Make Something New Every Day

This blog is inspired by all those who love to cook, whether experienced or not, and who continue to experiment with new ideas & ingredients, and best of all, share their passion with others.

The first entries are recipes prepared by the students of Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, CA. Fifteen students with varying cooking experience participated in my weekly workshop (via Tutorpedia), and successfully prepared various meals, snacks, and baked goods as part of an after-school program.

Along with the recipes from that class, I will continue to add new seasonal items, spanning every genre of the culinary world, as well as a helpful list of links to recipes, instructional videos, and places to shop and volunteer in your area.

Feel free to ask me questions and share your recipes and ideas as well. I look forward to cooking with you.

May 31, 2011

Blackberry Jewels in a Delicate Tart Crown

In 1994 I went to work in a French pastry shop and met my mentor & friend, Jule Vranian, who left me with a wealth of fool-proof recipes that I will continue to make until my wheels come off.

Although she & her husband Steve (then executive chef at Stars, now at Gianni's) moved back to Minnesota years ago, I think of them often. Jule's charismatic personality & positive attitude have left an even greater impression on me than her remarkable desserts. At a time when I was new to so many things, she taught me to be strong, decisive, relentless in my pursuits, and most of all, to laugh - at everything.

This tart embodies Jule's style to a T. You won't believe that something so easy to make could yield such an elegant result. I suspect that Jule's Midwestern roots have something to do with it.

Brown Butter Blackberry Tart
(serves 8-10)
Nutty brown butter, fresh vanilla bean, and lemon zest elevate blackberries to next level status. This time of year, pick your own berries, pluck a lemon off your tree (or a friend's), and serve your tart al fresco to complement a spring or summer meal. At first glance this may look like a complicated recipe, but though the descriptions are long, they are meant to help build & guide your technique. The recipe itself is quite basic, so more experienced cooks can gloss over the prose & just go for the gold.

Short Dough For the Shell (11" Tart Pan)
6 oz softened, unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks or 12T)
3 oz sugar (a scant 1/2C)
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
9 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (1C, spoon sifted)
3/4t baking powder
1/2t vanilla extract

Combine the salt, flour, & baking powder & set aside. Using an electric or stand mixer, beat the butter & sugar until light & fluffy (about 3 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl to homogenize the batter, & beat in the egg yolk & vanilla (about 1 minute). Scrape the bowl again & stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gather the dough into a ball & turn it out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Press it into a disc about 1/2" thick, wrap it tightly, & refrigerate for about an hour.
The Press Method
Alternately, you can take the soft dough (do not chill it) & immediately press it into the pan by dropping small balls of dough around the pan & flattening & pressing them together to form a flat unified base.
The Roll Method
Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator, & on a lightly floured surface, roll out to about 1/8" thick. Keep the dough moving & dust with extra flour to prevent sticking. Lift up one side of your rolled out disc, & flip it over your rolling pin. Slide the tart pan under the disc, & lower the dough over the pan. Don't worry if it cracks or breaks, just press it back together. Gently press the dough into the pan, using your fingers to ensure a smooth edge along the pan walls. Patch any holes with extra dough. Rolling your pin over the pan walls to cut off extra dough & create flush sides.

Place the tart shell on a sheet pan & freeze while making the filling. Preheat the oven to 350'.                    

The Filling
3 extra large eggs
1 1/4C sugar
1T lemon zest
1/2C unbleached all-purpose flour
6 oz unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean

6-8 oz fresh or frozen blackberries

In a heavy saucepan or skillet on medium-low heat, melt the butter with the vanilla bean, swirling the pan to avoiding burning the butter, while slowly browning it (about 8-10 minutes). The butter should have a nutty aroma & a deep golden color, but not burn, or it will taste bitter.

Let the butter cool a bit while you prebake the tart shell. Remove your tart shell from the freezer & bake for about 12-15 minutes until lightly golden. Because the filling is very moist, prebaking the shell will ensure you get a nice golden crust, and not a soggy mess.
Now, back to the batter...Whisk together the eggs, sugar, & lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, then strain the butter through a fine sieve, & stir to combine. The mixture will be glue-like, & thicken slightly as the flour absorbs the liquid.
Once your tart shell has cooled a bit, scatter in the blackberries, and pour on the nutty, vanilla batter. When it bakes it will puff up a bit, but it won't rise over the pan, so use all the batter, filling your tart shell nearly to the top (but not higher than the sides of your tart shell). Bake at 350' on a sheet pan for about 40 minutes (or until the batter has puffed up & is uniformly golden). Cool the tart in the pan for at least 20 minutes before removing the outer ring of the tart pan. Dust with sifted powdered sugar right before serving (if you do it ahead of time the sugar will melt.) If by some bizarre stroke of luck you should have leftovers, keep them in the fridge, but the tart shell will suffer from the moisture & cold. So just eat it all at once!
A NOTE ABOUT THE DOUGH: If you're short on time or completely intimidated by making your own tart shell, you can buy a prepared, uncooked pie shell, then prebake it, fill it, and bake it following the directions above.

A NOTE ABOUT VANILLA BEANS: Because vanilla beans are expensive, you can use a dry pod saved from another recipe. For example, to get the most from one vanilla bean, split a fresh bean & scrape out the seeds. The seeds can be added to a pastry cream, whipped cream, ice cream base, pudding, or many other recipes. The scraped bean still holds a lot of fragrant vanilla oil & extra seeds stuck to its walls, so when you soak it, the flavor is transferred into the surrounding liquid. Use beans to flavor cream or milk for a recipe, soak in vodka to create your own extract, or dry and store them in sugar to add a special touch to your baking. In this case, a hollowed bean has plenty of juice left to flavor your butter. If all of this is too much for your brain, but you still want to stretch out each bean, just use half of one in the recipe.

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