of mango gelée. Perfection.

Fauchon

Homework for this weekend: fruit gelée and other garnishes, cranberry tart, and faster assembly.

Stop Looking! (Tart shell)

Once you find your perfect wedding dress, stop looking!” says Yes to the Dress’s Randy Fenoli (Don’t judge, it’s a guilty pleasure). The same should be said for the ideal tart crust – once you’ve found it, step away from the cookbooks! Wasn’t I done with this process? All that was left was to bake up a batch of the tarts and bring them to the Steakhouse for tasting. My tart shell quandary was solved until… I stumbled upon this month’s Cooks Illustrated recipe for a French apple tart; assuring a tastier and easier shell. Damn you, Christopher Kimball! In my present tart- obsessed hysteria, I couldn’t close the book (literally) on the promise of a perfect shell. This weekend, I placed my list of errands aside and ran a head-to-head battle between the Cooks Illustrated crust and mine. Both recipes came together in under 15 minutes. Both cut easily, cleanly, and with minimal crumbs. My version was sandier, better textured between my teeth. Theirs was buttery – and, I concede, much easier to make. There’s no heavy lifting of mixer from the cupboard – just a bowl and wooden spoon – and no need for almond flour. With the addition of vanilla and lemon zest (special ingredients in my version), it’s a contender, if not the winner. Before I admit defeat, I still needed to ensure the new crust would hold up to the filling test: filled and baked, does the shell collapse upon pan removal? I’ve had a recipe stashed since 1993 for a pumpkin-pecan pie. I decided to use it for my test filling – moist, heavy, dense, and a perfect flavor profile for the season. Instead of making tarts, I took a shortcut, patting the crust into an 8” square pan and making “bites” and omitting the butter sauce. The crust held up nicely.

Pecan Pumpkin Bites

Pecan Pumpkin Bites

Oh lordy! I’m one of those people who love pumpkin pie. When faced with the Thanksgiving pie array, my ranking would be pecan pie first, followed very closely by pumpkin with apple pie in the finish. (Who am I kidding? I like me some pie! Both pumpkin and pecan would make it on the plate, with apple being eaten in secret so I don’t seem a glutton). However, it needs to be the “right” pumpkin pie. I think some pumpkin pies are too firm and sturdy, more like a quiche or Jell-O. If you poke your finger on the surface, it shouldn’t resist or bounce back. It should easily plunge toward the middle with just a bit of surface resistance. On the flip side, it needs to be stable enough to hold up to a knife, not too fluffy or watery. I like my pumpkin pie on the custardy side – somewhere between flan and crème brulee. This recipe captures that texture perfectly.

Pecan Pumpkin Bites Crust

  •  1 1/3 c. APF flour
  •  5 T. Sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 – 1 t. finely shredded lemon zest
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 10 T. Unsalted butter

Melt butter.  Whisk together flour, sugar, salt and zest.  Add butter and vanilla.  Stir until dough forms.

Pumpkin Filling

  • 1 cup cooked pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten until frothy
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

Pecan Syrup

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350. Cover an 8” square pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang to help remove crust once baked. Butter foil.   Mix crust ingredients in a bowl and press into pan and up sides. Bake crust for 15 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden. While the crust bakes, combine the pumpkin filling and set aside. Combine the pecan syrup and set aside. Cool crust for 10 minutes. Spread pumpkin filling over crust. Drizzle pecan syrup over pumpkin. Return bites to the oven and bake approximately 60-70 minutes until pecans are brown and filling no longer jiggles. A knife inserted should come out clean. Completely cool bites. Carefully remove bites from pan using foil. Remove foil from sides of bites (you may need a knife to help the sides release). Cut into squares and refrigerate until ready to serve.