Bittersweet Chocolate Tart {ModBak}

This is the second tart recipe in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker. Having made the press-in cookie dough, I decided to make this tart to fill it.

Although the ingredients list is very short — heavy whipping cream, light corn syrup, bittersweet chocolate, and unsalted butter — I found the instructions a bit fussy. First, the whipping cream and corn syrup are heated, then cooled. That mixture is then whisked into the chocolate, which has also been heated, then cooled. Then the whole thing is allowed to cool before whisking in the butter a bit at a time.

None of these instructions is overly complicated. What bothered me about it was all the waiting time. Heat. Cool. Heat. Cool. Mix. Cool. It just seemed kind of unnecessary. But of course, I followed the recipe, as it was my first time making it. The next time I prepare this filling, I’ll heat the whipping cream and corn syrup, pour the hot mixture over chopped bittersweet chocolate, and whisk it until the chocolate has melted. Then I’ll cool it — once — and stir in the butter.

Once the whole thing was mixed, I scraped it into the shell and refrigerated it for an hour or so. The recipe said to bring it back to room temperature, but tell me, could you resist this?

It was delicious right from the fridge. In fact, I think I liked it slightly chilled more than at room temperature, although I wouldn’t turn it down either way. Nick wasn’t exaggerating when he said this tart needs no adornment. It was so good — sweet, a little tart, richer than a sugar daddy, and perfect with the cookie dough crust.

This is definitely one that will make frequent appearances around here.

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Press-in Cookie Dough {ModBak}

There are three crust recipes in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker. I have used the sweet tart dough several times, always with great results, and I was looking forward to trying the other dough recipes. So when I decided to make the bittersweet chocolate tart, I was happy to see that it called for this dough for the crust.

Unlike most of Nick’s other pie and tart crust recipes, this one starts with room temperature butter, which is mixed with granulated sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer (another departure, as his crust recipes are usually mixed in the food processor). After beating the butter mixture to a light texture and color, an egg yolk is added, then flour is folded in by hand with a rubber spatula.

After mixing the dough, I scraped it out onto a floured board, pressed it into a rough cylinder, and divided it.

The dough was really soft and hard to work with. It seemed like it would benefit from a short rest in the refrigerator, but the recipe said to work with it right away, so that’s what I did.

I pressed the larger piece of dough into the bottom of the pan and worked it in as evenly as possible.

Next, I divided the remaining dough in to three pieces and worked them as best I could into ropes, which I then pressed into the sides of the pan and trimmed to fit.

I covered the dough with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for later. I ended up making the bittersweet chocolate tart the next day, so I waited to bake the shell until then. When I was ready to bake the crust, I took the tart pan out of the refrigerator and pierced the dough with a fork to keep it from forming air pockets as it baked.

I baked the crust at 350°F for 20 minutes, until it was firm and golden. It smelled just like a sugar cookie while it baked, and I was sure it would taste great.

I had some leftover dough, which I shaped into cookies and baked with the crust. They were quite good, so I knew the crust would be perfect for a sweet tart.

This is a great crust that is quick and easy to make and is perfect for those who have a mental block when it comes to rolling out pie and tart doughs. My only issue with it was that the initial dough was too soft to work with and would have benefitted from about 30 minutes in the fridge before attempting to press it into the pan. I made a margin note in the recipe to do it that way next time.

Mustard Bâtons {AMFT}

The recipe on page 15 of Around My French Table for Mustard Batons was one of the first recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s new book that caught my eye. It’s a very simple recipe: puff pastry and Dijon mustard are the main ingredients. It looked like a recipe that could be thrown together and in the oven in less than 10 minutes, making it perfect for a quick appetizer or a simple weeknight snack.

Dorie’s recipe calls for frozen puff pastry. However, as noted in a previous post, I had been wanting to try Nick Malgieri‘s Instant Puff Pastry recipe, and this seemed like a good reason to give it a go. You can read about my puff pastry making adventure here. Suffice it to say, if you are still buying frozen puff pastry, you really should give making it a try. You won’t believe how easy it is, and how great the results are.

With my puff pastry in the refrigerator, and a strong Dijon mustard in the cupboard, I was ready to put together some Mustard Bâtons.

I began by setting the chilled puff pastry on a lightly floured board, then hitting it with a French rolling pin to soften it and begin flattening it out a bit. I then rolled the pastry, giving it several 90° turns and flipping it over from time to time, until I had a 12 x 16 rectangle.

I turned the dough so one of the short sides was toward me, then spread the lower half with Dijon mustard.

After folding down the top half of the dough, I pressed it lightly to seal it. Then I used my pastry wheel to cut the dough into one-inch strips.

After I put the strips on the pan, I brushed them with egg, then sprinkled them with poppy seeds. The bâtons baked in a 400° oven for about 15 minutes, until they were puffed and golden brown. The house smelled so good while the bâtons were baking. The puff pastry smelled rich and buttery, and the Dijon had a pleasant pungent aroma.

I allowed the bâtons to cool for a few minutes before digging into them. They tasted as good as they smelled. My wife found the Dijon a bit too strong, but I really enjoyed the sharp edge of the mustard combined with the flaky puff pastry.

This is another recipe to make again and again. Dorie suggests making them ahead and freezing them before baking, but they are so quick and easy to throw together (especially with homemade puff pastry in the freezer), that I think I will normally make and bake them on the same day.

Empanadas {Bake!}

We owe last night’s dinner — or at least the inspiration for it — to my friend, Marthe Teunis. No, she didn’t fly to Ohio from The Netherlands to cook for us (but how cool would that have been?). But she did choose empanadas from Bake! for our next group baking recipe.

For some reason this recipe took me forever to get around to making. I bought the ingredients, put them away, got them back out, and on and on. I made the puff pastry with Nick’s amazingly simple and delicious recipe (also in Bake! — you really should get this book) two weeks ago and put it in the freezer when I realized I wasn’t going to get around to making the empanadas that weekend. Then last week I made the chicken picadillo filling and again ended up putting it in the freezer as the timing didn’t work out.

I got both the pastry and filling out of the freezer this past weekend, thinking I would make the empanadas on Sunday. I finally got around to baking them for dinner last night (Monday). Fortunately, with the filling and puff pastry done, it was really just a matter of assembling everything. Of course, I couldn’t make things too easy, so I decided to make a few different empanadas. I had some Portobello mushrooms and canned chicken, so I made a sherry-mushroom-chicken filling. And I had a can of apple pie filling for caramel apple empanadas.

The dough rolled out beautifully, and the empanadas came together quickly. I made the two savory varieties first and then threw together the apple empanadas while the first batch was in the oven.

The savory empanadas were both delicious. I started with the mushroom and chicken version and was pretty sure it would be my favorite. Then I tasted Nick’s version, and it was amazing! The filling was mildly spicy and blended perfectly with the buttery, flaky crust.

The caramel apple empanadas were good, too, but not as good as the savory versions. I probably should have baked them a bit longer or at a slightly higher temperature. The taste was fine, but they weren’t as crispy as I would have liked.

Nonetheless, I am sold on Nick’s version of empanadas. The puff pastry is perfect, and the filling possibilities are almost endless. I definitely want to try the ground beef version in the book. And I could see keeping extra filling in the freezer for an easy weeknight dinner.

Some of my Twitter friends made these, too. Check out these posts by Abby, Andrea, and Kayte.

Pumpkin Pecan Buttermilk Tart with Cinnamon Whipped Cream {ModBak}

The second recipe I signed up to post for the Sweet Tarts and Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge was one I knew right away I would love. I’m a huge pumpkin pie fan. In my house we eat them year-round, and we always make at least two at a time — one for the day it’s made and the other for the next day, starting with breakfast. And if you need some left for, say, Thanksgiving dinner, you have to bake a few more. And no one makes them like my mom.

So I was excited to try Nick’s recipe to see how it would stack up to mom’s normal, back-of-the-can recipe. Having made the bourbon-scented pecan tart, which blew my old pecan pie recipe out of the water, I couldn’t wait to see what Nick would do with pumpkin pie.

Like most of the recipes in this section, this one starts with sweet tart dough. I’ve really come to love this pastry dough. It is so easy to work with, and the results are consistently delicious. Because of my family’s affection for pumpkin pie, I decided to make the full recipe. So I started with an 11-inch tart crust.

The tart filling came together very quickly. After whisking pumpkin pie filling and eggs together in a bowl, I added sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and buttermilk and mixed it all together. I poured the filling into the tart shell, then topped it with chopped pecans. The recipe said to sprinkle sugar on top, but I forgot. It didn’t seem to affect the final product, although I will definitely remember it next time so I can compare.

I baked the tart for 35 minutes at 350°F, until the crust was baked through and the filling was set.

I cooled the tart for about half an hour, then removed the sides and bottom of the pan and put the tart on a cutting board while I made the cinnamon whipped cream, which consisted of heavy cream, sugar, and cinnamon.

We ate a quick dinner of leftovers so we could have the tart for dessert. I served the tart with cinnamon whipped cream on the side, to the great delight of my family — and me.

So how did Nick’s pumpkin tart stack up to mom’s much-loved pie? Sorry, Mom. You lose this throwdown — big time. The tart was delicious — creamy, spicy, sweet, but not overly so. And the crunch of the pecans was a welcome addition, as was the cinnamon whipped cream.

This is definitely my new pumpkin tart recipe. And I have a feeling that, once I make it for Mom, it will be hers, too.

Introducing “The Pig”

I’m not sure where I first saw a salt pig. It was probably on a website that sells cooking, baking, and general kitchen supplies and equipment. It seemed familiar, like I had probably seen someone using one on TV, and I immediately wanted one. But in an uncharacteristic show of restraint, I didn’t buy it.

I figured I’d see one in a store somewhere, so I could get a better look at it and decide if I really thought it would be a nice addition to my kitchen. So I looked around, and to my surprise, not only did I not find any salt pigs, I couldn’t even find anyone who knew what I was talking about. Even in kitchen and specialty stores, the clerks just stared at me like I had asked if they had any polite Frenchmen in stock.

The closest thing I found to my elusive salt pig was a two-tiered bamboo salt cellar, which has taken up residence on my counter, but still didn’t fulfill my now single-minded quest to find le porc de sel. The problem was that by the time I realized I wasn’t going to find it in a store near me, I couldn’t remember where I first saw it. I surfed around the ‘net and found a lot of salt cellars, and even a few pigs, but not like the one that had first captured my imagination.

Or was it my imagination? Had I dreamed the whole thing? Was there a salt pig like the one I was looking for, or had my quest been in vain?

Then it happened. I got a free shipping e-mail offer from one of the kitchen sites I visit and from whom I occasionally make a purchase. I wasn’t really in the market for ingredients or supplies, so I almost deleted the message. Then I remembered the pig, and figured it was worth a shot. And, lo and behold!, I found it! Not just one like it, but the very salt pig for which I had searched in vain these many months.

I supposed it goes without saying that I ordered it immediately.

Then something strange happened. In the week between when I purchased it and when the package was delivered, I started to wonder why I thought I needed a salt pig in the first place. Sure, it’s nice to have an open and readily accessible salt container at hand while cooking, but I had cooked for decades without one, so did I really need it? And would I actually use it? Maybe I wouldn’t even like it.

When it arrived, I unboxed it, being careful to save the packaging it came in, lest I decided to return it. I liked the look of it. In fact, it was nicer than it had looked online. I filled it with salt, put it on top of the stove, and soon found myself reaching for it whenever I cooked. Before long, I could hardly remember cooking or baking without it.

So now, without further adieu, patient readers, I give you “The Pig”:

Before you read this, you may not have known what a salt pig was, and you probably never thought you needed one. But I’m telling you, you want this. It’s the best invention since, well, salt.

Banana Walnut Tart {ModBak}

The third recipe I made from the Sweet Tarts and Pies section of The Modern Baker was another easy and delicious tart. I had sweet tart dough left over from when I made the bourbon-scented pecan tart the other night, so this tart came together really quickly. In fact, I mixed this recipe up this evening after work — something I rarely do — and it was less than 20 minutes from the time I got the dough out of the fridge until I was putting the tarts in the oven.

I used my 4 1/2-inch tart pans and had enough dough for three tarts. I wasn’t sure how much filling to make, so I opted to halve the recipe. After rolling out the dough, I measured walnuts and brown sugar into the food processor and pulsed them until the nuts were finely chopped. Then I added butter, an egg, cinnamon, vanilla extract, baking powder, and flour and mixed everything into a thin batter.

I cut up two bananas and arranged them in the tart pans, poured in the batter, then topped the tarts with chopped walnuts. 

I baked the tarts at 350°F for about 30 minutes. The recipe doesn’t give a baking time, so I started with 20 minutes and kept an eye on them until they were done. Other than the crust, the tarts looked almost like a cake.

Now came the hardest part — waiting for the tarts to cool. I left them in the pans for about 15 minutes, then took them out and let them cool the rest of the way while I distracted myself by watching Jeopardy.

I sliced into one of the tarts. The banana looked almost like a custard filling.

I know some of my fellow Modern Bakers were a bit skeptical of this recipe, mostly because of the cooked bananas. While I understand their reluctance, having tried this tart I can tell you it is delicious, bananas and all. Nick is right when he says the bananas cook to a sweet, jam-like consistency. And the flavors of the bananas, walnuts, brown sugar, and rum all compliment each other, making this tart sweet, nutty, and hard to resist.

While I liked most of the savory tarts and pies in the last section, I think sweets are definitely Nick’s forte. And I’m looking forward to the rest of the recipes in this section.

Bourbon-scented Pecan Tart {ModBak}

Having just made sweet tart dough, the first recipe in the Sweet Tarts and Pies section of The Modern Baker, I obviously had to make something to go in it. Looking through the book, this recipe immediately caught my eye. First of all because I love pecan pie and this recipe, with its hint of bourbon, sounded really good. Also, I knew I had almost all the ingredients I needed to make it. And the one I didn’t have? Well, it’s always nice to have an excuse to buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark, isn’t it?

If you’ve never made a pecan pie or tart before, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is. I began by heating dark corn syrup and sugar over medium heat.

After the sugar mixture came to a boil, I took it off the heat and added butter and let it melt without stirring.

While the butter was melting, I whisked eggs, salt, and bourbon in a bowl, then I slowly whisked in the syrup.

Nick cautions against overmixing at this point, which would cause the filling to be cloudy instead of clear. He also says to allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes, then skim off the foam. I did this, then stirred in the pecans and dumped the whole thing into the tart pan.

 

If the filling resembles the proverbial 10 pounds of taters in a five-pound sack, it’s because I made a nine-inch tart crust (the recipe calls for an 11-inch pan) but didn’t scale back the filling. I thought I would have some filling left over, but I was able to squeeze it all in the pan without any overflow.

I baked the tart in a 350°F oven for 35 minutes, until the filling was set and little bubbles were breaking on the surface. I took the tart out of the oven and allowed it to cool — more or less — in the pan.

Oh, who am I kidding? As soon as that bad boy was cool enough to handle without burning myself, I got it out of the pan and onto a plate.

And it wasn’t long after that until I was slicing into it for a taste.

Boys and girls, this is what happens if you cut a pie while it is still too warm

 I wrecked that beautiful tart, and I didn’t care. I had to try it. And let me tell you, it was worth it. This was easily the best pecan tart/pie I have ever tasted. The filling was sweet, rich, and buttery. But what really set it apart was the bourbon.

There is only a tablespoon-and-a-half of bourbon in the whole tart, and you might be tempted to skip it if you don’t drink bourbon or have any on hand. That would be a huge mistake. Without the bourbon, this would be just another delicious pecan tart. The bourbon — which is very subtle, more of a sense than a taste (I can see why Nick calls it “bourbon-scented”) — elevates this tart to a class of its own.  It adds richness, depth, and an aroma that will keep you shoveling this rich tart in your mouth long after you’re full.

Unless you have a strong aversion to bourbon and rich desserts, I guarantee you will love this recipe. But a word of caution: if you bring this tart to your next holiday meal, you’d better bring two. And you should probably plan on bringing it every year.

Sweet Tart Dough {ModBak}

With April comes warmer weather (it was an unseasonable, yet welcome, 80°F here today), thoughts of summer, and, this year at least, Sweet Tarts and Pies! If you’ve followed the Modern Baker Challenge, you know that we just finished the Savory Tarts and Pies section. And while many of the bakers — myself included — claimed to be happy for the break from sweets, we soon showed our true colors. It was like pulling teeth to get the official posts up on the Modern Baker Challenge website. In the end, I had to resort to scavenging posts from this and other websites to fill in all the recipes.

But here we are, barely a week into the sweets section, and we already have half-a-dozen posts up, including Kayte’s official post for this sweet tart dough. Like its rich cousin in the last section, this dough is super easy to mix up, rolls out great, and tastes fantastic. The ingredients — flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter, egg, and water — are mixed up in the food processor in just a few seconds, then the dough is ready to refrigerate or roll out. Like Kayte, I found this dough benefited from about an hour’s rest in the fridge before rolling.

Once it was slightly chilled and relaxed, rolling it out was a breeze.

After rolling the dough, I folded it in fourths to move it to the tart pan.

I unfolded it in the pan, then began pressing it into place.

I used my rolling pin to cut the off overhanging dough even with the top of the pan, then pressed the edges even with the lip of the pan.

As someone who has had a long, losing battle with pastry crusts (part of the reason I undertook this baking challenge in the first place), I have really come to appreciate Nick Malgieri’s dough recipes and instructions. I won’t say they’re foolproof, as I’ve had some that I ended up having to piece together in the pan, but they are achievable, even for me.

And more importantly, they have me believing that even I can consistently make good pastry dough. The proof is in the pies — and tarts.

Zucchini & Ricotta Pie {ModBak}

The final recipe I made for the Savory Tarts and Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge was zucchini and ricotta pie.

This was a fairly straightforward recipe. I began by shredding the zucchini in the food processor, then putting it in a strainer set over a bowl. The shredded zucchini was quite wet, and I expected to see quite a bit of water draining off, so I was surprised that, after half an hour, not a single drop had collected in the bowl. I looked at the recipe and quickly realized the problem.

After mixing the zucchini with salt (duh!) and returning it to the strainer, a lot of water began dripping from the zucchini within a few minutes. I let the zucchini drain for about an hour, then rinsed it and squeezed it dry.

Meanwhile, I sautéed onion in olive oil until it became soft and translucent. Then I added the zucchini and cooked it low and slow for about 20 minutes.

While the onions and zucchini were cooking, I rolled out the dough. The recipe called for olive oil dough, but I’ve become rather fond of the rich pie dough, so that’s what I used for this recipe.

After the zucchini had softened and cooked down quite a bit, I scraped it and the onions into a bowl and seasoned it well with salt and pepper. Next, I added ricotta, eggs, chopped parsley, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, mixing well after each addition. I poured the filling into the crust and smoothed it out.

I put on the top crust, then trimmed the crusts even with the pan. I baked the pie for 30 minutes at 375°F, until the crust was golden and the filling set.

I cooled the pie in the pan on a rack, then removed it from the pan to serve.

This was a nice pie with which to finish off this section. It was creamy, cheesy, and savory, and was good not only the day it was made but also for lunch the next day.

So, that’s it for the savory tarts and pies. Stay tuned for some sweet stuff!

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