Maury Rubin's Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart

Unbaked

It really wouldn't have been fair not to follow up this post with a more detailed one, because despite the shrunken crust, this tart really is one for the recipe files, the lamination, the hall of fame. It comes from Maury Rubin, of City Bakery fame and the author of the fabulous Book of Tarts (which I own, and yet have never baked from, puzzlingly), so of course its pedigree promises great things. And if you'll note in your printout that you must line your unbaked, empty pie shell with aluminum foil and pie weights before blindbaking it, then you'll have spectacular results, I'm sure.

Oh, and another thing? I think the metal tart pan is key. I forgot mine at home, and had to use a glass pie dish instead, and while I'm not sure what effect that had on the crust, something tells me that Maury calls for a metal tart pan for a reason. But otherwise, the rest of the recipe is so easy. You melt sugar in a nonstick pan until a brown caramel emerges. You add warmed cream and melted butter to the pan and stir this into a luscious sauce, before tossing frozen cranberries and sliced almonds in it and piling it all into the baked pie shell.

Wait, one more note. Keep an eye on your oven. Ours was a bit hot and the top layer of almonds burned in the second baking. We attempted to pick off the worst offenders, which resulted in a slightly lopsided tart. But covered with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream? It didn't matter at all. The faintly bitter caramel, the bright and saucy cranberries, the mellow, crunchy almonds - they all blended into a fantastic, sophisticated dessert that absolutely shone on the holiday table.

Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart
Serves 10 to 12

Tart dough
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the butter sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until malleable.

2. Place the powdered sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer or a large free-standing bowl. Add the pieces of butter and toss to coat. Using a paddle attachment with a standing mixer, combine the sugar and butter at medium speed, until the sugar is no longer visible.

3. Add the egg yolk and combine until no longer visible.

4. Scrape down the butter off the sides of the bowl. Add half of the flour, then begin mixing again until the dough is crumbly. Add the remaining flour and then the cream and mix until the dough forms a somewhat sticky mass.

5. Flatten the dough into a thick pancake, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours before preparing to roll out the dough.

7. Lightly butter a 9-inch pastry ring or fluted tart pan and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat pad.

8. Once the dough has thoroughly chilled, cut it in half, then cut each piece in half lengthwise. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat, until you have 16 equal pieces. Sprinkle your work surface with a thin layer of flour. Knead the pieces of dough together until it forms one new mass and shape it into a flattened ball. Flour a rolling pin and sprinkle flour again on the work surface underneath the dough. Roll out the dough into a circle one-eighth-inch thick.

9. Dock the dough with a pastry docker or prick the dough all over with a fork. Transfer the dough into the ring or tart pan by rolling about a third of it around your rolling pin, lifting it and placing it into the ring. Gently pat the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of the ring. Trim the edges so that they are flush with the top. Put the baking sheet with the ring into the freezer for one hour. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before filling.

Filling and assembly
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cup frozen cranberries
2 cups unblanched sliced almonds

1. Measure the cream and butter into a saucepan and heat it over low heat. When the butter has melted completely, turn off the heat.

2. To make the caramel, spread the sugar evenly in a perfectly dry 10-inch deep nonstick skillet and place it over medium-low heat.

3. The sugar should turn straw-colored, then gold and then a nutty-brown caramel after about 10 minutes. Slowly whisk the cream and butter into the sugar. Be extremely careful about the sugar, which can splatter as the cream is added (long sleeves are a good precaution). Strain the caramel into a bowl and cool it for 30 minutes.

4. Stir the frozen cranberries and the almonds into the caramel and mix until all the fruit and nuts are coated. Spoon the filling into the partially baked tart dough mounding toward the center.

5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until juices and the caramel are bubbling slowly around the edges. Remove from the oven and let stand for one hour, then gently lift the tart ring off the pastry.

6. Let the tart cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Hindsight

Did anyone else make Maury Rubin's Cranberry Caramel Almond Tart yesterday and forget to line the unbaked crust with aluminum foil and pie weights before baking it because it didn't say to do so in the recipe and although you've blindbaked crusts a million times before, without that prompt you completely forgot that step this time around, leaving you with a sadly shrunken crust and an irrational case of Thanksgiving rage directed straight at that lovely man?

Still, a pretty fantastic tart. Tart, gooey, crunchy, complex. Absolutely delicious (except for that damn crust) and gobbled up entirely last night.

Regina Schrambling's Almond-Cranberry Cookies

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Well, actually, these aren't meant to be made with almonds. They're supposed to be pistachio-cranberry cookies (with vanilla extract instead of almond extract, and salted, chopped pistachios instead of toasted almonds). But yesterday was the kind of dark, cold day that simply begged for a lit oven and a tray or two of baking cookies to perfume the house, and since I had everything I needed except the pistachios and the vanilla extract, I thought it'd be okay to fudge with the recipe a bit.

And it was! The cookies are soft, tender little things that are filled with nuts and fruit which give the cookies some heft and an agreeable bite. The kosher salt, as always, brings out a tasty sparkle in the dense fug of brown sugar and butter. You can chew on a few of these while hugging your mug of hot tea close to your body under a blanket on the couch and not feel so bad about the Sunday blues after all.

Otherwise, you can wait until the cookies cool, stack them neatly in a pretty little bag with a tie, and give them to your boyfriend who has had quite a long, tiring weekend, or bring them along to wherever you're having Thanksgiving to be nibbled while the menu is being planned, or, of course, just hoard them happily for your afternoon tea. They're simple, wholesome cookies that bring comfort and warmth to these gray autumn days.

Almond-Cranberry Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.

2. Cream the butter and brown sugar together with a wooden spoon until smooth. Blend in the egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients until well mixed. Stir in the nuts and cranberries.

3. Drop the dough by tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each. Bake the cookies in a 375-degree oven until light golden brown (centers should be soft), about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 2 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Barbara Fairchild's Chocolate-Toffee Cookies

Cookie_1

Behold, the chocolate-toffee cookie. Isn't it a darling? All creviced and cracked and filled with nubby surprises? There are 26 more of those at home and I'm finding it very difficult to share them with anyone. Anyone at all.

The structure of this cookie is pretty amazing: just a half cup of flour to an entire pound of chocolate. When I first read the recipe, I rubbed my eyes a few times. Would I really go to the expense of purchasing a pound of chocolate (not to mention run to every bodega in my neighborhood looking for those darn toffee bars) if the cookies would end up melting all over the pan?

I trusted my gut. And Barbara. It's a good thing I did. The cookie batter was gorgeous - a bowlful of chilled fudge, practically, doled out on baking sheets (I couldn't bring myself to make 1/4 cup cookies as instructed in the article - who can eat half a cookie and save the rest for the next day? Just make a smaller cookie and eat it all at once. No?).

It tasted a bit like a brownie with that delectable shattering crust - the structure is the same, I suppose. But a brownie studded with melty, buttery chips of toffee bars (not to mention those toasty walnuts - though I'm more of a brownie-cookie purist: no nuts for me. So if I made these again, you get the picture.).

With the week I've had (work, work and more work, a trip to the ER with Ben, bad dreams about my work - did I mention the work? - and a bit of a family crisis in Italy) - baking these cookies was the closest I came to therapy. Eating them is helping, too.

Chocolate-Toffee Cookies
Makes 27 cookies

1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 (1.4-ounce) chocolate-covered English toffee candy bars (such as Heath or Skor), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

1. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl; whisk to blend.

2. Stir the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove the mixture from the heat and cool to lukewarm. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs in a large bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the chocolate mixture and the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture, then the toffee and nuts. Chill the batter until firm, at least 45 minutes and up to one day.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the batter by ice-cream scoopfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake the cookies just until dry and cracked on top but still soft to the touch in the center, about 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets. (The cookies can be prepared two days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature.)

Mas and Marcy Masumoto's Peach Quencher

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The heat wave has broken, but my appetite is still on the lam. What can I do? I've been eating PB&J's at my desk in an attempt to ward off starvation by heat. But drinking all that plain water was getting a bit old. In an attempt to brighten up my pitcher, I whizzed together a peach drink recipe that Russ Parsons included in an article on Wednesday about the Masumotos, a family of peach farmers in California. I've been imagining their farmhouse surrounded by orchards for the past few days. How nice would it be to walk between the peach trees at dusk, sipping on this thirst-quencher, ice clinking in the glass? Pretty nice, I imagine.

While it pains my health-loving heart to purchase and ingest anything with high-fructose corn syrup, I did as I was told, and bought frozen lemonade concentrate. This morning, I peeled and pitted three peaches and blitzed them with some pineapple juice and the concentrate in my food processor. Because I don't own a blender. If you do own a blender, by all means, make this drink in your blender. In my Robot Coupe, the peaches didn't entirely liquefy and I was left with a drink with bits floating about in it. Not entirely bad, but not entirely good either.

With club soda to thin out the puree and add a refreshing sparkle, the drink is a welcome change from all those bottles of chilled water I've been drinking. It's fruity and not too sweet, and you can control the amount of flavor with a splash or more of soda. Sitting in front of my air conditioner this morning while I sipped on my peach quencher, I could almost imagine myself on cooler shores.

Which is where I'll actually be! Well, not on cooler shores, exactly, but rather mountaintops. Tomorrow we're going to Colorado for a week of hiking and camping and total immersion in wildflower and grand vista photography. I can't wait. I'm not sure we'll have much of a chance to concentrate on quality eating between our athletic exertions (it might be GORP all the way) but if you have suggestions about where we could get a meal in the Boulder/Denver/Rocky Mountain National Park area, do let me know!

Peach Quencher
Serves 4

3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
3 ounces pineapple juice
1/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate
Ice
1 cup club soda

1. Blend the peaches, pineapple juice and lemonade concentrate. Pour the mixture into four (14-ounce) glasses and fill the glasses with ice. Top with club soda (about one-quarter cup per glass).

Russ Parsons's Peach Gelato

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It's been quiet around here, I know. It's not that I haven't been blogging, it's that I haven't been eating. People, it's too damn hot. All I can stand to do, besides drinking so much water it's coming out of my ears, is eat a yogurt every now and then, or maybe a graham cracker or two, and even that might be pushing it. Leafing through my recipes while I wilted in the heat brought me absolutely no satisfaction and the most appetizing thing I could think to do was to go sit in an air-conditioned movie theater (watching this, which you must must must go see) and drink yet another bottle of water.

But then I realized that the latest Sugar High Friday was going to feature frozen desserts and when I stumbled across this simple three-ingredient recipe which transforms frozen sugar-sweetened peaches and a dollop of yogurt into gelato without an ice cream machine, I figured I had to try it out. The recipe comes from Russ Parsons (who else?) who learned the technique from a Sicilian chef named Ciccio Sultano (I have a distant cousin named Ciccio in southern Italy, so this endeared the recipe to me from the get-go) who was named by Gambero Rosso to be one of the great young chefs cooking in Italy a few years ago.

But let's be honest, the most appealing thing about the recipe was the short ingredient list and the simplicity. Peeling three pounds of peaches sounds annoying, but it took me less than 15 minutes. I chopped the peeled peaches into small dice, then froze them in a single layer. I went out for a drink to celebrate the last day of Ben's job (Ben got a new job! Cause for much rejoicing around these parts) and came back to whizz the frozen peaches in the food processor with a bit of sugar and a few spoonfuls of yogurt.

After a minute of processing, a creamy, pink mass came together in the bowl. I tried a spoonful - it was delicious. I put the bowl into the freezer to firm up for another 20 minutes and then had myself of bowlful of the light, refreshing gelato. Not too sweet or slickly fat, the peach flavor was gorgeous and the consistency was satisfyingly creamy. I froze the rest of the gelato overnight and it crystallized and became much harder - all you have to do to remedy this is pulse it in the food processor again (my camera pooped out last night, so what you're seeing up there is the crystallized, more frozen version from this morning).

But you really should eat this the same night you make it - it's just better and fresher that way. Besides, what else are you eating in this heat that you can't have gelato for dinner?

Peach Gelato
Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 pounds peaches, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup sugar, or more to taste
1/2 cup mascarpone, creme fraiche or yogurt

1. Cut the peaches into very small pieces. The smaller you cut them, the faster they will freeze and the finer the final texture will be. Arrange the peach pieces in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and freeze solid, about 2 hours.

2. Put the frozen peach pieces in a food processor with the sugar and grind briefly. Add the mascarpone and pulse until the mixture is smooth.

3. Empty the food processor into a small container and freeze again, 20 to 30 minutes, before serving. If the ice cream freezes solid, simply process it again briefly before serving.

John T. Edge's Hypocrite Pie

Pie_2

Reading about regional American food makes me go all soft inside. An interesting narrative, simple ingredients, straightforward preparation - it makes for a good book and usually pretty good eats. Maybe it's because I haven't seen very much of rural America, or because much of that kind of narrative is bound up in the romantic ideals of what America used to be like, but I could curl up on my couch and read about that stuff all day long.

So when the LA Times published an article about John T. Edge, food historian and Southern Food Alliance director, my ears perked up. The reviewer, Charles Perry, was exasperated with Edge, finding his books misinformed and often overblown. But what kept Perry (and me) intrigued was the selection of recipes that Edge included. Apparently they were both "unusual and worth trying" (italics mine). I didn't need much encouraging.

In a case of total serendipity, I had volunteered to bring dessert to my book club on The Known World by Edward P. Jones, a novel about slave-owning blacks in the antebellum South. Could there be a better opportunity to make 100-year old Hypocrite Pie from North Carolina? I suppose I should have gone at the recipe a bit more gimlet-eyed and left myself more baking time when Perry noted that the recipes needed "tweaking". But I figured the LA Times test kitchen did that tweaking for me before reprinting the recipe (well, they did adjust the sugar amount, so I'll be thankful for small mercies).

I whizzed together an all-butter crust and let it chill throughout the day before coming home and throwing the pie together. After sauteeing apples in butter and sugar and cinnamon until the apartment smelled like Thanksgiving, I layered them at the bottom of a crust-lined pie dish (make sure you roll out that crust as thin as thin can be - mine was too thick). Then I beat together the buttermilk custard and poured it over the apples. The raw pie smelled divine - the creamy sourness of the custard offset the sweet, spiced apples perfectly. I slid the pie into the oven and waited. And waited. And waited.

If I hadn't had to run to book club, I would have waited longer. But I couldn't. So after an hour of baking, I pulled the pie from the oven. The crust was pale as can be, and the custard wasn't much darker. It had set, though, and the knife test came out clean. But just as I thought, when we cut into the pie later, it could have used more time in the oven. And perhaps a wee parbaking of the crust before the filling was added. The custard tasted good, but it was still a bit too jiggly, and the crust at the bottom was soggy. However, the crisp and melting edges of the crust were toasty, almost shortbread-y against the sweet filling.

I loved the homey pie's mysterious name. I loved its ease of preparation and its vanilla custard smell. I loved imagining North Carolinians eating it at the dinner table a hundred years ago. I wish I'd had more time to bake the pie properly - to a gilded, firm state. Because I think I would have enjoyed it more had it not been so... pallid. But I'm glad I made it all the same.

Hypocrite Pie
Serves 8

6 tablespoons butter, divided, at room temperature
3 tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Unbaked crust for a 9-inch, deep-dish, 1-crust pie

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet. Add the apples, 1/4 cup of sugar, and the cinnamon. Cook over medium heat until the apples are tender, 4 or 5 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until creamy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Mix in the vanilla, flour and buttermilk and beat until silky.

3. Prick the bottom of the pie crust with a fork. Spoon the apples into the crust and spread them around as flat as possible. Pour in the buttermilk mixture, ensuring that it covers all the apples. Bake in the oven until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 - 55 minutes (be prepared for it to take longer).

Simone Beck's Bread Pudding with Prunes and Apricots

Bread_pudding_2

I am of the school that finds bread pudding to be one of the world's most perfect desserts (since you can also eat it for breakfast or as a midnight snack and don't we all know that that kind of versatility is what makes a dessert an Important Dessert?). Stale bread, light custard, a few flavorings: this is nursery food at its best. And this bread pudding might be one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. It doesn't necessarily photograph well to show off its full splendor, but it is Out Of This World. I made it to follow our slightly ascetic meal of vegetable soup the other day, which was smart thinking, because I was able to eat an entire plate (dessert plate, but still) of the stuff, quite unencumbered and happily indeed.

If Simone Beck's name seems familiar to you, it's because it has for decades followed the more famous name on the spine of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia Child befriended Simone Beck along with Louisette Bertholle when she lived in Paris as a young woman. Together these ladies founded a cooking school and then went to be immortalized on kitchen shelves everywhere. Simone Beck wrote a book of her own in the early 80's, and it was from this book that Amy Scattergood pulled the bread pudding recipe published in an article on dried fruit in the LA Times in February.

There are a few amendments I have to make to that recipe, the most important being to cut the sugar in half because good God, I can't imagine the sweetness if I had used the entire cup. And I have a sweet tooth, people. So, I cut the sugar in half, totally forgot about the cinnamon and added an ounce of bittersweet chocolate that I'd chopped into a pile of shavings and rubble (because nothing - but nothing - makes prunes more delicious than a little bit of chocolate. Or?).

Thanks to Balducci's on 8th Avenue, I used dried Blenheim apricots instead of the regular Turkish ones, and I tell you, they may be the very things that transport you straight to heaven. Their cost is proportional to their incandescent taste, but it's money well-spent, especially since we good-fruit-starved East Coasters have to go to extreme measures to acquaint ourselves with the kind of produce those darn Californians can enjoy by just going down to the farmer's market. One last thing: if you make this, do yourself and your guests a favor and chop those pitted prunes up a bit. Left whole, they overwhelm each serving. The apricots do a better job of melding into the fabric of the pudding.

Served fresh and warm, the pudding was creamy, tender, resplendent with flavors and textures. Aromatic orange peel, rich chocolate tones, barely-there custard with supple bread suspended amongst the soft, zesty apricots and moist prunes. The few almonds on top added texture to the glorious spoonfood below. Eaten chilled the next day, the pudding had firmed up a bit, but the deliciousness was in no way diminished. The flavor almost reminded me of Panettone eaten on holidays, but it was even better that that - richer, fruitier, creamier. Perfection.

Bread Pudding with Prunes and Apricots
Serves 6

1/2 pound pitted prunes
4 ounces dried apricots
1 cup good red wine or strong tea (I used tea)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (I left this out)
4 ounces fresh white sandwich bread, crust removed, and broken into small pieces
2/3 cup milk
1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons dark rum (optional - I used 1 1/2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1. To plump the prunes and apricots, place them in a medium saucepan with the wine or tea and cinnamon. Cover and simmer until the fruit is very tender and has absorbed most of the liquid, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Soak the bread briefly in the milk, then add it to the pan, off heat, along with the sugar, butter, orange zest, eggs and rum, if using. Stir gently to combine.

3. Turn the mixture into a well-buttered 1 1/2-quart Pyrex casserole or a medium-size oval gratin dish and bake in a 375-degree oven for 15 minutes.

4. Sprinkle on the sliced almonds and continue baking for another 15 minutes, or until the pudding is firm and the almonds are nicely browned. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Michaela Rosenthal's Ginger-Sour Cherry Biscotti

Biscotto

I'm not partial to cookies that look like their creator suffered an attack of ADD whilst putting them together: stuffed to the gills with all sorts of nuts and chips and nuggets and chews. Maybe it's why I've never wanted chopped nuts sullying my chocolate chip cookies (or brownies, for that matter), or feeling overwhelmed when attempting to eat and actually taste the competing flavors and textures in this much-lauded creation (which actually IS pretty good - but I made a batch only once and for a long-ago boyfriend, shortly before we parted ways. And now that cookie is now pretty much off-limits for my kitchen ever again. You know?).

So when I set out to make these biscotti (courtesy of an LA Times piece in the 2001 holiday season about home-made presents), I already had a bit of a prejudice going. To add insult to injury, I was instructed to fashion the dough into logs, slice them, and (under)bake these up into biscotti - chewy biscotti, at that. Now I hate to get all high-and-mighty about cookies, for crying out loud, but biscotti (snappy and crisp) are an entirely different animal than just cookie dough shaped into logs and twice-baked. Especially (totally dry) cookie dough that is so chockful of ingredients that shaping it into a cohesive log is an exercise in utter futility.

This particular dough would have worked so nicely just rolled into small balls, dipped in sugar and baked up into simple rounds. If you feel a hankering for these cookies, take my advice, I beg of you, and go this route. Otherwise, you will find yourself standing over your Silpat-lined cookie sheet, chanting incantations at the over-stuffed cookie dough and willing it to stay stuck together as you massage it into pliancy. Then, when you've somehow managed that (nigh)impossible feat, you'll be wielding a serrated knife like a banshee gone berserk, doing your best to slice the half-baked logs into neat little shapes without them crumbling all over creation and having your precious ingredients spill out like the innards of a slaughtered pig (did I go too far? I think I might have).

But after all that bitching and moaning and self-righteous muttering, these cookies were actually quite nice. Although the cookies looked monstrous - with dark cherries bulging indecently out of the sides - the amiable aroma of molasses and spices had strangers coming up to me in the post office (of all places) to ask about them, and the eyes of my hostess at dinner last night widened sweetly when she saw what I'd brought her. I substituted sliced almonds for the hazelnuts, because they go better with spice cookies studded with translucent cubes of candied ginger, and I let the biscotti dry out a bit in the oven for a crunchier result.

I still think I'll stick to my simpler cookie tastes, in which only one ingredient has the starring role, but these gussied-up, role-playing "biscotti" really weren't half bad. I kind of wish I hadn't given them all away.

Ginger-Sour Cherry Biscotti
Makes 24

1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped peeled hazelnuts
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat together the oil, molasses, sugar and egg.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the dry ingredients into the wet. Stir in the nuts, cherries and crystallized ginger.

3. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a log about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Press down on the dough to flatten slightly. Place the logs on a nonstick cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

4. Cool the logs for 5 minutes, then cut them on the diagonal with a serrated knife into 3/4-inch thick slices. Lay the biscotti on their sides (on two baking sheets) and bake until they are still somewhat soft to the touch but dry, another 15 minutes. If you want crisper biscotti, leave them in a bit longer.

5. Transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Le Pain Quotidien's Belgian Brownies

Brownies

Just who, exactly, was I kidding when I thought it was a good idea to go easy on the sugar in the waning days of winter and a most stressful time at work? I have seen the light, my friends, and it comes in the form of individual chocolate brownies that when eaten for breakfast or a midnight snack can easily be substituted for illicit drugs or alcohol as self-medication in dire times.

Not only do the chocolate and butterfat and sugar do wonders in perking up the most depressed of souls, but distributing them at will helps, too. It must have something to do with karma, but if you bake up a batch of these and throw a few at your boyfriend and his mother and your doctor's receptionist and the doorman of your office building and your poor starving coworkers (while saving a couple for yourself, for crying out loud), I guarantee any foul mood will slink wretchedly out the window.

Described as "brownies" by both Le Pain Quotidien and the Los Angeles Times, these little chocolate cakes are soft and creamy on the inside with a thin top crust that shatters under pressure. As far as I'm concerned, "brownies" is a misnomer. These are airy (practically flourless) delights that aren't fudgy or cakey or any of the other characteristics that have people's emotions running high when the virtues of a good brownie come up in conversation. They're rich but still delicate (Ben complained about the structure of them while eating a few hunched over the sink last night) and would be best unmolded on a plate with a huge melting scoop of ice cream creating little vanilla rivulets all around.

I prepared these cakelets while watching Oprah cry as Sidney Poitier walked out on her stage unexpectedly - a deep chocolate aroma filled the air, I snuggled deeper into my couch, and another person's happiness proved to be the best distraction from an overwhelming world.

Belgian Brownies
Makes 14 brownies

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 - 64% cacao)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
5 eggs, beaten lightly with a fork
1 1/3 cups superfine sugar
3 tablespoons pastry flour

1. Roughly chop the chocolate into pieces. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and add the butter. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, until the two ingredients have melted. Mix well and transfer to a large bowl; set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Sift the sugar and flour together, then stir into the chocolate. Add the eggs and mix well. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The batter will thicken as it stands.

3. Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers. Spoon one-fourth cup batter into each paper-lined cup. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. The brownies will still be moist when done; they will puff up and fall slightly as they cool.

Amy Scattergood's Poached Pears with Poached Spiced Figs

Figpear

Cooking skills and deftness in the kitchen mean precious little if you are missing either of the two following prerequisities: an attention span of more than .02 seconds and a memory that goes back at least 45 days. The former would have prevented me from scorching a spiced wine sauce into unrecogizable blackness last night and the latter would have reminded me that after all that trouble, I just like my figs plain, please.

In the LA Times two Wednesdays ago, Amy Scattergood wrote up a few appealing recipes using dried fruit, including Simca Beck's bread pudding, which sounds utterly bewitching even at this early hour. As the sweet end to a meal of cabbage casserole (Swear to God. Stay tuned, it will be blogged about), though, I thought a light and refreshing bowl of poached fruits would be better suited.

Amy drew her inspiration from Lindsay Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts - a book that makes me lust for an ice-cream machine each and every time I leaf through it - using Lindsay's base recipe for the pears, then adding her own poached figs to the mix. The pears are cooked in a lovely little syrup that's scented with lemon peel and vanilla bean (though the amount of sugar in the recipe took my breath away - I put in a third of what was called for and found it sufficient). I could eat those pears for breakfast every day.

The figs were an entirely different animal, at least for my addled self. I realized once I arrived at home that I had none of the spices required. I had ground cloves and allspice, but nothing whole and I couldn't get at the peppercorns in my pepper grinder. So instead of just tapping in a dusting of each, I decided to improvise (a bad idea) and flavored the poaching wine with a small piece of cinnamon and star anise, along with the strip of peel. When the figs were soft, I took them out, raised the heat to reduce the syrup, sat down to eat dinner and promptly forgot about the sauce, until it started smoking and bubbling into a terrifyingly sticky morass about, oh, 3 minutes later.

Frazzled, I decided to serve each pear with a fig perched jauntily on top and a bit of the pear syrup drizzled about it. It looked pretty enough (something quite Zen-like about the whole thing), but I took one bite of my wine-poached fig and it all came flooding back: I just don't like boozy figs. So like the four year-old that I am, I made a face and handed the rest over to my mother, sitting conveniently next to me at the table and making pleasant noises for my benefit.

This is not to say the poached figs aren't good! After all, my mother liked them (and I won't make a comment now about the fact that she lost her sense of taste in an accident several years ago. Except, oops, I just did.) Prepared with the proper spices and minded over the stove as directed, they're probably luscious. But only for those of you who like your figs poached. Maybe I'll remember that next time.

Poached Pears with Poached Spiced Figs
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups Zinfandel
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons sugar
1 (1- by 3-inch) strip orange peel
6 black peppercorns
1 whole clove
2 allspice berries
1/2 pound dried Calimyrna figs

1. Bring all the ingredients but the figs to a simmer in a nonreactive saucepan. Add the figs and cook them at a very slight simmer until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 30-40 minutes, depending on the figs.

2. Remove the figs to a container with a slotted spoon, raise the heat, bring the syrup to a boil, and reduce by one-third. Pour it over the figs and chill.

6 firm, ripe pears, Bosc or Anjou
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 (1- by 2-inch) strips lemon peel
1 vanilla bean, split in half

1. Peel the pears, leaving the stems on. Core them with an apple corer, then slice a bit off the bottom so they cook upright. Alternatively you can halve them, remove the stems and core them.

2. Bring 4 1/2 cups water, sugar, lemon, and vanilla to a simmer in a large saucepan, then add the pears. Cook, covered, until the pears are tender but not mushy - 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears.

3. When the pears are done, remove them from the poaching liquid and boil the remaining liquid until reduced by half. Pour the syrup over the pears and chill.

4. To serve, divide the poached pears among 6 bowls and spoon the poached figs over each.

Harris Ranch's Pecan Drops

Cookie

I've been a bit puzzled by the LA Times food section lately. "Breakfast" pizza with a topping that includes sour cream, eggs, sausage, and two kinds of cheese? No, thank you very much. A vegetable soup recipe that requires almost three hours of preparation? And in an article about the "pure joy" of clear soups, no less. I'm intrigued, but three hours? Really? Mme E. Sainte-Ange's creepy-looking Poularde a L'Ivoire takes less time than that (but admittedly not by much). And I've already mentioned the choice of Paula Wolfert recipes that drove me nuts.

It was a welcome relief, then, to find cookie nirvana in one of the more humble recipes to be printed in those pages in recent weeks. And from an unlikely source, at least as far as this snob is concerned. Harris Ranch, an inn and restaurant owned by California's "largest cattle feeder, fed beef processor and beef marketer" (oh yes), makes these delicious little cookies that are whipped up in less time than it takes to run a load of laundry (I know, I checked). At least in an American washing machine.

And what's even better is they're made with no butter or oil or shortening, and with no flour. They're crackly on top and chewy inside and nubby all around from the pecan bits. The pinch of salt is key - it draws out the fudgy, caramel tones in the sugar and the buttery flavor from the nuts. These drops really taste like bites of pecan pie - good pecan pie (hrmph). A nibble on these after our dinner at Suenos on Valentine's day was better than anything we could have ordered (and waited an inordinate amount of time for. And, by the way, I tried, I really did. But I still don't like Mexican food. Sigh).

I only had half the amount of pecans needed, so with a bit of trepidation, I halved the entire recipe. It worked beautifully. You briefly mix the brown sugar (it doesn't specify whether or not to pack the sugar, which bugged me, but I half-packed it, half left it loose and this seemed to work just fine), salt, vanilla and pecan pieces together, then drizzle in the egg whites (it doesn't seem like a lot of liquid, but just wait). You beat this together for 5 minutes. It will go from being lumpy and unwieldy to a gooey batter, which eventually thickens slightly.

I dolloped out portions onto my Silpat and baked the cookies until they were barely brown around the edges. The cookies turn a creamy buff color and scent of toasty sugar and nuts fills the air. Freshly baked, the cookies have a nice snap to them. Kept a day, they become softer and supremely chewy. A day beyond that? I don't know - they were gone by then. These pecan drops are cookies for the ages.

Harris Ranch's Pecan Drops
Makes 3 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 pounds coarsely chopped pecan pieces
1/2 cup egg whites (3 to 4 large egg whites)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the brown sugar, salt, vanilla and pecan pieces. Beat on low speed to incorporate the ingredients, then drizzle in the egg whites. Increase the speed to medium-low and beat for 4 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

2. Drop the dough in rounded tablespoons onto a greased baking sheet. Press each ball of dough with the back of a spoon to form a cookie 3 1/2 inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick.

3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and immediately remove the cookies from the baking sheet to a cooling rack. The cookies will be soft but will firm up as they cool.

Grand Casino's San Andreas Cookies

Cookies_1

I've got a bit of a sweet tooth. It's not out of control; sometimes I'm happy to reach for a ripe piece of fruit instead. But I'd be lying if I said that an afternoon chocolate fix isn't something I look forward to on most days. It has to be dark and not too sweet. It has to be the right size: not so big that I'll feel gluttonous after eating the whole thing, and not so small that I keep reaching for more. But lately, I've become too reliant on running out for an indulgence from the deli, and I'd like to put the 75 cents I spend each time into a piggy bank instead (they're not for nothing, my New Year's resolutions! Though I have to admit that, so far, I am doing abominably badly with the whole gym thing. While I ponder the conundrum that I find myself in, worrying about my gym attendance while posting about chocolate cookies, I invite you to continue reading).

I thought I'd make a batch of cookies that I could nibble on all week, whilst also sharing with colleagues and feeding to Ben after a particularly demoralizing day of work. The recipe I chose comes from a bakery in Los Angeles and was featured in the Culinary SOS column of the LA TImes back in November. They're named after the San Andreas fault line, which is repeated in the craggy top of these sugar-coated confections. I've seen recipes for cookies with a dark interior and a snowy, crackled top before: in magazines and on the back of cocoa boxes. But they've never been described quite so lyrically as by Barbara Hansen and the cookie namers at Grand Casino.

The cookies have a pleasing texture: they're nubby from the pulverized almonds, crunchy from the granulated sugar coating, and tender and melting within. I was amazed by the amount of baking powder called for (two whole tablespoons!), and the fact that there was no salt in the recipe. I had to practically hold my fingers back with the other hand as they itched to throw in a pinch. With 12 ounces of melted chocolate in the mix, the cookies have a deep chocolate flavor, but beating the eggs for a long time and adding all that baking powder makes for surprisingly light results.

I'd suggest baking the cookies in two batches. Rolling the dough (that, I swear to God, rose overnight in the fridge. Is that even possible? Probably not) into balls and then in two kinds of sugar is a messy proposition, and when the dough softens from the temperature of the room, it gets even messier. Make up one sheet of cookies, and put the rest of the dough back in the fridge until you're ready to take out the first batch. That way, the dough stays cool and manageable.

San Andreas Cookies
About 2 dozen cookies

2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter
12 ounces dark chocolate
3 eggs
7 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup for coating, divided
3/4 cup flour, sifted
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup almond meal
6 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup powdered sugar

1. Melt the butter and dark chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the eggs and 7 tablespoons sugar until the mixture reaches ribbon stage and is pale and thick, about 3 minutes. Mix in the melted chocolate and butter.

3. Combine the flour, baking powder and almond meal. Alternating with the milk, add these dry ingredients to the batter. Spoon the mixture into a container, cover tightly and chill overnight.

4. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the one-fourth cup granulated sugar and the powdered sugar in two separate shallow bowls. Scoop out 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie and form into a ball. Roll each ball of dough in granulated sugar, then in the powdered sugar.

5. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake in the oven. Cookies will flatten and crack during baking, and are done when the dough is no longer gooey in the center when tested with toothpick, about 20 to 24 minutes. Place on rack to cool.

Martha Rose Shulman's Pecan Pie

Pie_1
I suppose I should have known that when attempting to bake three pies in one day - the most important food day of the year, I might add - one cannot expect all three of them to shine. If you have already managed a glorious squash pie and a stellar apple pie, well, then it must not be good karma to have your pecan pie dazzle, too. Which is too bad, because it certainly looked the most promising.

The recipe came from an article on pecans in the LA Times in 2001. The delicate filling called for honey and rum instead of corn syrup. I figured it might be a nice change from the traditionally sweet and sticky version. Well, I figured wrong. The pie looked absolutely gorgeous - a toasty brown filling that puffed up nicely in the oven and then squidged down into the all-butter crust - but tasted totally odd. Like...soap! I can't figure out why: rum, butter, honey and vanilla, not to mention a mess of pecans straight from Texas, these are all good-tasting things. How in the name of turkeys everywhere did this combination go so wrong?

First, I beat together butter and honey into a gorgeously unctuous cream that practically begged to be smeared on toast or waffles.
Honeybutter
To that I added rum, vanilla, eggs, salt and nutmeg. When the pie crust was rolled out, fitted into a tart pan and chilled, I parbaked it for five minutes, which really only seemed to make it greasy.
Parbaked
In went the pecans in an even layer,
Pecans
and then the filling was poured over.
Filling_3
The pie went into the oven and baked for about 15 minutes longer than specified, until the nuts were browned and the filling had puffed up.
Puffy
Ms. Shulman says that people like her pie because it's less sweet, but that's just no justification for this misbegotten pie that tastes of suds. Pecan pie was meant to be tooth-achingly sweet and chewy, the better to eat with a pile of whipped cream. Next time, I'll be looking elsewhere for a real pecan pie. Any suggestions?

Kimberly Boyce and Leslie Brenner's Apple-Quince Pie

Slice_7
Those tender apples! That flaky crust! This pie was a labor of love. At first, it made me want to pluck my eyes out and wail like a banshee. Then I wanted to dump the entire thing into the trash. But in the end it won my heart. Some people at our dinner party even said it was the best apple pie they'd ever had. I warn you: it is a pain in the neck. It might take you the better part of a day or two. You might find yourself whimpering at times. (This is beginning to sound like childbirth. I realize I may be overdramatizing for effect. Clearly this is necessary to illustrate my agony.) But stick with it: the rewards are outstanding.

The recipe comes from an L.A. Times Thanksgiving story that's two years old. Upon rereading the article after baking the pie, I realized that I could have benefited from some of the writing's calm tone. You are supposed to let the quince roast for 3 hours (we took the pan out after two, fearing total quince collapse thereafter.). The pie dough is supposed to be studded with clumps of unprocessed butter, rendering the rolling of it an exercise in nerves. The filling is supposed to be piled as obscenely high as a pie at the Carnegie Deli - that's what makes the pie so satisfying. What a relief!

As for the crimping job I did - well, let's just once again thank my parents for prevailing with their common sense and preventing me from chucking the entire thing. In hindsight, I have to agree - the pie looks nice! I think fear-of-overhandling-pie-crust-itis might have colored my judgement.

In the end, this gloriously burnished pie was a delight. It baked for exactly the amount of time specified. It came out glossy from the egg wash, sparkly with cinnamon sugar, and when the knife sank through the crust, it crackled and flaked just as it should. And the flavor - tart apples that kept their silky shape, gorgeously perfumed roast quince, a perfect blend of spices - was stunning. At Thanksgiving we served it with softly whipped cream. But it was equally wonderful cold and plain the next day, and the day thereafter. Then it was gone. I can't believe I'm trying to figure out when I can next attempt it.

Paula Wolfert's Madeleines from Dax

Image24
These could also be known as My Bumpless Madeleines. The recipe was excerpted from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of South-West France (which is being reissued now, and is gorgeous) in an article from the LA Times this summer about Wolfert's house and life in Sonoma. While I worship at the altar of Wolfert, these madeleines didn't really cut it.

I feel terribly about what I'm about to do. Criticizing a recipe of Paula Wolfert's! She of the melting Fork-and-Knife Kale, the miraculous sardine-avocado toasts, the endless discussion threads on eGullet... I do not venture into this uncharted territory lightly. But it is my duty as a recipe-testing blogger to tell the truth. So the truth is, these madeleines had no bump. And a bumpless madeleine isn't much more than a cookie with a fancy name.

Sure, the little suckers tasted okay. But delicious they were not. And I'm no madeleine virgin. In fact, a few years ago, I made a batch that, glorious bump and all, were revelations after years of eating packaged Madeleines de Commercy. (Of course, now, for the life of me, I can't remember where I put that recipe. I'll find it, never fear.) Wolfert's bumpless madeleines had the correct, barely dusty texture, but the flavor was oddly flat and, dare I say it, almost greasy.

1. First, I beat together 2 eggs, a pinch of salt and 5 1/2 tablespoons of sugar until the mixture was thick and light (6-7 minutes). Then I added 1 1/2 teaspoons of orange flower water and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, whisking gently to combine.

2. I sifted 5 1/2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour with 5 1/2 tablespoons of cake flour and 3/4 of a teaspoon of baking powder together, twice. I gradually stirred this into the egg mixture. I added 5 tablespoons of clarified butter that had melted and cooled, plus 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. I stirred the batter gently until smooth. The bowl was covered with plastic and refrigerated overnight.

3. The next day, I heated the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, and buttered the hollows of a madeleine pan. I filled the pan 2/3 of the way full, then rapped it against the table to let the batter settle. I baked the madeleines for 5 minutes, then lowered the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and baked for 6 minutes more, until the edges were browned and the madeleines were golden.

4. After removing the pan from the oven, I loosened each cookie with the tip of a knife and cooled them on a rack. The recipe indicates that it will yield 18 (3-inch) cakes or 24 (2-inch) cakes.

Mary Ellen Rae's Pear and Cardamom Upside-Down Cake

Cake_1
Oh, LA Times, how swiftly you have redeemed yourself. Despite my attempts at being fair and balanced, I couldn't deny that the NY Times was winning out as of late. But with this here recipe,  the LA Times has managed a real comeback. In Betty Baboujon's (what a name - it wouldn't stop repeating itself in my head all weekend) article about pears two weeks ago, she published a recipe developed by one of the LA Times Test Kitchen cooks, Mary Ellen Rae.

A simple white cake flavored with cardamom is baked on top of a brown-sugar caramel and a mess of sliced, peeled pears. The outcome was delicious - a crunchy, melty topping along with a tender-crumbed, delicately spiced cake. The recipe calls for fresh green cardamom to be pulverized in a spice grinder. For those of us who can't be bothered, I recommend just using the bottled stuff (I like a bottle of this, which I store in the freezer to give myself the illusion that it stays fresher than just hanging out in the cupboard). The LA Times has a bit of a love affair with cardamom and with good reason - it's lovely in northern European baked goods, but also in southeast Asian savory dishes.

A slice still warm from the oven was total nirvana, but it was also pretty great hours later, at room temperature (and as an ending to a roast-chicken-mashed-potatoes-glazed-carrots-aren't-we-traditional-and-middle-American meal that was preceded by a definitely untraditional exhibition of a certain someone's ability to not only do the Running Man but, after some coaching from one of our dinner companions, the Roger Rabbit as well. And no, there are no pictures of this feat, you'll just have to take my word for it). According to my dear coworker (who got the only remaining slice this morning), the cake was good two days later, too.

To make the caramel at the bottom of the cake, I melted some butter in a pan, then added the brown sugar. Oddly, this mixture seized up almost like a pate-a-choux batter and wouldn't really melt properly. I did my best to ignore this.
Buttersugar
When I had had enough of stirring this viscous mixture around in the pan, I spread it at the bottom of the cake pan, then arranged two sliced and peeled pears on top.
Pears
Using my spanking new mixer (It's amazing! It has six different power levels! Oh, the joy of creaming butter at a low speed and not besmirching my clean kitchen walls. It takes so little to make me happy, doesn't it?) I mixed up the cake batter and folded in the cardamom, which is almost overpowering sniffed at in the jar, but mellows out into this wonderful, exotic flavor when baked. The batter went on top of the pears and the whole thing went into the oven until it was golden brown.
Browned_4
After resting for a few minutes on a rack, the cake pan was turned around onto a plate (or, you know, glass pie dish) and rested a bit longer there before I eased off the pan. Yum.

Russ Parsons' Asian Pear Crisps

Crisps
After the New York Times published an article about the good food of autumn one week, the Los Angeles Times was not to be outdone, and a week later published their own article on fall cooking. I tried a recipe from both articles and am not quite convinced that either of my choices was the best one I could have made. But such is life - you live and learn. After all the helpful comments about the plum torte, I've decided I will try to attempt the kind of plum cake/tart thing I grew up eating and hopefully will post on that soon (the recipe acquisition is in process! Doesn't that sound all mysterious and fetching?). But enough digressing, I have crisps to report on.

I've never cooked anything with Asian pears, in fact, I'm not even sure I've ever even eaten one out of hand. They're beautifully speckled little things, and taste like the crispest, sweetest, most apple-like pears you've ever eaten.
Unpeeled
Since I seem to have misplaced my peeler, something which frustrates my type-A kitchen personality greatly, I had to peel them with a knife. Which actually was fine. So enough about that minor frustration. I peeled, cored and diced the pears roughly.
Diced
To this I added some lemon juice, a few tablespoons of honey, and baking raisins soaked in a splash of rum.
Mixed_1
I divided the fruit and the juices among four little ramekins (Parsons says this recipe will serve 6, but I think he was using Lilliputian serving cups).
Ramekins
In my mini-chopper, I had combined some toasted, slivered almonds (note to self and others who attempt this recipe: cool the toasted almonds off before chopping up with other things, including butter which is supposed to be cold!), flour, sugar, salt and diced butter. I pulsed it together until it looked like Nigella Lawsonish rubble.
Topping
I sprinkled the fragrant and simple topping on the fruit, trying not to push down too hard, to avoid cakiness.
Topped
I placed the ramekins on a baking sheet and slid it into the preheated oven. The baking time was supposed to take an hour. After an hour, the tops still looked raw, so I left them in. For another 15 minutes. And then another. And in total, an entire extra hour was needed for the top to brown nicely and crisp up. Could it be that because I divided the fruit into four serving cups and not six that it took double the amount of time to cook? It doesn't really matter - I wasn't going to serve them last night anyway. But for anyone attempting the recipe, plan ahead accordingly.

I didn't make the whipped cream, and I think that it probably adds a nice layer of cooling smoothness to the crisps. These crisps are very sweet - from the totally concentrated pears to the raisins to the honey, there is a lot of sugar in them. I might try these with some cold yogurt - the astringent sourness might balance out the hefty sweetness a bit. I liked the nutty flavor of the almonds in the topping, but this wasn't my favorite crisp topping (I've had good success with The Best Recipe's version).

I'm beginning to sense a pattern - most of the dessert recipes I've tried from the newspapers have been too sweet. Are my faulty tastebuds to blame, or are the recipes in general a little heavy on the sugar? I'm looking forward to trying some savory dishes next.

SHF #12 - Regina Schrambling's Summer Fruit Tart

Birdseye
My very first food-blogging community event! I'm excited to be participating. For this month's Sugar High Friday, Elise of Simple Recipes decided on the theme of Cooking Up Custard. As luck would have it, a few weeks ago the L.A. Times published an article on fruit tarts with a base of creme patissiere (pardon the fact that I can't find my accent grave and aigu). Regina Schrambling cobbled together a recipe using a shortbread tart crust from Joanne Weir, a pastry cream filling from a "Careme-worshipping dessert teacher", and a Madeleine Kamman-inspired lime marmalade glaze to top off the fresh berries that adorn the tart. I decided to make the tart for my friend Julie's birthday this week.

To start with, I still had leftover tart dough from my blueberry tart sitting in the fridge. Since it was the best part about that failed tart, I decided I could substitute it for the lime-scented shortbread crust. I patted the leftover dough into the tart pan and blind-baked it until golden. Then I set about making the custard filling. First I whisked together egg yolks, cornstarch and some sugar.
Eggs
Then I set a pot of milk and cream and additional sugar on the stove and brought it barely to a boil. I poured a bit of the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the eggs, whisked it together to temper the eggs, then poured that mixture back into the milk-and-cream pot. I whisked everything together until it bubbled and thickened, turning into a gorgeous, glossy, yellow cream.
Custard
I poured the custard into a bowl, then smoothed a piece of clingfilm onto the top of the custard to prevent a skin from forming and let it cool in the refrigerator overnight.
Clingfilm
The next morning, I plopped the chilled custard into the tart shell,
Filling_2
and smoothed it out with a spatula.
Filled_shell
I carefully brushed off plump blackberries, raspberries and glossy red currants, and set about carefully arranging them on top of the cream-filled tart in concentric circles. I decided to use red currant jelly to glaze the berries, but if you have lime marmalade at your disposal use that instead! The reddish color of the glaze looked odd against the creamy-white backdrop of the custard, in the small places where the glaze had dripped down between the berries. Details, details - I know.
Finished_2
Happy Birthday, Julie! Hope you liked the tart!

Edited on Monday, September 18 to give an update on Elise's roundup of SHF #12. Check out all the delicious entries here!

Dorte Lambert's Blueberry Browned-Butter Tart

Slice_1
After complaining a few posts ago about the complicated recipes involving blueberries in a recent L.A. Times article, I felt badly about dismissing the recipes. After all, isn't that what this blog is supposed to be about? Trying new things, scouting out ingredients, figuring out whether you should clip and save a recipe forever, or throw it down the drain? So, I rummaged through my print-outs and decided to make Dorte Lambert's blueberry tart.

Dorte Lambert is a pastry chef at Michael's, a restaurant in Santa Monica. I vaguely remember reading about this place in one of Ruth Reichl's memoirs. Blueberries are no longer available at greenmarkets in New York City, so I threw my cooking-with-the-seasons-and-preferably-local-ingredients sensibility to the wind and purchased the blueberries at D'Agostino's (at $3.99 a wee plastic container!). Not only were they expensive, but they looked a bit old and dull. And being mathematically-challenged, I bought too many. This is what I do for my blog! I buy expensive, sad-looking berries! I go broke! I sacrifice my values!

At home, I set about preparing the crust. First, I cut two sticks of butter into a bowl of flour and sugar. Using two knives, I mixed the ingredients together until the mixture looked like a bunch of large peas or clumpy cornmeal.
Large_peas_1
Then I added a sludge of beaten egg yolks and heavy cream to the bowl. This resulted in an oddly dry, yet simultaneously sticky dough. I somehow managed to squish the dough into equal-sized portions and wrap them in clingfilm for a rest in the refrigerator.
Plastic_wrap_1
I hoped an hour of cold would discipline the discs into more cohesive blobs. This was wishful thinking. After unwrapping the discs and trying to roll them out, crumbly dough shot everywhere. So I took a deep breath, cast my pie crust skills to the wind, and pressed the dough into my tart pan with my fingers. This resulted in several pockets of soft butter and a not particularly professional-looking shell, but at least the pan was lined.
Crust_2
I set the pan back in the fridge while I prepared the filling. Eggs and sugar were beaten together with vanilla and a small amount of flour, while another stick and a half of butter were set to melt on the stove. Browned butter takes on an entirely different flavor from plain melted butter. It becomes nutty and deep. If not watched carefully on the stove, however, it can quickly burn, resulting in a bitter and dark-brown glop.
Melting_1
For a while, the butter bubbled away at a uniformly golden color. Then the solids separated from the liquids (this is also how you make ghee, Indian clarified butter), foam rose to the top, and the bottom browned, filling the kitchen with a toasty smell.
Browned_1
The recipe then instructed me to leave a whisk in the bowl of filling, so that adding the butter wouldn't spatter. An odd note, especially when there was no mention of cooling the butter so that you don't end up with scrambled-egg pie. I poured the butter into the bowl, then found I had to whisk quickly and thoroughly because the melted butter threatened to remain an oily stratum above the egg mixture. Luckily, the two eventually came together. I spread the washed blueberries onto the crust, then poured the filling over the blueberries.

Filling_1

I set the tart pan onto a baking sheet, then slid the whole thing carefully into the oven. An hour later, the top and crust were nicely browned. According to Dorte, this was what I was looking for. I cooled the tart in its pan on a rack before slicing. It looked so promising: a rich, sweet crust, sweet berries coaxed by the heat into jammy goodness, a vanilla-scented and butter-flecked filling.  The recipe instructs you to then blanch more blueberries in a simply syrup, mound those on top of the tart and cover the whole thing in a sprinkling of powdered sugar. I left this step out.

Finished_1

When I cut a slice, the crust crumbled into delicious little pieces. But the filling looked entirely raw!
Slice_1_2

I was grossed-out, annoyed and exhausted. So I went to bed, figuring my colleagues would be my unwitting guinea pigs. Today, the tart has sat out on a table for all of three hours and is almost gone. I tried a small sliver, and although totally overwhelmed by the amount of sugar, figure it doesn't taste terrible. The filling, as Ben pointed out, tastes like tapioca pudding (something I realize not everyone loves). The vanilla and the butter and the faint muskiness of the blueberries come together nicely. I just can't get over the raw-looking filling.  The crust is really wonderful - it melts in your mouth. I guess this is lucky for me, because I have another portion of dough in the refridgerator waiting to be "rolled" out. Any ideas for a filling?

Altogether, I'd say the L.A. Times so far has been a qualified disappointment. Maybe next time I'll try something other than a baking recipe.