Lyne’s Maple Tart.

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Last summer, near the end of summer, I was in Montreal. It was hot, humid, and I was there for a music festival, staying in what was a very clean, lovely hostel. Days consisted of tromping around through the mud and getting quite confused by the sudden switch to French. (Which of course shouldn’t have been surprising, and yet…) During the day, we didn’t eat much. We didn’t have time to, and besides an apple or small snack, there wasn’t really any way to carry around a picnic. But Montreal, like what I’ve unofficially decided is its American counterpart, New Orleans, does not dissapoint in terms of late night beverage and sustenance. It may have been the porch culture, the wrought iron trelisses and ballisters, it may have been the row houses, and it most definitely was the French street names, but Montreal really does perform a little trick when it switches from dusk to dark. Which I would have paid better attention to, but the food was too distracting.

Whether it was after midnight bagels, the requiste viande fume and poutine, it was all perfect. On our day off from the festival we chanced a late dinner at Au Pied de Cochon and walked away from our seats at the bar several hours later, barely able to stay awake long enough to get back to the hotel and not at all capable of thinking about anything besides The Meal. Delicious isn’t a big enough word to describe the food, but it’s what I have. After pork, fish, more pork, a tomato tatin, and much more, we ended with a tart au sucre for two. And that meal, almost a year later, stuck with me enough so that I requested the restaurant’s cookbook for my birthday. The book itself is an experience to match the meal. But the tart, the perfect, delcious maple tart is enough to recall Montreal and as it turns out, tastes just as fine in Brooklyn.

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It’s simple—butter, maple sugar, eggs, flour, cream. Little else, but baked up until golden and crisp, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (or bourbon vanilla)… you know.

(I’m just going to ignore the lapse between posts because it’s embarassing… and I don’t really have a great excuse. But I’ll be better, I promise. Thanks for checking back guys. xo N)

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Fig Preserves.

Sticky, sweet, and plays well with cheese.

I know what you’re thinking, that could be practically anything. Even if we’re just sticking to what I’m talking about—fruit preserves—that still could be, well, any fruit growing from a tree. Or a bush. Or a vine. A preserve, while it sounds a bit mysterious and tightly sealed, is really quite simple. It’s produce that’s been intensely heated, mixed with a sweetener, and sealed off to last a lifetime. (Or a little less…) Great for winter, and even better it seems, for outlasting a hurricane.

Sandy arrived here yesterday evening in New York, and my family, friends and I have been extremely fortunate. The surreal state of it all, with only the Empire State building awake and shining in the city that never sleeps, the East River rising up and flowing over the FDR on the East Side, trees uprooting and smacking buildings at last getting a chance to protest the build up…it’s all quite odd, a bit terrifying, and in the strangest, darkest sense, a bit breathtaking.

But the day before, Sunday, I had spent making fig preserves. Perhaps now, it will be my little hurricane tradition. Sweet fruit broken down, combined with tart citrus, smooth liquor, and a healthy helping of sugar. Spread that on a cracker during 70 mile per hour gusts and a tide coming in on the avenues, and things will seem a little weird yes, but not completely lost.

Sharp cheese, crisp crackers, and a deep, rich fig spread to last a hurricane. It may not be the most practical of meals, but it’s comforting.

And responsible. See that barometer? Smart fig preserves checking air pressure. Stay safe.

Recipe on the following page.

Continue reading “Fig Preserves.”

Late Summer Tomato Tart.

It’s hard to say goodbye to summer. True, it was a sweaty, humid, 90-degree couple months with monsoon turns and steam room-esque subways rides, but it was summer all the same. It was patterned shorts, ice cream, beer in the afternoon, and a rainbow of produce.

And so to stave of fall for a little bit longer, I’ve decided to eat tomatoes. And really just tomatoes while they’re still ripe, sweet, rich, and…everywhere. A late summer tomato—it’s not actually fall is it?—is so good it can be eaten standing up, without silverware and with just the finest sprinkling of salt.

But while that’s raw and immediate, a late summer tomato is also divine in a tart, with just a bit of garlic and a melted crust of gruyere. It’s soft, sweet, caramelized heirloom tomato goodness ensconced in puff pastry, salted and peppered up. Whether it’s late summer or early fall, it tastes just as good as it sounds.

Recipe on the following page. 

Continue reading “Late Summer Tomato Tart.”

Dutch Apple Pie.

Sometimes, pie dreams are thwarted.

Blame climate change. Those finicky seasons which came a couple weeks earlier this summer. They’re to blame. Which, in a way, is true. Because what’s a girl to do when she has flour, butter, sugar, and salt all ready for a blueberry crumb pie, only to find that the wild blueberry trees are unfortunately sans a blueberry harvest? (Or ‘motherload’ as my clearly agri-challenged family likes to call it.)

The obvious answer is ‘check the trees before you make any pie-laden plans.’ That however, requires too much forethought for beach living.

But the great thing about pie is that, if you find yourself with a crust and a streusel topping but without any wild blueberries, literally any fruit can fill the empty place in the pie dish. And while our foraged-intentions fell apart in the blueberry abyss, there’s nothing wrong with substituting a couple store-bought apples in lieu of berries tiny, wild, and blue.

The result is pie, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Recipe on the following page.

Continue reading “Dutch Apple Pie.”

Coconut Cream Pie.

Genius happens everyday and it’s there, always. It hides behind bookcases, follows you down sidewalks, hangs out in trees. Specifically, genius in food is everywhere. It’s in the perfectly crafted cortado, nestled amongst dim sum plates on that little cart. Genius is the perfectly dipped hard chocolate shell on a soft serve cone. It’s the brilliant balance of caramelized onions, gooey cheese, and butter-grilled rye bread on a patty melt. Sometimes however genius surprises, even when you should be expecting it. Enter the Coconut Cream Pie at Tartine in San Francisco. Beautiful and petite, it looks as delicious as a pie has the right to be. And yet, there is a bit of hidden genius beneath that cool custard and peaked cream.

It’s there, in the perfectly thin chocolate and salted caramel layers underneath the whipped cream and coconut custard. Those two layers keep the crust dry and flaky, and add that necessary, surprising, and absolutely fantastic hint of salty sweetness. Those two hidden layers are pure genius, the kind of addition that makes any other coconut cream pie seem incomplete. From that first bite forward, it’s clear that no other coconut cream pie should ever be sans those two perfect layers. After all, nobody likes soggy crust, and everybody likes salted caramel and bittersweet chocolate.

The chocolate is painted onto the crust in a layer so thin so as not to be obtrusive yet still be effective as a moisture barrier. And while the caramel is just a frivolous flavor addition, it’s genius to be sure. A show-off kind of genius.

Which as it turns out is great, when it comes in pies. All pies should contain a bit of genius. One could argue, in fact, that most delicious pies already do.

Recipe on the following page.

Apple Date Pecan Cheddar Tarts.

I’m not sure if I’ve gone into any particular detail about this before, so bear with me while I confess: fruit is not my favorite.

A blanket statement, a write-off of an entire category of food, from a food blogger?! The shame, the audacity. Really, the hypocrisy. How ever can one be taken seriously, as a foodie, if an entire group of nature’s best produce is cast in the ‘not to be eaten’ category?

Well, I’d hope that a common love of fat, sugar, bacon, and caffeine would aid in letting my dismissal of fruit slide. Because it is the truth. Save for apples, grapes, and blueberry pie, very few fruits taste delicious. Pears, plums, nectarines, apricots, strawberries, blackberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, clementines, all of the above do not, in anyway, appeal to my palate. Yes, it makes no sense. If I love sugar like I claim to, then fruits are the easiest and healthiest way for me to take advantage of nature’s natural glucose. And, yet.

I cannot explain my aversion to fruit. Sometimes, it’s the texture that gets me, but more often than not, it’s the flavor. That floral, soapy, fruity flavor. Ugh.

This fruit-avoidance is the reason for the skewed ratio of non-fruit to fruit desserts on this blog. My family will knowingly answer, “something with fruit?” when I ask what kind of dessert they’d like to eat, only to be shot down with a look. I rarely make an exception outside of birthdays for fruit-based treats. And it is all to my detriment.

It’s more of a hindrance, an annoyance than a culinary position. There is no possible way to defend a dislike of fruit. How I wish a nectarine appealed to me, if only, my life would be make all the more easy. More times than I would like to recall have I had to forgo a delicious sounding chocolate tart because of errant raspberry sauce. Yes, please, can I have that brown butter pound cake, but please hold the compote. A trio of ice cream you say? What about just the chocolate and coffee duo, minus that horrid passion fruit crème? Espresso with an overtone of blackberry? No, thank you. Beer infused with apricot? I’ll stick to my hops.

So please, imagine my utter glee at happening upon a fruit pastry I’ll gladly eat on a menu. Such an instance occurred at Salt’s Cure in Los Angeles, with an apple, date, pecan, and cheddar crumble. I ordered without need for further explanation. And it was not a crumble in the strictest sense, it was really a tart topped with a mound of streusel, which is never a letdown. The combination of apples and dates, with the salty pecan and subtle to the point of undetectable cheddar was perfect. So perfect, it had to be replicated.

This recipe is ingenious on several levels, the first being wholly technical. The dates, when lining the bottom of a tart shell, act as a natural sponge for the juices the sliced apples will inevitably leak and the result is a date plumped and spiced beyond all hopes and dreams. The apples proved a layer of the best Thanksgiving memories and the crumble, oh, the crumble. Studded with toasted pecans, it’s marvelous. I’ll admit, I had not idea where to put the cheddar. Incorporated into the crust? What about in the streusel?

Opting for the classic ‘in the filling’ American tactic, I grated little more than a teaspoon of cheddar atop each tart before topping them off with streusel. The result? A hint of earthy saltiness at the end of each bite.

Recipe on the following page.

Georgetown (Baked and Wired).

If last week’s testimony to Georgetown coffee shop and bakery Baked and Wired didn’t convince you to visit, if the idea of banana cupcakes topped with peanut butter frosting and chocolate drizzle somehow didn’t justify a leisurely stroll, Metro ride, drive, train trip, plane flight, sail…let me try again.

Yes, it may takes upwards of ten minutes for espresso drinks, yes there is never anywhere to sit and yes, sometimes the lines are extreme.  But, it’s worth it.  That’s what I’ve concluded.  While, during the ten minutes after you place your espresso order, it may seem like torture, caffeine-deprived torture, once that perfectly capped, wet-foam drink is in your hands, in your stomach, poured over your head or drizzled onto your eye if eyeballing is the game du jour, the wait is worth it.  Always.

On the plus side, if you go during normal hours on the weekdays, for a mid-morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon or casual evening visit, there are generally nominal or no lines.  (Though the requisite ten or so minutes still happen. Good espresso takes time, a sentiment that is rapidly becoming the ultimate Catch-22 of my short life.  I desperately need it to wake up and function, but I have to go, purchase and wait.)

In a town that seems to run on good espresso, with Dupont’s Dolcezza and Filter and Chinatown’s Chinatown Coffee Company rounding my top favorite espresso shops, Baked and Wired has the additional plus of a lovely pastry case.

Never a bad thing.