Friday, February 11, 2011

FFwD: Comparing Apples and, Pears and Oranges

Hi everyone!  Oooh, this week was a great one--at least, in my opinion.  I've been baking for much of my life and never once have I made something that, when I looked at it, I (or anyone else) exclaimed, "It looks like something I'd have bought when I lived in Paris!" or "It looks like something you'd see in a bakery in Paris!"  Until I made the Orange-Almond tart, and then the Pear-Almond Tart.

But first?  Yesterday was a glorious day at my house.  No--I made the tart last week for a dinner party.  Instead, yesterday was the day that I picked up my local CSA box and found???

Of course, the best part is that they taste like candy.

On a side, but related note, I'd like to lobby that we consider choosing somewhat seasonal recipes while doing this FFwD.  I don't know if some of you read about it, but Mexico has had some terrible freezes and Florida's "backup" crops are also not doing well.  That leaves mostly produce from California to tide over everyone's appetites for things like, well, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet/bell peppers, and green beans.  What that also leaves is we the consumers with an ever-emptying wallet due to the expected huge hike in produce prices.

Now, enough of that serious (and rather depressing) stuff.

I made the Orange version of this just before I decided to join FFwD.  It looked good, I had some extra time, and a crap-ton (that's a technical term) of oranges from my CSA box.  Suffice it to say, it was amazing.  I reluctantly let my oranges dry for a few hours, not because I didn't trust Dorie, but because I didn't want to wait the long(!).  It is a technique I'll continue to use as it really is successful in upping the flavor factor of the oranges while also avoiding the whole liquid in the almond cream problem.

One of the big things I'd like to share with you all is a recipe for ALMOND FLOUR.  

I have a wonderful baking cookbook called The Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco who is the pastry chef at Craft Restaurants (you know, Tom Colicchio's place?).  Anyway, DeMasco gives a bunch of base recipes, with some great tips on technique, and then also gives the "rules" for altering the recipe to better make it your own.

She has in the beginning of her book a "pantry" section and therein lies, among many other things, her recipe for almond flour.  Many of her recipes call for it since it's such a basis of french pastry.
Here we close attention--it's very complicated:

Almond Flour (makes 3/4 cup)
1. Finely grind 3/4 cup sliced blanched almonds in food processer with 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour.

Best when fresh, but can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 month.

NB: You can alter the amount of nuts depending on how much nut flour you need, but the flour amount will always be 1 tablespoon.

I was joking about it being complicated--it's super easy!  Really though, if you're into baking it's a great cookbook (and this is the last time I'll give an exact recipe from that book), and there are scone recipes to DIE FOR in there.

The rest of the tart--both orange and pear?
All of that is pretty straightforward.  I followed the recipe for the almond cream and it was lovely.  I was a bit concerned about using my food processor for it, but all was great!  In the future, I'd like to try HAZELNUT cream, mostly because hazelnuts are the most wonderful food that ever existed (for me, at least).

Oh!  And I used Calvados for the liquor the orange tart and regular ol' brandy for the pear version.

I did do the press in crust since I have a tendency to overwork the dough.  Also, the one egg yolk was fine for me.  The first time I made it, the orange one, I was concerned about it being too dry, and then I remembered it's supposed to be like a shortbread kinda thing.  So, I left it a tiny bit crumbly.  For the pear one, for whatever reason, the dough was wetter that time and the crust was fine, though I slightly preferred the texture of the orange one.  I guess my moral of the story is to stop pulsing the food processor when the dough is still pretty crumbly.

For the Pear Tart!
Honestly, I chose to make the Pear version for my dinner guests because I didn't have the time to wait for the oranges to "dry."  I also really liked the idea, and the rather French one at that, of being able to use a pre-prepared ingredient within a dish that I largely make myself.  Yes, I admit it.  I used canned pears.  Tee hee!

I'm not sure if I should have let them dry like the oranges.  Dorie didn't really say anything about that, so I just sliced 'em up and had them ready to go for about 45 minutes before the tart was ready for them.  I didn't notice too many problems with texture, but there was another factor there.

I screwed up.  Not too bad, and I was able to salvage it, but I was a bit too distracted while also making the short ribs and the frizzled leeks (yes, I'll talk about those in 2 weeks!) for the main course.  Basically, I took the lovely crust out of the freezer and instead of directly putting it in the oven to partially bake, I just added everything.  After spending some 15 minutes artfully placing the pears I realized what I'd done.  CRAP!  I even have evidence of my distractedness!
I took this photo right before I put the tart in the oven.
Oh, did I forget to mention that it had been in the oven for 2 minutes before I figured out my mistake?

Once I finally figured everything out, I carefully lifted the pears off and then scraped as much of the almond cream out of the crust as possible.  It was a little funky, but whatever.

Here, though, is the finished version:

My only quibble is that the crust edges got a bit too browned--and that's with me doing the entire last baking step (the 50-60 minute one) with foil around the edges.   The orange tart didn't really have that problem and I think it's because the foil really overhung the crust edges.  With the pear tart, I had run out of foil (sigh) and used parchment paper that didn't quite lay down quite as flat.  Oh well.  It was edible...or was it?!?

Orange versus Pear: the Final Reckoning
The orange tart was excellent.  There was half of it left by the time the next work week rolled around, and I asked my husband to bring it to work with him, lest I eat it all myself.  Later that day, I asked him for any comments or feedback.  He sheepishly told me he ATE THE WHOLE DARNED THING on the way down to work.  I could hear a coworker laughing in the background.

The pear tart was very good.  My dinner guests, who were perhaps a bit overly superlative, thought it was just wonderful--the best dessert ever--and couldn't believe I had made it.  (Indeed, as soon as they saw it they incredulously asked if I had made that thing that looks like it came from a pâtisserie.)
My husband said it was great.

I personally prefer the oranges.  You know why?  Poached pears, whether you make them yourself or whether you get them from a can, don't have a lot of acid.  They're very sweet, as is the almond cream and even the crust, to some extent.

The oranges, however, were sweet and tangy, thereby creating a really nice counterpoint to the filling and the crust.  I think that the tanginess is also why plums would be excellent as well.

So, there it is!

Next week are the green beans, and those beans aren't looking too hot at the market right now, I think due to the Mexico problems.

The following week is going to be a DOOZY!  Short ribs, in which I fiddled with the recipe to make it extra awesome AND less fatty, with horseradish mashed potatoes and frizzled leeks are what I made for the one short ribs recipe.  (I feel like I should emulate the Kool-Aid guy and yell, "OH YEAH!")

I think I should avoid pre-making the recipes in the future because I get so excited about them and then have to wait!

Until next week!  Meanwhile, I'll be buried under hundreds of pages of essays to grade.


  1. Too funny! Glad both the tarts worked out well and forgave you... I am looking forward to the pear and also trying out a plum version.

  2. Your pear tart looks so fancy! And I'm so jealous that you have fresh strawberris in your CSA right now. We won't see fresh strawberries in St. Louis until May.

  3. Your pear tart looks beautiful! I wouldn't have guessed that you had any incidents. Thanks for the recipe for almond flour. I need to try that sometime.

  4. That's one gorgeous pear tart...especially knowing you removed the filling and pears then arranged them again!! Wow.

  5. Amazing that you made both versions for comparison! They do look so lovely and textbook perfect. :)

    Love the story of how your husband didn't share.

  6. Entertaining post and the pear tart looks good! I also forgot to part bake but decided to press on. It turned out fine!

  7. I wasn't too sure about the orange version, but your description makes it sound wonderful.

  8. I made a pear version too and wish I had tried the orange one. Yours looks beautiful!

  9. Great post!! I love that you used canned pears...makes it simple and delicious! You would never know that you deconstructed and reconstructed that tart!!

  10. Delightful post! Thanks for the tips on making almond flour at home. I wouldn't havt thought it was that simple but I'm glad to know that it is. Can you make any nut flour that way, I wonder? Anyway, your tarts looks awesome!!! Thanks again for the recipe!

  11. Looks wonderful! I can't wait to try the pear version and get a hang on this crust thing. Mine had the foil on the edges too and still got a bit brown.

  12. Looks amazing- can't believe you were able to "compare and contrast" both tarts. I was really thinking the pear would be much better but loved your comments on the acid and juice of the orange. Also very appreciative of your instructions for the almond flour-extra credit points !

  13. Thanks everyone! You all made some far more gorgeous renditions than mine! @KudosKitchen--yes, that recipe is good for any nut flour. The example she gave is with almonds, since it's used most often in her book, but all nuts are fair game.

  14. I love the way your pear version turned out! My crust didn't brown overly, but I've found that to be the case with a lot of gluten-free baked goods.

    I completely agree that we should try to stick to seasonal recipes as much as we're able. It's not only economically and environmentally desirable, but things taste so much better when you buy seasonally and locally.

  15. I bet your browned tart tasted lovely. I recently made a frangipane tart and I loved the browned edges....
    And strawberries that taste like candy - can't believe it - in February!

  16. I am seeing strawberries on the streets, but I am reluctant to buy them - they appear to be those big, fake ones (we are in orange County). Have to try Farmers' Market...

    I used ground walnuts for the cream, but hazelnuts would be my first choice - yes, they are the food of gods! But, I had walnuts at hand. Next time.

    I agree with you about pears being sweet in desserts. Oranges (and I used blood oranges as they are abundant and in season) played really well with the buttery crust and sweet cream.

    My tart had darked crust then I hope for, but it was extremely delicious. Now I have to go and buy a tart pan:)

    Good luck grading papers:) I used to teach high school English in Serbia, so it brings back fuzzy memories:)

    Greetings, Lana (