Fresh asparagus, Fulton Farmers Market and pizza

The Fulton Farmer's Market is back in full swing for the season, and we've been drawn to the fresh asparagus for the past couple of weeks. So good and soooo springy!   

Steve's favorite veg vendor is Visser Farms located in Zeeland. He usually scores the fruits of their labors throughout the market season, particularly potatoes (German butterball being one of his faves), carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and green beans (we LOVE fresh Michigan green beans in the summer!!).

On to the subject at hand.

Let's not forget that I do like to wander off into the savory baking realm every now and then, for life is not only about pastry, right? Pizza dough is one of those things I typically have stashed in the freezer for those days when pizza sounds like just the ticket.

First let me mention the dough. Back in 2006 when I was going to Apicius in Florence for my first semester of baking and pastry, Steve and I frequented an English bookstore there. At one of our visits we found a newly released book (I have no idea which one) by Jamie Oliver which was accompanied by a mini-book of sample recipes that was available for purchase. And purchase it we did.

His pizza dough recipe is one I've been using ever since, save for the occasional trial of a new recipe, just to see if I might want to make a change. I always seem to come back to his.

While I typically mix and knead by hand, lately I've taken to using my Kitchenaid stand mixer for the first part of the kneading and finishing it off by hand. LOVE the feel of dough.

Here's the recipe in a nutshell. To 650 ml tepid water add 14 g dry yeast (instant or active dry, either one) and 1 tablespoon sugar, mix with a fork and let sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile place 800 g bread flour and 200 g semolina in a mixing bowl along with 1 tablespoon fine sea salt; give it a quick whisk up with a fork.

Using the dough hook, turn on med-low speed and drizzle the wet ingredients into the dry. Here's where I make my own addition to Jamie's recipe of 2 tablespoon olive oil. Knead on med-low speed for about 4-5 minutes then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and continue kneading for another few minutes to achieve a soft, springy dough.

Cover with cling film and let rest about 20-30 minutes at room temperature. I divide the dough into six 283 g (10 ounce) pieces, wrap them individually, pop 'em into a zip-top bag and freeze.

If using the dough immediately, roll it out on a lightly floured surface, place on your oiled sheet pan (or baking stone or baking steel or whatever you're using), top with your favorite pizza goodies and pop into a 500º oven.

Pizza is one of our favorite ways to use up fridge left overs like grilled chicken or pork (thinly sliced for pizza purposes) and chunked up roasted potatoes. We generally add in some fresh veggies like tomatoes and shaved broccoli followed by a topping of grated cheese.

This time - fresh asparagus. Yippee!

It was a simple matter of cutting the lovely green stalks into shorter pieces, peeling and slicing the stems in half and throwing them into the mix. No blanching ahead of time, just freshly cut and trimmed.

I've been using a good old 1/2 sheet pan for a long time - olive-oiled and dusted with semolina, then into a 500º oven for about 13-15 minutes.  Et voila!

We top our hot out of the oven pizza with some lightly dressed shredded or chopped up greens, basically creating a pizza and salad in one.

The presentation may not be the most artful, but boy-oh-boy it's good!

Jour de l'Indépendence et les tartes aux saison - cerises et fraises

Happy July 4 tout les mondes!

Steve and I visited the Fulton Street Farmers Market here in Grand Rapids MI yesterday with the express purpose of buying fresh cherries for the tart I was planning for the day's celebration.

Not only did we find cherries, cherries, cherries but soooo much more.  The covered outdoor market is a colorful and enticing destination with all manner of veggies, fruits, perennials, herbs, meats, cheeses and a smattering of local artisans selling their wares.  And surely I've omitted some of the other goods we saw.

Fulton Street Farmers Market

As is often the case, I plan my tarts (and baking in general) around what fridge stock needs to be used up. This time it's ricotta and buttermilk, both perfect complements to fresh summer fruit.

I decided to bake two different tarts as a way to highlight some of the local seasonal fruit.  I was already planning on cherries but when I saw the strawberries, they looked so succulent I couldn't pass them up. I also bought a small box of California lemons for only ONE DOLLAR (such a deal!) - perfect for my lemon buttermilk filling.

So the day's duo includes tarte citron aux fraises and tarte aux cerises/vanille/ricotta.

laying out the fruit

I used my favorite pâte d'amande, blind baked, for both of the tarts.  First up is the tarte citron which is actually a lemon buttermilk tart à la Emily Luchetti.  She makes hers with raspberries baked in the tangy filling, but I baked it sans fruit, saving my fresh strawberries for the after baking garnish.

ready for blind baking

The filling is trés simple and is made by whisking together 3 large eggs, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, 2 tablespoons heavy cream, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 8 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, zest of 2 lemons, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of ground nutmeg.

working on the filling

Pour the filling into the blind baked crust and bake at 325º for about 50 minutes until set.

just out of the oven

Once cooled I garnished the top with fresh strawberries brushed with a hint of vanilla syrup for a bit of sheen.

Next up - the cherry/vanilla/ricotta tart.  This filling is another straight forward preparation, made by whisking together 4 large eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, the seeds scraped from one vanilla bean, plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 cups ricotta (whole milk or part skim - your choice).

les ingredients

Pit and halve 1 1/2 cups of sweet cherries and place them on the bottom of the blind baked tart shell.

Pour the filling over . . . .

ready for the oven

and bake at 350º for about 30-35 minutes until set.

just out of the oven

Once cooled I garnished with a central pile of whole, unpitted cherries just for fun.

Nothin' fancy here folks!

Time to eat.

Slicing was a bit messy.  Steve and I shared a sample piece of each.  The lemon buttermilk was tasty with a nice tang that went well with the fresh, ripe strawberries, but we both found the cherry ricotta lacking a little something.  The texture was smooth but there wasn't much bold cherry flavor to complement the ricotta custard, and I would have liked a more intense vanilla component.

All in all not bad but next time I'd roast the cherries in raw sugar ahead of time (as I've done for gateau Basque) to provide a richer cherry experience.

So Happy Birthday USA!  On to the fireworks!!

Time for some tarts!

Tarts are my favorite desserts to make (and eat), going back to the days in the late '80s when I became a huge fan of pastry chef Emily Luchetti (then of Stars restaurant).  I used to pour over her book "Stars Desserts" and made many of the recipes, being particularly fond of the macaroon nut and the blackberry streusel tarts.

So, as I spent a fair amount of time in Grand Rapids, Michigan this past July and August, staying at my mom's, I simply had to take advantage of the summer fruits that the orchards of western Michigan produce.  I paid a visit to the Fulton Street farmers market where I scored some Michigan Red Haven peaches (BIG favorite from my childhood) and fresh local blackberries which soon went into a delicious peach-blackberry custard tart for a small family gathering. Deelicious!  Topped with sliced almonds and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was just the ticket. 

Above: peach blackberry custard tart

When I had a September request for some petits fours tartlettes, I took a break from my La Pâtisserie des Rêves project to turn out some of my favorites - lemon, chocolate ganache and caramel nut.

It's always such a pleasure to return to tart making, especially when the cool, crisp days of autumn are upon us.  Working with the cool, supple dough, lining the tart rings or petit four molds and thinking about those luscious fillings is such a delight.

The beauty of these tarts is the make ahead fillings.  You can even blind bake your crusts and freeze them ahead of time. Just thaw them briefly at room temp, warm in a 325º oven for 5 minutes to crisp up, then cool and fill.  As usual, it's all about the planning.

I've tried many lemon curd/lemon cream tart fillings over the years, always in search of the perfect one.  All can easily be made a couple of days (or more!) ahead. I normally prefer a classic pucker-y lemon curd, although this time I used a riff on Pierre Herme's (complements of Dorie Greenspan) lemon lemon cream.  It’s oh so smooth and lemony, especially garnished with a dollop of light, whipped lemon mascarpone and a fresh raspberry. 

Above: lemon cream tartlettes

The ganache tart filling (3 parts cream to 2 parts chocolate with a bit of butter added) also keeps extremely well in the fridge.  The day you wish to assemble the tart, gently warm the ganache over a bain marie to liquefy it before you pour it into a blind baked chocolate crust and allow it to set.  I garnish mine with my own chocolate cookie crumbs.

Above: garnishing the chocolate ganache tartlettes

For the caramel nut tart I toast a combination of almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios and blanched hazelnuts before coarsely chopping them and folding them into a caramel filling made with butter, honey, brown sugar, sugar and a little cream and vanilla extract.  The mixture is put into a blind baked pâte d'amandes crust and popped back into the oven until the filling is bubbly. Steve describes this one as the best "payday" he's ever had (and it doesn't even have peanuts!)

Above: caramel nut tartlettes

And now - leftovers!!  When making petits fours tartlettes, make plenty of filling so you'll have components on hand to create additional goodies for friends or family.  It's a great way to plan ahead for an upcoming dessert occasion.

Here are just a couple of ideas.

Lemon semifreddo -  freeze the leftover lemon cream in silicone flexi-molds or a plastic wrap lined loaf pan.  At serving time either pop them out of the flexis or turn out of the loaf pan and slice - great with fresh fruit, perhaps a little berry coulis and some lovely shortbread.

Caramel nut truffle tart - blind baked pâte d'amandes, layer of caramel nut filling with chocolate ganache poured over.  A definite keeper!

Above: the components

Above: pouring the ganache over the caramel nut filling

Above: ready to chill with some nuts peeking through

And finally, a summer reminder - the classic fresh fruit tart with crème pâtissière filling.  Ahhhhhh.

Ciao for now!