29 July 2013

thoughts on fresh fruit tart

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
I made my first fresh fruit tart with pastry cream last year for Thanksgiving. Using a recipe from Brown Eyed Baker, which she got from Cook's Illustrated, I assumed I was on my way to success. Unfortunately, the first try was only a semi-success. The crust, for me, was a big flop (I couldn't even roll it out), and the pastry cream was a thick, runny sauce.

Not one to let a baking disaster get the best of me, I made another tart a week or so later. This time, I used my go-to pie crust and increased the corn starch from 3 tablespoons to 5 tablespoons. I remember that tart setting perfectly, though I think the crust was too thick and not tender enough for all the light components.

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
Since I like perfecting things that perplex me, I made another tart a month or so ago using a pate sucree. Unlike a pate brisee, which is a typical butter pastry dough, pate sucree is enriched with more sugar, egg yolks, and depending on the recipe, heavy cream. I followed a Martha Stewart recipe that just used chilled water. As you can tell from the picture above, there are many coarse pieces of butter. Because I made it by hand, I probably didn't cut the butter in as much as I should. You'll see how this (probably) affected the baked crust in a couple of pictures.

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
I've found that using a mixture of ceramic pie weights and dried rice keeps the crust from puffing up as it bakes. Don't forget to prick the crust, though.

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
In this picture, you can see that the sides collapsed more than I would have liked, and the crust is oozing grease from the butter chunks, which caused the kitchen to smoke. There was grease everywhere. I have no idea what I did other than that I didn't cut the butter in enough. Obviously, I'll have to try it again.

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
Moving on to the pastry cream. I knew 5 tablespoons would be enough to set the pastry cream, so in my third attempt I used 4 tablespoons. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough and the pasty cream thicken enough for a tart - you're aiming for a clean cut and a pastry cream that withstands the weight of the fruit. In this, my fourth attempt (I think... I'm not very good with numbers), I used 5 tablespoons again.

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
Maybe the temperature was too high, I don't know. This time, when the pastry cooked and thickened I noticed many little lumps. As usual, I pressed the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve, hoping the lumps would be pressed away.

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
Only after resting in the refrigerator overnight, the lumps reappeared. I'm thinking that the burner temperature was too high, and no amount of whisking furiously would prevent those lumps from occurring. I know that overcooked corn starch will lose its thickening power, and possibly that's why this batch was not quite as set as the last time I made it correctly.

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
In any case, all tarts look pretty when topped with decoratively placed pieces of fruit. I layered slices of kiwi in a concentric circle around the perimeter of the tart, filled the middle with blueberries, and brushed heated apricot preserves on top for shine.

fresh fruit tart with pastry cream
It still isn't the prettiest of slices. Regardless, it tasted really good. Next time, though, I will try it again with a different crust (I'm looking at a recipe from Bon Appetit) and 5 tablespoons of corn starch in the pastry cream on a lower heat, and other time with the same crust, but 6 tablespoons of corn starch as well as using a lower heat.

I am out of control.

08 July 2013

Book Review: Honey, Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a fat runner


I like memoirs. I find that I can relate to at least one aspect of the person's story, and a book about a real person keeps my interest more than that of a fictional character. When Jennifer Graham, writer and mother to four children and two donkeys, sent me an email inquiring if I'd be interested in reviewing her book, I just had a feeling after reading the description that hers would be a story worth reading.

At first glance, you might not think Graham's story is anything out of the ordinary: an overweight, divorced mother of four children wants to train for a race. Don't we all? As you'll quickly realize, though, through Graham's engaging writing, the story is about so much more. It's about finding a way to move through life's difficulties without completely falling apart and about finding a way to pick yourself up when you do.

Graham tells us the story of her first run, her first race, her first post-divorce-race, and how she found a way to get through feelings of self-doubt and insecurity without letting it consume her. In particular, I identified with her feeling that training for a race was really pointless in the grand scheme of life. A conclusion that is very defeatist. As she points out, if Ryan Hall doesn't have a good reason for running, and it's his job, what is our, the lowly hobby runners', reason? According to Graham's coach, that reason is self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement. (For me, that sense of achievement comes from finishing what I start.)

Many will identify with Graham's struggle with her weight, and how it made her feel like she didn't belong to a sport whose athletes she didn't resemble. We realize by the end of the book that what makes a runner is more what goes on in their mind than what is portrayed by their physical appearance, and Graham is as much of a runner as the "Shirtless Wonders" she speaks of throughout the book.

Honey, Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of A Fat Runner isn't all serious, however. We do get a glimpse into her barn, home to two troublesome donkeys, her mind, home to her deceased running coach, Steve Prefontaine, and how living in Boston, home of America's most iconic marathon, leads to being interviewed with "The Pants Lady".

Upon finishing the book, I felt a sense of camaraderie with Graham. It even renewed my desire to run, something I find myself struggling with often. This book is a short read, but one that will stay with you for a long time. It's available on Amazon.

Jennifer Graham can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, website, and her blog.

About This Blog

Chronicling my adventures from the kitchen to the road, and back again.

Previous Posts

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP