Lemon ricotta blueberry tarts

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It’s definitely blueberry season here in West Michigan - love it! We’ve been deep into it for the past few weeks and they’re still coming. Of course I simply had to create something with these luscious orbs so I turned to some of my favorite base recipes.

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I love choosing my components and flavor profiles while giving myself plenty of time to make each part, assembling the final result when I’m ready to serve and enjoy. The freezer plays an important roll here folks and is one of the most useful tools in the baking and pastry armamentarium. Hip hip hooray for freezers!

I recently purchased a set of 80 mm square perforated tartlet forms that came with a 6-well silicone mold to create fillings that fit oh so nicely in or atop the tart shell. They’re made by my favorite Italian silicone flexi-mold maker Silikomart. What a cool way to create a composed tart - right up my alley. And let’s not forget - soooo many possibilities.

Of course I’ve been itching to try them out and what better way than creating a blueberry lemon flavor combo to help celebrate our summer’s berry bounty.

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Perforated tart forms have been available for some years now, the idea being that the tart crust will brown ever so golden-ly since the dough is exposed to more oven heat via the numerous little holes.

For this project I started with a version of pâte sucrée based on a Claudia Fleming recipe from her book “The Last Course”. It’s very reminiscent of a honey graham cracker: cream 227 g (2 sticks/8 ounces) unsalted softened butter with 50 g granulated sugar and 50 g dark brown sugar until smooth; add 84 g (1/4 cup) honey and beat until well blended; in a separate bowl mix together 195 g (1.5 cups) all purpose flour, 125 g (1 cup) whole wheat pastry flour, 1 teaspoon salt, a pinch of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg; add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/honey mixture in two additions and blend just until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least an hour before rolling out.

NOTE: this makes more than needed for the six square tarts; the extra dough will be OK wrapped in the fridge for a couple of days (if you have another use for it soon) or in the freezer for several months. If frozen, thaw overnight in the fridge before using.

I lined my square tart forms, blind baked them and filled them with my favorite lemon tart filling á la Jacques Genin, pouring the still warm mixture into the baked shells (note: the baked shells don’t have to cool all the way before adding the lemon filling). Bake at 300ºF for about 10-15 minutes until the filling is set (look for just a hint of jiggle in the center). Let cool and store covered in the fridge for a day if you’re planning on serving them soon or freeze for several days or up to 1-2 weeks. If frozen, you can top with the ricotta custards right out of the freezer (more on that coming up!).

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It’s all about the components - work on them step-by-step then put it all together for the pièce de resistance!

Now for the lemon ricotta filling (makes plenty for six 80 mm square tarts plus a number of additional flexi-mold shapes of your choice - I did a bunch of ingots which are just waiting in my freezer for the next creation!).

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Blend 2 cups whole milk ricotta with 150 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon lemon zest (or lemon/lime zest combo), 1 teaspoon vanilla and 3 large eggs. In this case I also blended in 1/4 cup of leftover lemon tart filling to add a bit more tang.

Heat the oven to 325ºF. Fill your chosen flexi-molds and place the mold(s) on a sheet pan. Carefully pour hot water around the base of the molds so as to create a shallow water bath around the molds. Bake about 20 minutes until set.

Remove from the oven, gently lift the flexi-mold(s) and place on a wire grid to cool. Once cool, place the molds in the freezer to firm up, at least 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to assemble, pop the frozen ricotta custards out of the molds and place on top of the lemon filled tarts.

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Once this step is complete, place the assembled tarts in the fridge for several hours to allow the ricotta custards to thaw. The custards will hold their shape in the fridge and be ready for the blueberry topping for serving. Yes!

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For the blueberry topping: place 2 cups fresh blueberries, 50 g sugar, 2 tablespoons water and the zest of a lemon in a saucepan over medium heat until the berries pop (4-5 minutes). Cook another few minutes to jam-ify a bit, transfer to a clean bowl, stir in a splash of lemon juice and chill. When ready to garnish your tarts, stir in an additional 1 cup fresh blueberries and spoon the topping over the chilled lemon tarts. You’ll have plenty - the leftovers will keep in the fridge in a covered container for 2-3 days (hmmm . . how about on top of your favorite vanilla or berry or peach ice cream?). Sounds deelish.

Et voilà! You are ready to enjoy a delicious summer treat. The combo of the honeyed whole wheat crust, tart and tangy citrus filling, smooth ricotta custard and luscious berries is absolutely stunning!

And yes - Steve gave it a thumbs up!

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Ooooo - next time how about chocolate pâte sucrée, dark chocolate ganache filling, topped with an orange hazelnut custard and garnished with crunchy hazelnut praline? Sounds like a great autumn/winter project to me!

World egg day!

Maple pot de crème

Maple pot de crème

How many of you knew that October 12 was World Egg Day? I wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t been for Kim, the activities director at Heron Manor/Woods just down the street from our home.

It all started in 1996 when the International Egg Commission set the second Friday in October as World Egg Day to increase awareness of the benefits of eggs and how important they are in human nutrition. Who knew?

Needless to say, eggs are utilized in many different ways in the baking and pastry world. For a morning event this past Friday, October 12, I decided to really go for it in the egg department.

Never one to turn down pot de crème, I thought others would enjoy a maple version of this unctuous delight, topped with maple mascarpone cream, a sprinkle of walnut praline crumbs and a petite maple walnut shortbread cookie on the side. So lovely and so delicious.

The base is essentially a crème brulée type custard made with cream, yolks and sugar (maple syrup here). I used 3 ounce ramekins which I find to be a perfect portion for a just right taste.

To yield 14 portions, whisk together 9 yolks, 3/4 cup REAL maple syrup (don’t you even dare use “pancake syrup“!), 3/4 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract; heat 3 cups heavy cream to barely simmering and temper it into the egg/maple syrup mixture. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a pouring measuring cup then fill the ramekins to 1/4” below the rim.

Bake in a water bath at 325ºF. I use a clear pyrex glass baking dish, set the ramekins in, pour hot water into the corner of the dish and fill to about half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover loosely with foil and bake about 30-35 minutes, checking it periodically - you want the custard just set with a hint of a jiggle in the center. Once out of the oven, lift them out of the water bath and cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

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Then refrigerate until chilled. Garnish with whatever you’d like! If not being consumed the same day, I cover them with plastic wrap to enjoy over the next few days.

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Now for a tart!

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As always, having some version of a tart in the mix is right up my alley and thus a ricotta custard raspberry tartlette was born - buttery blind baked short crust filled with a few raspberry pieces and an easy to make ricotta filling.

For the filling whisk together 2 cups ricotta/3 eggs/one tablespoon cornstarch/3/4 cup sugar/zest of a lemon/ 1 teaspoon vanilla. Et voilà, très simple!

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Bake at 350ºF until the filling is set and a bit puffy, about 20-25 minutes.

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To give these babies some panache I made a lightly gelled raspberry coulis and pooled it on the top.

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Then a nice string-of-pearls crème Chantilly rim and a fresh raspberry to top it off. Smooth and berry delicious !

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The World Egg Day table also held browned-butter pistachio crumb cakes (egg whites) . . . .

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. . . . and apple pecan brioche (we all know that has eggs!).

Note: more on revisiting brioche recipes later - it’s an ongoing task.

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An enjoyable egg day it was!! Can’t wait until next year.

Nutty rosemary and lemon/pistachio/sesame shortbread

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I LOVE shortbread! I think back to those childhood days of eating Lorna Doone cookies and how much I enjoyed their crumbly butteriness (was there really butter in those babies??). I've come a long way down the shortbread trail since then. Yes, I know I've gone on about this topic in the past, but good things deserve a little review every now and then, right?

Depending on what part of the world you hang out in, these cookies can be referred to as biscuits (thanks to the Brits), shortbread (more Scottish - think Walkers) or sablés (thanks to the French).

My approach follows the traditional Scottish method - a simple combo of sugar/butter/flour, and you're good to go. Typically along the lines of 1-2-3 dough, you weigh out 1 part sugar to 2 parts butter to 3 parts flour and mix 'em up. You can play around with the ratios (decrease the sugar and increase the butter a bit) to yield an even more buttery cookie.

I have two base recipes that I use regularly. One uses granulated cane sugar and one confectioner's sugar (gives 'em a slightly more tender texture?). You can play around with different sugars on your own and decide which gives you the texture you most enjoy.

And why do I use two different bases you might ask? Because I can and so can you!

Add in your favorite citrus zest, spices, chopped nuts, chopped chocolate, dried fruit - the possibilities go on and on.

There are two mixing methods: sanding and what I like to call blending (I think of this one as just short of creaming - you're not trying to aerate the dough, just blending everything together).

The first involves weighing your sugar and flour into a mixing bowl, dicing cold butter and sanding it into the dry ingredients to coarse crumbs. At that point you just press into a pan and bake it. You can take the mixing a step further, going past the coarse crumbs until the dough holds together, then wrap, chill and roll out later, cutting into any shape that suits your fancy.

Both methods result in a lovely crumbly/crispy/buttery cookie, although, with the sanding and press in method, the texture is a bit more crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth. I make mine both ways and enjoy them equally.

If you look at LOTS of shortbread cookies recipes, you may notice that many of the French sablés add egg (whole or yolk) to the dough as a binder. They're delicious too! 

Periodically I enjoy changing up my flavor offerings. This time I had pecans in the freezer and sesame seeds in the cupboard.

First up - rosemary pecan.

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Over the years I occasionally make rosemary roasted nuts, usually walnuts or pecans, that are absolutely delicious as an appetizer along with a cheese or two. For a savory cookie, I chop some of the already rosemary-ied nuts and add them into my dough. Yum. So delicious.

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Next - lemon pistachio sesame.

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This one adds in some toasted sesame seeds, lemon zest/juice and chopped unsalted raw pistachios. Once baked, I brush them with honey and pop them back into the oven for a few minutes to set the honey. Oh man are they good!

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On to the base recipes (plus additions!)

Rosemary pecan:

  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment blend 75 g granulated cane sugar with 200 g diced, room temperature unsalted butter. 
  2. Add 250 g all purpose flour and blend in just until the dough comes together. Note/tip: I've started replacing about 1/5 of my all purpose flour with white whole wheat for some added whole grain goodness. 
  3. For the rosemary pecan version, chop 75 g rosemary roasted pecans (recipe below) and add them into the dough. Wrap, chill for at least an hour before rolling out and cutting desired shapes.

How easy is that??!

Lemon pistachio sesame:

  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment blend 75 g confectioner's sugar with 227 g diced, room temperature, unsalted butter (notice a slight bump in the butter content here).
  2. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, the zest of two lemons plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice and blend in.
  3. Add 260 g all purpose flour (or sub 1/5 of that as white whole wheat flour) and 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix just until it comes together.

Blend in 50 g toasted sesame seeds and 50 g chopped raw pistachios. Wrap and chill for an hour or so before rolling out and cutting desired shapes.

I bake my shortbread at 325ºF (convection) for about 15 minutes or until gently browned (watch what's happening in there!!). Don't forget - it's your job to learn your own oven. 

Now how about those roasted rosemary pecans, you might ask? Here's the recipe (you'll have PLENTY of nuts for your shortbread dough - feel free to halve the recipe OR, even better, make the full batch and have plenty for apps and snacks):

  1.  Heat oven to 325º F.
  2. In a microwave safe bowl melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 tablespoons crumbled dried), 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon paprika and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne.
  3. Place 4 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans or a mixture of the two) in a bowl and toss with the above mixture, coating the nuts evenly.
  4. Spread onto a 1/2 sheet pan and bake 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until browned and fragrant.
  5. Drain on paper towels, cool and serve at room temperature (or chop some up for your shortbread - yay!!).
  6. Store leftovers in an airtight container and enjoy for many days.
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Now get in that kitchen of yours and create your own version of delicious, crumbly, buttery shortbread. You can do it!

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.

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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).

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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 . . . .

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

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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!!