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!!

Lemon, lemon, lemon!

While visiting my mom in Grand Rapids, Michigan recently I simply had to do a little baking.  Why of course!  What could be more natural?

I've had lemon on the brain, finding these days of ongoing winter, with some early (dare I say it?) hints of spring, so conducive to the fresh, bright taste of lemon.  I wanted to make lemon scones for sure.  Mom just LOVED them when I made them over our Christmas visit, and, in addition to serving them for a couple of family luncheons, I wanted to bake up a stash for her freezer.

This recipe for lemon cream scones is the one I made all summer long back in 2007 at Gerrish's cafe in Winter Harbor, Maine.  Full of lemon zest, cream and butter, they were a big hit with the locals and tourists.

les ingredients

wet and dry

Making them by hand is the key.  Whisk the dry ingredients (260 gm/2 cups flour, 30 gm/2 TBSP sugar, 8 gm/1 TBSP baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, and zest of 2 medium or 1 large lemon) and sand in the diced, cold butter (113 gm/4 oz/1 stick).  Then add the wet ingredients (180 ml/3/4 cup heavy cream, 1 large egg, 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice) and mix quickly and gently to achieve a shaggy dough.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface, give the batter a few quick kneads, shape a one inch thick round and cut into 6 or 8 triangles, depending on your size preference (I prefer smaller portions).

Once I have them on the parchment lined baking sheet, I pop them into the freezer for 10-15 minutes to stabilize the dough before baking.

Brush with a little cream (or egg wash) and sprinkle with sugar. . . .

ready for the oven

then bake at 400º for about 20 minutes.

just out of the oven

When ready to serve for brunch or lunch, just place them in a cloth lined basket and they're ready for the table!

For a luncheon dessert I had in mind a lemon custard of some sort.  The whole custard discussion is a topic unto itself - stove top vs. oven; milk or cream; yolks, whole eggs or a combination of both; starch or not - it goes on and on.

I decided on a straight forward stovetop lemon custard, à la crème pâtissiére, with milk, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice, sugar and cornstarch.  It's a practical do-ahead preparation, especially since it holds well in the fridge up to 2-3 days.

A little side note here:  when I'm working in someone else's kitchen and don't have the tools that I normally have at my disposal, it can take some improvising.  Lo and behold, I discovered a new way to juice a lemon using a beater from a Kitchenaid hand mixer . . . .

Just halve the lemon and twist the beater into the half to release the juice - not bad!!

The custards came out silky smooth, not too heavy or eggy and with just the right burst of lemon.  Topped with a little chantilly and fresh raspberries - what could be better?  Perhaps a moist little financier?  Yes!!

My second recipe from "Baking Chez Moi"

I was delighted to receive Dorie Greenspan's recently published book "Baking Chez Moi" as a Christmas gift from Steve.  I simply love immersing myself in a new baking book, perusing the recipes and all of the great tips and techniques offered throughout the pages.  And, to top it off, Dorie's Paris connections and on-the-ground access to so many local French recipes makes it all the more enticing!

A few weeks back I made the custard apple squares recipe that had been highlighted online, and, being on the hook for dessert for a family gathering this past weekend, I was eager to delve deeper into the book for my second trial.

But, before I launch into that . . .

Last evening we took a quick drive through the entrance roads to Meijer Gardens to take a gander at the holiday lights.  The sun had just set and there was still a hint of pink in the western sky, but the lights were all illuminated and a pleasure to behold!

entrance to the main building at Meijer Gardens

There were many more lights to see and the picture doesn't even begin to do them justice, but, suffice it to say, if you happen to be in Grand Rapids over the Christmas and New Year holidays, be sure to stop in for a visit.

Now on to the recipe!  I decided on a version of the "pear tart with crunchy topping", since I had already purchased apples for my dessert prep.  I even had some of my pâte d'amande tart dough in Mom's freezer from my late summer visit, so out it came, making my prep much more straight forward.

In a nutshell this tart consists of a fully blind-baked crust, fruit filling and a crunchy nut topping made with egg whites, confectioner's sugar and nuts (in this case sliced almonds).  Dorie's recipe calls for sautéeing diced pears in sugar and butter to caramelize them, after which they are placed into the blind-baked crust and topped with the nut mixture.  Bake at 400º for about 25 minutes until the topping is golden and shiny and voila!

just out of the oven

For my version I used a combo of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples instead of pears and added some orange zest and a splash of OJ to my sauté mixture.  My fruit didn't caramelize like I had hoped, but I didn't want to cook it too long for fear of mushiness (I always prefer a hint of crunch to my apple tarts.)

My first bite gave me pause.  Although the apples were just the degree of al dente I wanted, I wasn't sure about the overall flavor of the apple mixture and the ever-so-subtle hint of orange.  The crust was done to perfection, but the crunchy almond topping seemed almost too much.  I think I prefer a nice nut crumble to add the necessary crunchy texture and light buttery sweetness that marries so well with the fruit.

All in all the tart was a hit with the family, no doubt due in part to the accompanying vanilla bean gelato.

And I must say - not bad with the next morning's cup of coffee!