Sweet and Sour

August 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve been listening to this song by Paul Kalkbrenner on repeat for a bit now. Walking down Valencia Street, under the first sun San Francisco has seen all summer, sitting in my room post-yoga wondering how to tackle the day, then late at night when sadness, nervousness, excitement and anticipation all hit me at once, this song seems to capture all the emotions flooding in. We built up castles in the sky and the sand. As I’m packing boxes for my final year at university, sending emails that document, and formalize, my thesis project, and finally facing the full force of not quite knowing what I want to do with my future, which is now becoming not so distant, the castle on which my life is built suddenly seems as stable as sand. I can just picture a huge wave coming in and washing it all away, leaving just the foundations behind. And then, when I’m talking to people close to me — and some strangers too, people I meet at coffee shops and new friends from down the street — I’m reminded that there’s a castle in the sky too, that I can design my world the way I’d like it.

The hardest part is not quite knowing what I want. I know what is comforting and what is thrilling, but not what is feasible. Every time I sit down at a computer now, I’m reminded of the need to be serious, to finally start living a grown-up life, or something that resembles one. And then I get out on the streets and into the onslaught of bright flavors, summer colors, new vintage clothing shops and cafés filled with chatter, and the real world seems so much less scary than when it’s written in a word document, though perhaps a bit less orderly. The song seems to float in the background of the bustle, the subdued but steady beat and the comforting, slightly raspy voice reassuring that there’s someone by your side, ensuring that you shine.

And then, on a more lighthearted note, there’s my summer tart spree, bright colors, bright flavors. Plump, juicy blackberries that stain the fingers and mouth deep purple, cloyingly sweet. Mouth-puckering lemon curd eaten on a spoon, or spread over a simple tart shell. Thick custard, speckled with vanilla bean. Flowers on the street corners, in every color of the rainbow. It’s summer here. Let’s not let it end too soon.

Lemon Curd, Tarts and Berries

You can find my go-to lemon curd recipe here, and then a solid tart dough (pasta frolla) here. One recipe makes enough for two tarts. Pick the very best berries you can find, it’s totally worth it.

Pastry Cream
Adapted from Bon Appétit, May 1998

1 3/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, chopped

Heat milk to a simmer on the stovetop. In a medium bowl, beat together the sugar and egg yolks. Add vanilla, then gradually beat in the flour. Gradually stir in the warm milk. Transfer the mixture back to the stovetop and heat until the pastry cream comes to a boil and is very thick. Immediately transfer the pastry cream to a large, clean bowl. Whisk in the butter, until it is entirely melted. Continue to whisk occasionally under the pastry cream is cooled. Spread over a pre-baked tart shell, serve with berries, or eat it chilled, by the spoonful.

Blackberry-Pistachio Macaroon Tart

September 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Blackberries on the side of the road are a glorious thing. A prickly, sometimes painful, mess, but beautiful nonetheless. Nearing the end of summer, the bushes have been combed over time and time again and usually boast only a couple of edible berries, but I get excited seeing them nonetheless. Blackberries in Italian farmland, blackberries along Route 1 in Mendocino, blackberries in green paper crates at the market, blackberries in my grandparents’ backyard that never quite made it into the night’s crisp, blackberries on the hill where I run above my house. I could eat them until my fingers are stained purple forever.

Luckily this one batch of blackberries turned out to be pretty sour. Plump, deep purple almost black, so juicy that they ruptured in between my forefingers, and pucker worthy. I let them sit on the counter for a couple of days (you know that saying that a little distance makes the heart grow fonder), but in the end, they only started growing a bit of mold and looking pretty sad. So I picked through them and tossed the rest in the freezer, vowing to return to them after Labor Day weekend.

Baked, they meld into tart, jammy pockets beneath chewy flakes of coconut. They soak into a thick shortbread crust, gently teasing out the natural sweetness of the browned-butter. The bars are finished with a colorful flourish of pistachios. And suddenly those blackberries, so wholly disappointing, are once again transformed into showstoppers, just in time for the end of summer.

Blackberry-Pistachio Macaroon Tart
Closely Adapted from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson
I remember the day I met Heidi. I was sitting at a long table at a book event for Good to the Grain and thought she looked familiar, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it until she introduced herself. It was at the beginning of last summer, right before I started my year off from school, and when I told her my plans and tentative plans, she said “Good for you.” It was also the day I first realized that non-wheat flours didn’t have to just be weird grains that my dad snuck into pancakes when I wasn’t looking. 

For the crust:
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup light brown sugar or natural cane sugar
½ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter

For the filling:
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup light brown sugar or natural cane sugar
4 large egg whites
8 ounces fresh blackberries, halved
1/3 pistachios, crushed (raw or roasted, unsalted)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter your tart pan of choice. The original recipe uses an 8 by 11 inch tart pan but I did just fine with my long, rectangular pan.

Make the crust: Brown the butter on the stovetop. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt. Stir in the browned butter until the mixture is crumbly but not dry. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared tart pan and bake for 15 minutes, until just golden brown. Let the crust cool while you prepare the macaroon filling.

In a mixing bowl, combine the coconut, egg whites and sugar. Distribute the blackberries evenly over the baked crust. Spread the macaroon filling on top of them (the end effect is prettier if you let some of the blackberries peek through). Press down the coconut filling.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the peaks of the macaroon are deep, golden brown. After the tart has cooled, sprinkle pistachios over the top.

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