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.

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.

Choux Chantilly

December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment



The metal gates of the passage du Grand Cerf clang open on a late Sunday morning to reveal a red carpeted passageway, off of which we find the apartment which will host our first, and likely only, cooking class in Paris. I should start by saying that baking is something I usually like doing alone, or with my family, or one friend. Several of my best friends can attest to times we have excitedly decided to make gingerbread houses for example, only to have me take over the whole project because I wanted it to look “just so.” Or times when I have refused to hand over the wooden spoon to my little brother because I like being the one mixing for that moment when the cookie dough begins to come together and starts looking like real dough.

I like sitting in front of the oven, peering into the little window, with the oven light on, watching cakes rise, watching the tops of soufflés turn golden brown, watching the edges of cookies crisp in the seconds before you take them out of the oven. I could do this for the entire hour it takes for the bread to finish baking. Or for the fifteen minutes in takes for these little choux pastries to rise and the pastry to puff around little balls of air, making perfect little capsules in which to pipe Chantilly cream or pastry cream, perfumed with vanilla bean and folded with some extra butter (you know for that glossy finish, and because, let’s admit it, it’s France, and a little extra butter goes into everything French).

So I’m afraid I spent much of this Sunday afternoon sitting on the floor in front of the oven window watching the first batch of choux puffs fail miserably as they turned into flat, eggy patties, and then smiling excitedly as the second batch puffed up brilliantly into sugar-crusted balls of hot air. And then I spent the second half of Sunday licking pastry cream off my fingertips, abandoning any semblance of dignified consumption.

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