Strawberry Hazelnut Cream Tart

July 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’m sitting on the balcony of my hotel room in Paris, eight floors above the street, below, just steps away from the Saint Michel fountain, where crowds of tourists are still applauding two men performing some sort of bizarre sequence of body movements, which, in my opinion, hardly qualify as art or as acrobatic contortions. Horns are blaring, and I’m sure in some parts of the city — perhaps even a couple blocks away — parties are well under way for Bastille Day. I walked around about a four-block radius of my hotel and then retreated to my sanctuary of a hotel room.

Lately, I’ve been longing to be home, or at least somewhere I can call home for a couple of weeks, dreaming about having a kitchen again and starting each morning with a bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup and a cup of fresh coffee. Craving strange and random things that I certainly never thought would be at the top of my list — non-fat milk, whole grains, avocado, and curry. Homey, healthy, and flavors with a kick. Believe it or not, one cannot eat croissants forever, though I have certainly put it to the test.

Thankfully, it will be exactly one day until I have a kitchen again — though it still could not be farther from home —, as I have a growing list of desserts, and surprisingly savory dinner items, to make. In honor of this occasion, I thought I’d share something I made in the days leading up to this trip (read, almost two months ago). Fresh California strawberries sit atop a thick layer of vanilla pastry cream. The crust is crunchy, and just slightly overbaked to the point that it’s crystallized and caramelizing. Before filling the tart, I dipped a knife and a couple of spoons in a jar of hazelnut jam that my mom picked up at a local bakery, and spread the crust with nutty goodness. This tart disappeared in a flash, I think because it became of a favorite breakfast item of my dad’s.

Dried-plum walnut frangipane tart

June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

I think the rain follows me. It catches me at the most inopportune moments. Like now when I went out to a café to write in a sundress and then the downpour started. The café is connected to one of the English speaking bookstores for all the expats who still want a taste of home; I don’t mind, I like real espresso instead of instant coffee and the red velvet lounge chairs are comfy enough to wait out the storm. Yesterday the dark clouds came in as fireworks spontaneously rose up over the river. There was never really any explanation of what we were celebrating, which I am learning seems to be the norm here. But we ran to the living room window anyway, which overlooks the town to the west, and watched the lights rise and fall in the distance. I could get used to that.

What is harder to get used to is the food here — displays of dense, heavy dumplings and strange animal body parts (have you ever eaten a pig’s knee before?). The closest I have gotten to eating well here is getting an Italian guy to offer to make dinner for me. Which I don’t think really counts as eating well in the Czech Republic. I am also not going to get used to the produce selection in the supermarket nearest me — vegetable choices range from tomatoes to lettuce to bell peppers…and, that’s about it. In order to survive, I am making huge batches of cashew-berry-papaya granola and eating it with yogurt at all times of the day. The yogurt here is rich and creamy enough to never even think of added sugar. And there is just enough space in my new kitchen to want to spend some time in it.

The church bells are usually ringing as I come back from my run. The butter cuts easily into the flour for savory piecrust. The water boils on the counter. The tea is creamy, because I still haven’t found skim milk. The light streams in through the window, the trees in the backyard garden below are damp with last night’s rain. As I step out the door and onto the metro, I remember to smile and nod when people talk to me. Act like you understand what they’re saying, and no one will ever know the difference. The best part is running down the street and not knowing what the guys are saying to you. It’s like living in a bubble, where you can make up the reality around you.

In the center of town, other languages fly in every direction. The Charles Bridge teems with visitors and reminds me of the Rialto Bridge in Venice. I get frustrated winding through the crowd with the cameras flashing, before realizing, wait, I actually know where I am going! I haven’t taken out a map since my second day here, it seems impossible to get lost. Meanwhile, the winding side streets, with old wooden doors and graffiti decorations, are captivating. The cobblestones are rough on the feet but I know the streets would look barren without them. Small groups of musicians wait around the corner, laze by the river, strumming guitars and blowing into long horns. A climb in a park means looking out at the rowers and sailors on the river as they disappear off into the horizon.

If other cities I have been to have been detailed and ornate, here, walls looks like they were made by hand. The rusticity makes the streets all the more beautiful. That might be one of the main reasons why I love my kitchen here. I feel perfectly in place rolling out a rustic dough on the wooden table, filling it with ground nuts and butter and plopping a few dried plums right in the middle.

The recipe for this tart, fittingly, comes from the book Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli.

De-tartified lemon curd (except amazingly tart)

June 4, 2010 § 3 Comments

Hello from New York City. I am surrounded by highrises and about to give you a little piece of sunshine. Just look at this picture and try to pretend it doesn’t make you happy. I accidentally got one of my feet in the first picture I took of this series and decided to take the rest with both feet in.

It helps that this is positively my favorite thing to eat. I have made this recipe quite a few times, each time with the intention of making a lemon tart. Somehow, the process never really gets that far along and I end up eating this lemon curd by the spoonful. Sometimes, I manage to save some to have on top of my toast for breakfast. But that’s as far as it ever gets. Maybe next time, I should think about making the tart shell first. But you and I both know that is never going to happen.

Lemon Curd
Recipe from David Lebovitz
Makes 1 cup (240 g)

1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, cubed

Place a mesh strainer over a bowl, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt.
Add the butter cubes and set the pan over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted.
Increase the heat and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. It’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk.
Immediately press the curd through the strainer. Once strained, store the lemon curd in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to one week.

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