French Peach Tart

Peach French Tart
I made a modified version of the French Pear Tart that the Tuesdays with Dorie group recently made.  The recipe is was chosen by Dorie Greenspan herself (as a member of the group) for the TWD group. I happened to buy canned peaches and I just went with it.  It was absolutely delicious and I would definitely make this again with pears or another fruit.  The crust has an appealing cookie-like texture.  The almond cream was amazingly smooth and flavorful.  I did add both rum and vanilla to flavor it.  I didn’t fan my fruit as nicely as other examples, but the taste is fine.  I’ll call this the rustic version.  I used the “press-in” the tart dough method since I find it much easier to do.

French Peach Tart

Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the almond cream:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
2 teaspoons dark rum
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 partially-baked 9-inch tart shell, made with Sweet Tart Dough (see below), at room temperature
1 can of canned peach halves

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting, or apple jelly for glazing

To make the almond cream:  Put the butter and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny.  Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended.  Add the flour and cornstarch, process, and then add the egg.  Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous.  Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend.  If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula.  In either case, the ingredients are added in the same order.  Scrape the almond cream into a container and either use it immediately or refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours.

Getting ready to bake:  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Have a lined baking sheet at the ready.  Cut the peaches in half from blossom to stem (or pieces). Whatever fruit you have, make sure to pat them dry – really dry – so that their liquid won’t keep the almond cream from baking.

Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it even with an offset metal icing spatula.  Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the edge of the crust, over the almond cream.  The halves will form spokes.

Put the crust on the lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns.  Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature before unmolding.

Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar.  If you prefer, prepare a glaze by bringing about 1/4 cup apple jelly and1/2 teaspoon water to the boil.  Brush the glaze over the surface of the tart.

Serving:  This tart goes very well with aromatic tea.

Storing:  If it’s convenient for you, you can make the almond cream up to 2 days ahead and keep it closely covered in the refrigerator, or you can wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months; defrost before using.  You can also poach the pears up to 1 day ahead.  However, once you’ve baked the tart, you should be prepared to enjoy it that same day.

Playing around:  The almond cream is a great companion for a variety of fruits.  It’s as good with summer fruits, like apricots or peaches, as it is with autumn’s apples.

Sweet Tart Dough

Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

To make the dough:  Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.  Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely – you’ll have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that’s just fine.  Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.  When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds.  Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface.

Very lightly and sparingly – make that very, very lightly and sparingly – knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

If you want to press the dough into a tart pan, now is the time to do it.

If you want to chill the dough and roll it out later (doable, but fussier than pressing), gather the dough into a ball (you might have to use a little more pressure than you used to mix in dry bits, because you do want the ball to be just this side of cohesive), flatten it into a disk, wrap it well and chill it for at least 2 hours or for up to 1 day.

To make a press-in crust:  Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Don’t be stingy – you want a crust with a little heft because you want to be able to both taste and feel it.  Also, don’t be too heavy-handed – you want to press the crust in so that the pieces cling to one another and knit together when baked, but you don’t want to press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly shortbreadish texture.  Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To make a rolled-out crust:  This dough is very soft – a combination of a substantial amount of butter and the use of confectioners’ sugar – so I find it is easier to roll it between wax paper or plastic wrap or, easiest of all, in a roll-out-your-dough slipcover.  If you use the slipcover, flour it lightly.  Roll the dough out evenly, turning the dough over frequently and lifting the wax paper or plastic wrap often, so that it doesn’t roll into the dough and form creases.  If you’ve got time, slide the rolled out dough into the fridge to rest and firm for about 20 minutes before fitting the dough into the buttered tart pan.  Trim the excess dough even with the edge of the pan.  Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially bake the crust:  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust.  Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil.  If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.  Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.

Lady Baltimore Cake

Lady Baltimore Cake
I made the Lady Baltimore Cake from the Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Baking Issue.  I remember reading about this cake as a kid in the Betsy-Tacy books and this is the first time I found a recipe and had a chance I had to make one.   According to Cook’s Illustrated, it was popularized by the publication of Owen Wister’s Lady Baltimore, a romance novel  from 1906 that inspired people to start making the cake.  I’ve always found the fiction can influence what I want to bake.

I  forgot to take a picture of the inside of the cake, but it was pretty with all the layers and the dried fruit added a lot of color.   This started falling apart a bit when I started cutting it, perhaps I did not build this as well as I could have.  I really enjoyed this cake.  The frosting was exactly as I remembered for a seven minute frosting, it reminds me of marshmallows.   I should have made a companion recipe to use all the leftover egg yolks, next time I’ll make some ice cream to go along with it.  I didn’t quite use all the sugared pecans, but they were good on their own.  This was a tall cake and my cake stand cover was too short and I had to improvise a covering.

Lady Baltimore Cake
from Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Baking, Holiday 2008

If you’ve ever forgotten to bring the milk and egg white mixture to room temperature, set the bottom of the measuring cup containing it in a bowl of hot water and stir until the mixture feels cool rather than cold, around 65 degrees.  The cake may be prepared up to 3 days ahead of time and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.  When preparing the icing, you can speed up  the cooling process by transferring the hot egg white mixture to a stand mixer and beating on medium-high speed until thick and stiff, about 5 minutes.

2 1/4 cups (9 ounces) cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1 cup whole milk, room temperature (see note)
6 large egg whites, room temperature (see note)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, but still cold

1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) sugar
4 large egg whites
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup mixed dried fruits (any combination of cherries, dates, figs, pineapple, and raisins) (I used ~45% raisins, ~45% cranberries, ~10% apricots)
1/4 cup pecans (about 1 ounce), toasted
2 tablespoons rum, bourbon or water
1 recipe Sugared Pecans (recipe follows)

1. For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, dust with flour, and tap pans to remove excess flour. Mix milk, egg whites, and vanilla together in 2-cup measuring cup.
2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in bowl of stand mixer fitted with flat beater at low speed. Add butter and beat at low speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks remaining.
3. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and, using rubber spatula, scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium speed and beat 20 seconds longer.
4. Divide batter evenly among 3 prepared cake pans and, using rubber spatula, spread into even layer. Arrange pans at least 3 inches from oven walls and 3 inches apart. (If oven is small, place pans on upper-middle and lower-middle racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation.) Bake until thin skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 21 to 25 minutes.
5. Rest cakes in pans 3 minutes, then loosen from sides of pans with paring knife. Invert cakes onto large plate, then reinvert onto wire racks. Cool cakes completely, about 1 1/2 hours.
6. For the Icing: Bring 1 inch water to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk sugar, egg whites, water, cream of tartar and salt together in medium bowl large enough to rest on sides of saucepan, but not deep enough to touch simmering water inside. Place bowl over barely simmering water and, using hand-held mixer, beat egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, 6 to 8 minutes.
7. Remove bowl from the saucepan, add vanilla, and continue to beat until mixture is cooled to room temperature and icing is very thick and stiff, about 8 to 10 minutes, set aside.
8. For the Filling: Process dried fruits and pecans in food processor until finely chopped, about 20 seconds. (Alternatively, fruits and nuts can be chopped very fine with knife.) Transfer mixture to medium bowl and mix with rum. Stir 2 cups icing into fruit and nut mixture.
9. To assemble the cake: Place 1 cake round on serving platter. Spread half of fruit and icing mixture over cake. Repeat with another cake round and remaining fruit and icing mixture. Top with remaining cake round. Spread remaining plain icing over top and sides of cake, using back of spoon to create attractive swirls and peaks. Decorate with sugared pecans.

Sugared Pecans
Makes 2 cups
Depending on how many pecans you use to decorate the cake, you may have some left over. Nuts can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days. Choose pecan halves that are not broken.

2 cups (10 ounces) raw pecan halves
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon rum, bourbon, or water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans in even layer on rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing nuts occasionally, until fragrant and deepened in color, 6 to 8 minutes.
2 While nuts are toasting, stir sugar and salt together in medium bowl.
3. Bring rum, vanilla, brown sugar, and butter to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Stir in toasted pecans and cook, stirring constantly, until nuts are shiny and almost all liquid has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes.
4. Toss pecans in bowl with sugar and salt mixture and return to baking sheet to cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Neapolitan Cookies

NeapolitansThis recipe originally came from the Ladies Home Journal some time in the early 1950s and was passed down in my family as a Christmas cookie that was made almost every year.  I like it because of all the stuff in it.  The biggest problem for me is finding the candied cherries at the store.  I sent this off as my recipe for Operation Baking GALS for December, I hope they survive the trip.

Neapolitan Cookies

Dark Dough
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
6 oz. semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Light dough
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 T water
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 t salt
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup finely chopped raisins
18 candied cherries, finely chopped

Prepare each dough separately.  Cream butter, sugar and eggs.  Mix dry ingredients.  Mix dry and wet.  Add walnuts and chips to dark dough and raisins and cherries to light dough.    
Line bottom and sides of a loaf pan with wax paper.  Put in 1/2 dark dough, all of light, 1/2 dark.  Cover with wax paper.  Chill in freezer.  Remove from pan.  Cut into four strips.  Slice each strip for cookies.  Strips may be frozen for later baking.    
Bake at 350 deg. for 10-15 minutes until lightly brown.