Friday, April 24, 2009

Tarte Tropézienne

Tarte Tropézienne is not really a tart at all, but rather a disc of brioche that is sliced and filled with cream. It takes its name from Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera, where it is said to have originated in the mid 1940s and popularized in the 60s when St. Tropez became a tourist paradise.

Recipes for the filling vary considerably and include buttercream, mousseline (buttercream made from pastry cream and butter), pastry cream and cream diplomat (pastry cream lightened with whipped cream). Almost always the cream is flavored with kirsch. I’ve used a pastry cream flavored with kirsch and orange flower water and lightened with whipped cream sweetened with honey. The brioche is usually topped with pearl sugar, but I use a recipe for a crumb topping from Pierre Hermé that is easy and delicious.

Due to the abundance of butter, brioche is a very, very sticky dough. It should be made a day in advance to allow for overnight refrigeration that retards the proofing while the buttery dough firms up enough to make it easier to handle and shape. The pastry cream and crumb topping should also be made ahead and refrigerated so the Tropézienne can be assembled fairly easily the day you plan to serve it. Once the brioche is baked, fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream and assemble.

If you are a custard fan, you’ll love this pastry. Once you slice into it, you’ll find yourself with a rich buttery brioche that oozes a soft and luscious cream perfumed with the culinary riches of Saint Tropez.

Bench notes:
- This recipe for brioche makes just a tad more than needed for this pastry. You can either make additional Brioche à tête rolls in fluted tins or Brioche Nanterre in a loaf pan (bake @ 350 for about half an hour) or freeze the remainder for later use.
- The butter for brioche should be softened but not oily, pliable but not greasy.
- Be sure you do not let the brioche get too browned or it will taste bitter. Because of the butter content, it tends to brown quickly, so watch closely. You can also bake at a lower temperature of 350 degrees for a bit longer time.
- Tropézienne should be eaten fresh the same day. It can be chilled for a couple of hours to firm up the cream.
- I must confess that I’ve never made brioche by machine, but have presented those conventional instructions here. This requires a sturdy machine that can withstand a rather long process of beating to develop the dough and produce a good texture and crumb. I always make brioche by hand using the slapping method because I love the process. But it is very, very sticky dough and requires a couple of bench scrapers and a lot of patience with getting your hands dirty. It’s a fun process for anyone who likes to dive into the mixing and experience how the whole thing comes together. Good fun but extremely messy.

Tarte Tropézienne
8 to 10 servings

2 C flour
3/4 t salt
2 T sugar
1 1/2 t yeast
3 T warm milk
3 eggs
5 oz butter, softened and cut into several pieces

1 egg + 1/2 t water for egg wash

Cream Filling

1 C milk
1/4 C sugar
3 yolks
1 T cornstarch
1 T flour
1 1/2 t kirsch
1 1/2 t orange blossom water
2 oz (4 T) butter @ room temperature

3/4 C heavy cream
2 T honey

Crumb Topping
adapted from Desserts by Pierre Herme

1 generous T butter @ room temp
2 T sugar
3 T + 2 t flour

Combine the warm milk and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for a few minutes, then stir until the yeast is completely dissolved.

Sift together the flours, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the eggs and beat for 1 minute at low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the dissolved yeast and continue beating at low speed for 5 minutes. Stop the machine, scrape dough off the hook, and beat for another 5 minutes.

Add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each addition. Once all the butter has been added, beat for 10 minutes more.

Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 to 3 hours.

Deflate the dough gently. Working your way around the bowl, take the edges of the dough, lift up and gently drop inward. Either cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or place the dough in a large plastic bag that has been very lightly oiled and refrigerate overnight. The brioche will continue to proof.

For the crumb topping, place the softened butter in a small bowl and mix the sugar in with a fork. Add the flour and mix with your hand, pinching the mixture together to form large and small crumbs. Refrigerate.

Once the dough is ready, cut 2/3 of it and place on a baking sheet pan lined with parchment. Pat it gently into a 9” circle about 3/4” tall. Let the dough rise uncovered in a warm place for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Gently brush the top of the brioche with egg wash and sprinkle with the streusel. Bake the brioche in the center of the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes. Start checking at 12 minutes; the brioche should be soft, puffed and golden. Remove the brioche from the oven and immediately take the brioche off the baking sheet and place onto a wire rack to cool.

For the pastry cream, whisk the sugar with the egg yolks until pale. Add the flour and cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Bring the milk to a simmer on low heat. Gradually add 1/2 of the hot milk to the sugar-yolk mixture, whisking vigorously to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Take off the heat and cool a bit. Add softened butter, orange water, and kirsch. Pour into a bowl and cool slightly. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface and refrigerate until chill thoroughly.

Whip the cream with the honey until soft peaks form. Fold half the whipped cream into the pastry cream to loosen it up. Fold in remaining cream until smooth.

To assemble, cut brioche in half horizontally. Smooth cream mixture over bottom layer, and place second layer gently on top. Serve.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

As luck would have it, my very first strawberry of the season was the best strawberry I’ve ever had. It came from a rancher at a local farmer's market who said his strawberries aren’t quite yet at their peak. I smiled and wondered how much better they could possibly be. That strawberry was from Rodriguez Farm in Watsonville and if my first bite is any indication, this will be one incredible season.

I pair fresh strawberries in their simplest form with a French household staple, Yogurt Cake. This is a very versatile cake that is much lighter and not as dense as a pound cake and serves as a perfect backdrop for fresh fruit, ice cream, sorbet or your favorite dessert sauce. It’s very easy to put together and requires no extraordinary ingredients. It can be served at any meal, as a snack or taken along on a picnic. It’s absolutely perfect with tea.

I’m truly fortunate to have a few farmer’s markets to choose from in my city. I hope you can search out the best fresh strawberries and fully enjoy this very promising season.

Bench notes:

- There are several ways to change up this cake. I prefer to use a light olive oil for a little depth. You can add a 1/4 t almond extract or a tablespoon of rum or brandy or a pinch of chopped herbs. Use your imagination.
- Use full-fat yogurt. Greek yogurt is perfect for this cake.
- If you’d like a pronounced lemon flavor, make the syrup and brush it on while the cake is still warm.
- You can also bake this in a 9” x 2" round cake pan for about 35 to 40 minutes.

Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

1 C sugar
zest of 1 large lemon
1 1/2 C flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
3 eggs
3/4 C full-fat yogurt
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 C olive oil

optional syrup:
1/3 C lemon juice
1/3 C sugar

2 pints fresh strawberries
sugar to taste
lemon juice to taste

1 C heavy cream or crème fraîche
sugar to taste

Preheat the over to 350 degrees.

Prepare an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2” loaf pan with oil and a piece of parchment paper large enough to form an overhang along the length of the pan.

Zest the lemon into the sugar. Use a fork to press the zest into the sugar and release the oils.

Whisk together the eggs, zested sugar, yogurt and vanilla.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the egg mixture and stir. When the mixture looks fairly well blended, add the oil and stir to fully incorporate.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.
Cool the cake for about 10 minutes and lift it gently out of the pan. Remove the parchment and let cool completely.

Heat the lemon juice and sugar just until dissolved. Brush on the surface of the cake.

Slice the strawberries and add sugar and lemon juice to taste. Let them sit for about half an hour to macerate.

Whip to soft peak the cream or crème fraîche with sugar to taste.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Honey Nougat Ice Cream Provençal

Nougat is a confection that found its beginnings in a whole host of Mediterranean civilizations. Each version has its own special elements based on the agriculture of the area. In France, nougat blossomed in the late 18th century with the production of almonds in the city of Montélimar in Provence. The nougat you find there today gleams with the essential ingredients of the region.

This ice cream is based on the idea of the nougat of Provence. Honey is the predominant flavor, with back notes of orange and lavender and a bite of almonds and pistachios. For me, these are some of the quintessential flavors of early spring.

Bench notes:

- Use a good quality honey, but be sure it is mild enough to allow the subtlety of the other flavors to co-mingle.
- Since lavender is also a common ingredient in bath and beauty products, make sure you purchase lavender that has been grown specifically for cooking. It may be labeled "culinary lavender" or "food grade."
- I chilled the ice cream base overnight to let the flavors bloom and harmonize.

Honey Nougat Ice Cream Provençal

2 C cream
1/4 C honey
1 t lavender
5 yolks
2 T sugar
1 C milk
1 1/2 t orange flower water
zest of half an orange
1/4 C sliced almonds, lightly toasted
3 T pistachios, coarsely chopped

Bring the cream, honey and lavender to a simmer. Take off the heat, cover and steep for about 30 minutes or until it has the desired strength, tasting along the way.

Strain and reheat the cream to a simmer. Whisk together the yolks and sugar until thoroughly blended. Add a bit of the warm cream and whisk to temper the ingredients. Add the remaining cream and whisk. Return the mixture to the stove on medium low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard coats the back of the spoon and a finger traced through it leaves a clean track. Strain the mixture immediately into the cup of milk. Add the orange flower water and orange zest and stir to combine. Cool. Put custard in an airtight container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze according to your machine’s directions. Fold in the nuts, then pour the ice cream into a clean airtight container. Press a piece of plastic wrap into the surface of the ice cream, cover and place in your freezer to firm up a bit.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lemon Sabayon with Grapefruit

For me, the call of spring usually begins with the bright spunk of lemon. The comfort of its color, the splash of its tartness and the delicious way it has of reminding us of the purity of nature always sets the stage beautifully for the coming season. As we await the arrival of the new bounty of exquisite fruit in all its amazing flavor and color, it’s always a sure bet to pave the way with a lemon dessert.

This is an easy sabayon that tastes like an airy cloud of lemon curd. It pairs beautifully with fresh ruby red grapefruit. Each element has tart-sweet highlights and together they provide a supremely light and delicate end to any meal. Fun, fast and fresh.

Bench notes:
- This sabayon is really delicious and would pair well with many other fruits, especially raspberries and strawberries.
- Sabayon can also be served cold. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface and chill.

Lemon Sabayon with Grapefruit
adapted from Gourmet, November 2008
Serves 4

3 ruby red grapefruits
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C fresh lemon juice
2 T cold butter, cut in small pieces

Cut peel and white pith from the grapefruits with a sharp knife. Cut segments free from membranes and divide the fruit among 4 bowls.

Whisk together eggs, yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Set bowl over a bain marie and whisk until foamy, about 2 minutes. Add a third of the lemon juice and whisk about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining lemon juice and whisk another minute. Add the remaining lemon juice and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, about 5 or 6 minutes. Remove from heat and add the butter, whisking slowly until incorporated. Cool slightly. Spoon warm sabayon over grapefruit segments.