Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Tarte Tatin (Caramelized Apple Tart - France)

Recipe courtesy Pascal Rigo, The American Boulangerie: French Pastries and Breads for the Home Kitchen, Bay/SOMA Publishing, 2003 Online source:

Some people say this upside-down apple tart was invented by the Tatin sisters, who ran an inn in the Loire Valley. The story goes that they dropped an apple tart on the kitchen table and when it landed upside down, they decided to bake and serve it just like that. That was a happy accident, because the inverted baking technique that is now standard practice for this famous tart makes everything turn out perfectly: The apples caramelize in the hot pan, and the pastry, which is exposed during baking, becomes light and flaky. Because the crust doesn't really need to rise very high, this is an excellent way to use up puff pastry trimmings.

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar

8 medium (about 3 3/4 pounds) Granny Smith apples, peeled
8 ounces Puff Pastry Dough, recipe follows, or store-bought puff pastry dough

To make the caramel: Have ready a 10-inch round cake pan with 3-inch sides. (Do not use a springform pan for this; it will leak!) In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is dark amber in color – it's okay if there are a few sugar lumps remaining. When the caramel is done, carefully pour it into the cake pan. Don't touch the cake pan with unprotected hands – it will be hot! Set the cake pan aside until caramel is cool. (The caramel-coated pan can be made up to 2 days in advance and left, covered, at room temperature.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Core the apples by cutting down, top to bottom, on all 4 sides around the core. You will have 2 apple halves and 2 smaller pieces. Arrange the first layer of apple halves, flat-side down, on top of the set caramel in the pan. (This will later become the top of the tart.) Arrange the remaining apple halves and pieces to form the second layer. Things will be a bit crowded at first, but the apples will shrink down when cooked. Place on a parchment paper-lined, sturdy baking sheet. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the apples are very tender.

Meanwhile, on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry dough into a round 1/4-inch thick. Cut out a 10-inch pastry circle and transfer it to a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

When the apples are done, carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer to a flat surface, taking care, as the caramel will be bubbling hot. Remove the pastry circle from the refrigerator and prick with a fork 15 times. Gently place on top of the cooked apples. Return tart to the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until the puff pastry is puffy and golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 to 25 minutes.

To serve, you will need a 12 to 14 inch diameter round serving platter and another sturdy baking sheet. Invert both the serving platter and the other baking sheet. Invert both the serving platter and the other baking sheet over the warm tatin pan. Using both hands, firmly grab both baking sheets and quickly flip over the pans – doing this over the kitchen sink will cut down on any sticky mess. Remove the top baking sheet and carefully lift up the cake pan, using dry towels to avoid getting burned by the caramel. If any apples remain stuck to the pan, remove them with a metal spatula and place them back on the tart. This tart is best served warm.

Puff Pastry Dough:
4 1/4 cups high-gluten flour or bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons water
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted plus 14 ounces (1 3/4 cups) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar, salt, water, and melted butter on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Work quickly and do not overwork the dough. Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap, form it into a rough rectangle, enclose the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Meanwhile, put the remaining 14 ounces of butter between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin, turning as necessary, until softened. The butter should be malleable but not too soft. Set aside in a cool place – the butter will later be spread on the dough as you start the folding process.

Place the refrigerated dough on a well floured work surface and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Using a rolling pin, push down on the dough to start flattening it, and then roll it into a 20 by 30 by 10-inch rectangle, 1/4 inch thick, with the long sides running from left to right. (It might feel that you're rolling sideways, and well, you are.) Carefully brush off any excess flour from the dough. Starting on the right side, and leaving a 1 inch border, slap and spread on the butter, using your fingers, over two-thirds of the rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds; starting with the left side, fold at the butter line as if closing a book, and then fold the right side up and over the top layer. You should end up with a stack of 3 thick layers of dough, each separated from the next by a layer of butter.

As you prepare to make the first turn of the dough, keep in mind the importance of rolling the butter evenly along the length and width of the rectangle as you roll the dough. Adjust the pressure on the rolling pin as necessary, rolling harder or more evenly, to achieve a smoother, even, dough-enclosed butter sandwich. To begin your first turn, turn the dough 90 degrees on your work surface so the closed fold is at the top and, rolling lengthwise, roll It into a 20 by 10-inch rectangle. Brush off any excess flour and fold into thirds as above, starting with the left side and ending with the right. At this point, you have finished one turn. Rotate the dough 90 degrees so the closed fold is at the top, and repeat the rolling and folding process. The second turn is complete. After the second turn, or any time the dough is too soft to work with, transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet and refrigerate, covered in plastic wrap, for about 30 minutes, or until the dough is chilled and relaxed. Each time the dough is refrigerated, make an indentation in the dough with your fingertip for each turn completed. Repeat this rolling and folding process, rolling out the dough lengthwise every time, for more times for a total of 6 turns. After the sixth turn, let the dough rest a good hour in the refrigerator.

Store the dough, as is, well wrapped in plastic wrap. The dough can be kept refrigerated up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 10 days. If frozen, thaw the dough, still wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator before using.

Yield: 3 pounds of dough
Prep time: 20 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 4 hours
Ease of preparation: expert

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Strawberry Tarts

It's a good idea to make some of the elements of this dessert in advance. I tried this recipe for the first time today. I am fond of this dessert because it reminds me of my days at the French bakery in Florida. The owners taught me so much about baking and cooking as well. I used to take home a tart very often. It is so nice to be able to actually make them at home! This recipe worked well for me, although it is important to make sure the consistency of the filling comes out thick like pudding or custard because it needs to be a little firm so it doesn't just pour all out when you cut your first slice of the tart. So make sure not to skimp on the corn starch. Also, make sure the dough gets browned before you take it out of the oven, otherwise it might be a tad raw tasting in the middle. Also, make sure you have tart dishes before you start or you'll have to end up making one big pie tart like I did. Hahahaha. Also, I tend to prefer slicing my strawberries and then arranging them on top of the tart, not whole like pictured here, as it seems a bit hard to eat that way. Bon Apetit!

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons cold shortening (recommended: Crisco) (it makes the dough nice and flaky)
1/4 cup ice water
2 cups Pastry Cream, recipe follows
2 pints whole strawberries, hulled and halved
1/3 cup apricot jelly or preserves
3 tablespoons shelled pistachios, halved, optional
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Put the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and shortening and pulse about 10 times, or until the butter is in the size of peas. Add the ice water and process until the dough comes together. Dump on a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the dough and fit into 4 (4 1/2-inch) tart pans with removable sides. Don't stretch the dough when placing it in the pans or it will shrink during baking. Cut off the excess by rolling the pin across the top of each pan. Line the tart shells with a piece of buttered aluminum foil, butter side down, and fill them with dried beans or rice. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil, prick the bottom of the shells all over with a fork, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Before serving, fill the tart shells with the pastry cream. Arrange the berries decoratively on top of the cream. Melt the apricot jelly with 1 teaspoon of water and brush the top of the tarts. Sprinkle with pistachios, if using, and serve.

Pastry Cream:
5 extra-large egg yolks, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups scalded milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch.

With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Don't be alarmed when the custard comes to a boil and appears to curdle; switch to a whisk and beat vigorously. Cook, whisking constantly, for another 2 minutes; the custard will come together and become very thick, like pudding. Stir in the vanilla, butter, and heavy cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold.

Yield: 2 cups

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Fuul Nabed (Egyptian Bean and Vegetable Soup)

A popular Egyptian soup, Fuul Nabed is simple and nutritious.

I haven't made this yet, but it sounds really hearty and delicious. If you haven't tried Fuul, I highly recommend it. I like to have it for breakfast when I have a big day or big exam ahead of me.

I'm a big fan of beans because they are so nutricious and I don't like to eat meat or lots of dairy every day, but I still need the protein and calcium and this provides both benefits, plus many others as well.


    • 1 chopped onion

    • Chopped fresh tomatoes

    • 2 garlic cloves, pressed

    • 3 pints of vegetable stock

    • Olive oil

    • Canned or cooked fava beans

    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

    • Chopped fresh parsley

    • 1 ½ teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika

    • Fresh lemon juice

    • ¼ teaspoon cayenne

    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

    • 2 bay leaves

    • Fresh mint leaves

    • Large carrot, chopped

In a large pot, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the cumin, paprika, cayenne, bay leaves and carrots, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and vegetable stock and simmer until the carrots are tender - about 15 minutes. Finally, add the cooked fava beans and the parsley and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ful Nabed can be served with bita bread and garnished with fresh mint leaves. Serves 6.

Recipe from

Chicken Piccata (Italy)

Copyright, 2006, Robin Miller, All rights reservedShow: Quick Fix Meals with Robin MillerEpisode: Spring Fling
I'm not a big fan of boneless skinless breast except when on nights when I don't feel like cooking but I need a big protein boost. Here is a tasty recipe for those days you just want to make something easy but at the same time impress your guests.

4 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and ground black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, quartered
1/4 cup drained capers
Sliced Mushrooms (optional, you can add it while cooking the chicken)

Place chicken in zip-top bags and pound with a meat mallet or rolling pin until 1/4-inch thick. Remove chicken from bag and season all over with salt and black pepper. In a shallow dish (or plastic bag), combine flour, lemon zest, paprika, and garlic powder. Mix well. Add chicken and turn to coat. Remove chicken from flour mixture and shake off excess flour.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and saute 2 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through. Add lemon juice, wine and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Simmer 5 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickens. Add artichoke hearts and capers and simmer 1 minute to heat through.

Can be served with rice or boiled potatoes