Banoffee Pie

When I was in London for a conference a couple of years ago (oh the days….), I kept seeing something called banoffee pie on desert menus.

I didn’t pay much attention to the offering mostly because in my head, banoffee translated into banana+coffee.  Weird.

But then over the holidays during a rewatching of Love Actually, my interest was piqued when the Juliet character shows up at Mark’s (who will always be Rick in my head) house with a faux peace offering of banoffee pie.

Fine I thought, I guess I’ll see what all the fuss is about.  First things first, banofee= bananas+toffee, a much more palatable notion than bananas+coffee.  Usually the crust is made from digestive biscuits or graham crackers.  The bake shell is then filled with dulce de leche.  You can do store bought but making your own is even easier (recipe included below).

Then the creamy caramel is topped with a layer of sliced bananas and the whole thing is crowned with a cloud of whipped cream (in this case, laced with espresso…so I guess this really is bananas+coffee after all).

I was 100% ready to not like this.  I was 100% ready to proclaim it cloying and too rich.  I was 100% ready to stop eating it as soon as I could find something wrong with it.

Alas, I was 100% wrong.  Banoffee pie is 100% delicious.  The whole is aggressively better than the sum of its parts.  Somehow the dulce de leche and bananas sort of melt together while the crust has just enough salt to cut through the sweetness.  Really, you should make this.

The scene.

Banoffee Pie

makes a 9-10 inch pie

Ingredients

for the dulce de leche

  • 12 ounce jarred sauce or, make your own (it’s very easy and cheap).  If making your own, you’ll need a 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

for the crust

  • 1 1/2 C finely ground graham crackers (graham cracker recipe)
  • 1/3 C granulated sugar
  • 5 TBS melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

for the bananas and whipped cream

  • 3-4 just ripe bananas
  • 1 C heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/4 TBS graduated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp instant espresso granules
  • Chocolate shavings

Directions

  1. If you are making your own dulce de leche.  Remove the label from the can.  Submerge completely into a pot of water.  Boil for about three hours making sure to top-off the water when it dips below the level of the can.  Allow to cool completely before using.  You can–and probably should–do this the day before.
  2. For the crust.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine graham crumbs, sugar, salt and melted butter.  Press crumb mixture into a pie tin, gently coaxing the sandy mixture up the sides of the pan.  I like to use a measuring cup to press the crumbs.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until crumbs are set into a crust.  Allow to cool completely.
  3. Using an offset spatula, spread dulce de leche evenly into the bottom of the pie.
  4. Slice bananas, one by one as you go and arranged slices tightly on top of the dulce de leche. Dulce de leche will be thick but press bananas into the caramel just a bit.
  5. Pour cold whipping cream into a medium bowl.  Add vanilla.  With a hand mixer, beat cream until frothy.  With the mixer still running, slowly add in sugar, espresso and salt.  Whip until cream forms soft peaks that hold their form.
  6. Spread or pipe whipped cream across top of bananas.  Top with chocolate shavings.  Keep in fridge.

The humble graham

Originally, I didn’t plan on giving these just sweet little cookies their own blog post.  Originally, they were meant as a means to an ends for next week’s post.

As a result, I did not given them their photographic due.  And for that I’m sorry.  But, you can learn from my mistakes.

Do not underestimate the deliciousness of these humble crackers.  Toothsome due to the wholewheat flour, satisfyingly crisp and just spicy enough to stand on their own, these grahams are quietly addictive.

The only thing that makes them better is pairing them with a hot cup of strong, black coffee.

 

Crispy Whole Wheat Graham Crackers

slightly adapted from Stella Parks in Bravetart

Ingredients

  • 3/4 C (5 1/2 ounces) + 3 TBS sugar, separated
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 + 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, separated
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C (3 ounces) golden syrup (I buy mine here Lyles Golden Syrup), sorghum, unsulphered molasses or honey.
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter at room temp
  • 2 1/2 C (12 ounces) whole wheat flour plus more for dusting

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 3/4 C sugar, baking soda, salt, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, golden syrup and butter.   Mix on low to moisten, then increase to medium and beat until somewhat light, roughly 3 minutes.
  2. Reduce speed to low and add-in flour.  Mix to form a soft ball (mine was somewhat sandy and just barely came together).
  3. Scrape dough onto works surface and knead gently to form a ball.  Divide in half. Use immediately or wrap in plastic and refrigerate for up to one week.  If using from fridge, allow to soften for 30 minutes to come to room temp before rolling out.
  4. Adjust oven rack to middle and preheat to 350 degrees.
  5. Mix together remaining 3 TBS and 1/4 tsp of sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Set aside.
  6. Generously flour a large sheet of parchment and place one portion of dough in center.  Pat into a 5X6 inch rectangle.  Sprinkle with flour, flip and dust again.  Working from the center out, roll the dough until roughly 15X11 inches and very thin.  Slide parchment with dough onto baking sheet.  Repeat with second half of dough.
  7. Score each sheet of dough to desired sized crackers (for grocery store score each sheet into 12 2 1/4 by 4 3/4 inch rectangles and dock with a bamboo skewer (totally optional).  Sprinkle each sheet with half of the sugar cinnamon mixture.
  8. Bake until crackers are tawny brown and firm (finger may still leave a faint indentation), about 20 minutes.  Immediately cut through along score lines.  Cool to room tempt directly on baking sheets.  Can be stored in an airtight container for you to 3 weeks at room temp or 3 months frozen.

 

Tartine’s Morning Buns, take one

First things first, there isn’t a recipe at the end of this post.  Really, this is just a collection of pictures of work in progress.

A few years ago, after taking a baking course, I spent about a month playing with laminated dough.  I was pretty successful, producing fluffy croissants and golden crusted pain au chocolat.  But then the house got hot (summer) and I ruined not one but two really nice muffin tins attempting to make kouign-amann.  I had to set this flakey dough aside for a while.

But, I’ve been meaning to return to it.

And finally did a month or so ago.  Laminated dough is time consuming and fickle.  So, I spread things out over a couple of weekends and took my time.

Over the first weekend I made Tartine’s croissant dough.  I then split it in half and froze each half, double wrapped in plastic.

The second weekend, I allowed one of my half-batches of dough to thaw in the fridge and attempted Tartine’s famous morning buns.

Here is the thing.  While the final product was delicious, I didn’t get much rise on the final proof.  I wasn’t sure if this was because the house was relatively cool, or if the dough was overly laden with cinnamon sugar.  Or if I’d failed the croissant dough.

What came out of the oven was caramely and definitely laminated.  But, there wasn’t much dough development.

The buns looked more like puff pastry that croissant pastry.

The good thing is that I still have the other half of the dough in the freezer.  Maybe next weekend…or next month…I’ll pull it out and try some croissants to get to the bottom of things.

 

Blender Mousse

Hey you!  Want to get weird with me?

I first heard mention of blender mousse on an episode of Samin Nosrat and Hrishi Hirway’s pandemic inspired podcast, Home Cooking.  While I had to look up which episode the reference is in (Episode 4: Guess What? Chicken Butt is Delicious with special guest appearance by Yoyo Ma), I remember I was scrubbing the shower while listening to it.  Oh lockdown fun.

Anyhow, Samin Nosrat was answering a question about desserts that can be made without an oven and she cited a recipe by Natasha Picowitz and appears in the New York Times.

Mousse.  In a blender.  Oh the novelty.  So of course, I had to try it.

It’s a little like my favorite ganache recipe where blades (in this case, blender blades) pulverize the chocolate that is then melted with a sugar syrup (that also cooked the eggs) and whirled until everything is smooth as silk.  The recipe is both genius and weirdly fun (it’s very satisfying to chop chocolate in the blender for some reason).  Once the chocolate mixture is spun back down to room temp, it’s folded into gently peaked heavy cream.

Yes, you know and I know what comes next.

A few minutes of gently folding, David, and into the fridge.  So easy.  So, so delicious.  I made this for Valentine’s dinner and we both devoured it.

Blender (though I’m sure your food processor would also work) Chocolate Mousse

adapted from New York Times

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or roughly chopped
  • 4 large eggs, room temp
  • 1/4 C espresso, or strong coffee brewed and cooled
  • 1/4 C light rum or liquer (I used Kahlua because I didn’t have Baileys)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a handheld electric mixer), whip the cream into soft, glossy peaks (about 5 minutes). Set aside in the fridge.
  2. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the sugar with 1/4 cup of water until dissolved.  As soon as the mixture begins to boil, turn off the heat.
  3. Add chocolate and eggs to the blender.  Blend on medium-high speed while slowly pouring in the hot sugar syrup.  This will melt the chocolate and cook the eggs.  Keep the machine running until the mixture is extremely smooth, then steam in the espresso, rum/liqueur, vanilla and salt.  Keep blending until the mixture has cooled to room temp, pausing to scrape down the sides of the blender as needed.
  4. Fold 1 cup of the chocolate mixture into the chilled whipped cream until smooth.  Then add the rest of the chocolate mixture to the cream mixture, folding until there are no streaks.
  5. Pour into individual vessels and set in the fridge until firm, at least 1 hours or up to 24 hours.  Serve chilled.

 

 

Cake. In ice cream. Why didn’t I think of that?!

Remember the red wine velvet cake from a few weeks ago?  In that post I explained that I made two six inch round cakes along with a nine inch round to be used for something later on.

Guess what?  It’s the later on.

In her notes on the red velvet cake, author Stella Parks (Bravetart) mentions that the leveling scraps from the cake make for a delicious addition to her cream cheese ice cream.  Here is the thing, my own baking doctrine dictates that leveling scraps are to be consumed soley by the baker.  You know, as a sort of an offering.  Hey, I don’t make the rules.

So instead, I dedicated a cake layer to the ice cream (spoiler–I never thought I’d say this, but an entire layer is far too much…a half cup of cake cubes or all of the leveling scraps is more than enough).

Let’s talk about the ice cream.  Barely sweet and extra rich (thank you three dairy sources and five eggs), this ice cream is elegant and sophisticated.  This is an eat out of a special dish with a metal spoon and cloth napkin frozen dessert if you’re picking up what I’m putting down.  Mildy flavored, the cake adds interesting texture and just a hint of spice from the cinnamon.

Cream Cheese Red Velvet Wine Cake Ice Cream

Stella Parks, Bravetart

Ingredients

  • 1 C, 8 ounces full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temp.
  • 1/3 C, 3 ounces of egg yolks (about 5 large eggs)
  • 1/2 C, 4 ounces granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 C, 8 ounces whole milk
  • 1/2 C, 4 ounce heavy cream
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 1 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 C cubed red wine velvet cake (or all of the leveling scraps–in which case, just tear into piece–you won’t be able to make cubes–also in which case–what is wrong with you–why didn’t you eat these when you made the cake?)

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until soft and smooth; scrap down the beater.  Set aside.
  2. In a 3-quart heavy bottomed sauce pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt.  Then whisk in the milk and cream.
  3. Cook over medium-low heat stirring constantly with a flexible spatula until the custard is steaming hot (about 8 minutes).
  4. Strain into the bowl with the cream cheese though a fine mesh sieve.  Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.  When its cooler (winter months), the custard may seem curdled.  It’s fine and will churn great.  Cool to room temp (use ice bath for quicker cooling) and then refrigerate until cold and thick, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.
  5. To finish, churn according to the manufacturers directions on your machine.  Just before the churning is finished, add cake cubes.
  6. Chill and store in an airtight container in the freezer.  To help precent freezer burn, press a piece of plastic wrap to the ice cream’s surface when storing.

Pasteis de Nata

Egg custard tarts.  Two weeks ago I tried out Hong Kong style egg custard tarts.  Last week I tried the Macau version.  This week, we’re taking it back to Portugal to make the iteration that inspired the Macau style tarts: Pasteis de nata (‘cream pastry’ in Portuguese).

According to my research, Portugal’s most famous pastry dates back more than 300 years to the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem.  As the  story goes,  long before spray starch was a twinkle in Niagra’s eye, the nuns and monks of the monastery used egg whites whites to starch their clothes.  This left them with a lot of unused egg yolks.  What do you do when life gives you egg yolks?  If you are a Portuguese monk, you make pastries.  A long guarded secret, when the monastery closed in 1834, the recipe was reportedly sold to the bakery,  Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem.

The tart became very popular and soon other bakeries were making the flaky handheld tarts that became ubiquitous enough to earn the moniker pasteis de nata.

There are two main differences in this week’s recipe for pasteis de nata compared with last week’s Macau tarts.  First relates to shell technique.

In the recipe I used last week, the puff pastry was hand molded into shape.  Here, the little pieces of dough are rolled into disks which are then gently seated into the muffin or tart tins.  I found rolling out the circles satisfyingly meditative and much more attractive than the push mold method.

The second difference was in the custard.  So remember when I thought last week’s version was the Macau version until I read the recipe title.  Well, based on my research, this week’s custard is actually closer to the Macau version because it includes cornstarch.

So, to review.  Last week’s tarts, which I called the Macau tarts were actually pasteis de nata whereas this week’s tarts, which I’m calling pasteis de nata are probably more like the Macau tarts.

The thing is, I found that along the road to both these tarts, I could find recipes that claim to be the original of each, switching and swapping bits and pieces of the recipes.  And it makes sense, because that’s what cooking and baking is all about.  A little piece of this, a little piece of that.

But returning to this week’s pastry.  Rolling out the dough made for some gorgeous lamination and neat little tarts.

But, using the tins rather than the muffin cups created a snack with equal parts custard and puff.  Not my favorite.

So, the journey must continue.  I made a couple of batches of puff pastry last week that are currently resting in the freezer.

Next time inspiration strikes, I’m going to mix and match my favorite elements of  each of the three recipes and see where that gets me.

Until then, I encourage you to do your own exploring.

Pasteis de Nata

from The Woks of Life

Ingredients

  • one batch rough puff
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 tsps cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

For pasty shells

  1. Starting with your cold puff pastry, on a floured surface, roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thick (12X16ish)
  2. Beginning on the short (12″) side of the dough, roll as tightly as possible until you get a 12″ roll.  Wrap in plastic and pop into freezer for 30 minutes (you can do this part a couple of days in advance.  Store tightly wrapped roll in fridge until ready to use.
  3. Once chilled, cut the rolled dough into 12 equal parts.  You want your dough to stay cool for this next part.  So, depending on how warm your kitchen is, wrap up 6-9 of the pieces and put them back in the fridge.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll first piece of dough out so that measures about 3.5 inches (or, about half an inch wider than the diameter of the tin you are using).  Place the dough into your tin with the center of the dough lining up with the center of the tin.  Gently press the dough into the sides of the tin so that the dough has about a 1/16 of a lip around the top of the tin.  Work quickly and gently, handling the dough as little as possible.  Repeat until you have filled 12 tart tins.  Place tins on a baking sheet and chill in freezer.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes or until the dough is frozen.  These can be made a couple of days ahead and kept wrapped and frozen until ready to use.

To make the custard

  1. Whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, milk, egg yolks, corn starch and vanilla extract in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Place mixture over medium low heat, continuing to whisk until the mixture begins to coat the side of the pan.  The custard is nearly ready when it just begins to steam.  When the custard is thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, remove from heat and continue to whisk.  Whisk until the custard is no longer hot.  Strain  custard and set aside to cool completely, pressing a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the custard to keep a skin from forming.

To assemble and bake

  1. Place rack on middle shelf in oven.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Place frozen pastry shells on a sheet pan if not already there.
  2. Spoon the cooled custard into each shell until custard is about 3.16 of an inch below the top of the pastry shell.  Work quickly so that custard does not begin soaking into the shells.
  3. Place baking sheet in oven and immediately reduce temperature down to 450 degrees.  The total baking time should be about 30 minutes but begin checking after 20 minutes.  Rotate pan if tarts are browning unevenly.
  4. Once pastry is golden and you have some nice scorch marks, remove from oven.  Place on rack to cool.
  5. Once tarts are cooled to warm, remove from tins and enjoy.
  6. To reheat tarts, preheat oven to 350 degrees and heat for 7-10 minutes.

 

 

Macau Egg Custard Tarts

Happy almost Lunar New Year (tomorrow it’s official).  In honor of Lunar New Year, this month I’m having some fun with egg custard tarts.  Last week I played with Hong Kong style egg custard tarts.  This week we’re taking the ferry from Hong Kong to Macau.

Sort of.

When I was researcing egg custard tarts, I earmarked this recipe as the Macau version.  I made it thinking it was the Macau version.  I gave the finished tarts away to  friends explaining that these were the Macau version.

Then I looked at the actual recipe title.  The recipe is for pasteis de nata.  True, the Macau version of egg custard tarts take their inspiration from the famous Portuguese egg tarts called pasteis de nata.  The story goes like this.  Just over 30 years ago, an English industrial pharmacist named Andrew Stow living on Macau introduced the pasteis de nata after tasting them in Portugal.  He opened a shop Lord Stow’s Bakery and the Macau egg custard tart (po tat) was born.  Lord Stow’s timing was  serendipitous. The 1980s saw an influx of Portuguese owned businesses to Macau and while colonized by Portugal centuries earlier in 1557, from what I read, there wasn’t much European food culture on the island.  But there was demand.

While Stow’s actual recipe is proprietary, it differs from the Hong Kong style and the original pasteis de data in a couple of ways.  The Macau style has a flaky, puff pastry shell (Hong Kong is a short crust).  Moreover, according to my research, the custard in the Macau version is more like the English custard tarts than the pasteis de nata.  But then, the Macau version sends a nod to the Portuguese version by keeping the caramelized top.

So how did I get turned around with this particular recipe?  So many reasons, so little time.  But, what I think happened was during my deep dive into the rabbit hole that are the egg custard tart internets, I somehow got the impression that the method of making the puff pastry for the Macau tart was different from the European version for pasteis de data.  In this version (what I thought was the Macau version), soft, whipped butter is spread onto the dough to laminate it.  I’d only made puff using the block butter or frozen shredded butter versions.

In this version, the shell pastry is laminated, rolled and the cut into equal pieces.  Those pieces are then hand-shaped into tart shells (I used muffin tins–free forming them is seriously next level).

The result should be evidence of lamination via swirling on the bottom of the pastry.

With straight-sides and burnt, I mean caramelized blisters dotting the custard surface, these tarts homlier than their Hong Kong rivals.  They are also sweeter. And really, different baked good all together.

But, we’re not done yet.  I couldn’t end this expedition without going back to the original pasteis de nata.

Sort of.

Next week!

Macau Style Custar Tarts/ Portuguese Custard Tarts

adapted from All Recipes, recipe by “Chef John”

Great video: Pasteis de Nata

makes 12 tarts

Ingredients

for the dough

  • 1 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/3 C cold water
  • 1/2 C (4 oz, 1 stick, 8 TBS) high quality unsalted butter, softened

for the sugar syrup

  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/4 C + 1 TBS water

for the custard base

  • 1/3 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

To make dough

  1. Combine flour, salt and cold water in a bowl.  Using a wooden spoon, mix until dough just comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl.  The dough will be sticky.
  2. Transfer dough to a well floured surface.  Dust a little more flour over the top.  Knead for a couple of minutes and form a ball.  Cover and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Once rested, roll dough into a square about 1/8 inch thick, dusting with flour as necessary.
  4. Spread 1/3 of the butter over 2/3 of the square. leaving a 1/2 inch border around all edges.  Flip the unbuttered 1/3 over the middle of the square and fold the opposite end over it–like a letter.  Straighten edges as needed.  Using a bench scraper if dough is stuck to surface, unstick dough, wrap in plastic and put in fridge for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove from fridge and plastic wrap, place with long side facing you on a well dusted surface.  Dust top of dough and once again, roll into a square/rectangle about 1/8 inch thick (I should have measured the dimensions–sorry!).  Repeat butter step: spread 1/3 (well, half of the remaining) of the butter across 2/3 of the dough leaving a 1/2 inch border.  Fold into third (like a letter).  Transfer dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until butter is chilled (about 10 minutes).
  6. Sprinkle chilled dough with flour and roll out to 1/8 inch rectangle.  Spread remaining butter across ALL of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border without butter on the top edge.  Dip your finger in water and moisten the unbuttered edge.  Starting at the opposite end from the unbuttered edge, roll dough into log. Seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (will keep in the fridge for a couple of days).

For the custard and to finish tarts

  1. Combine sugar, 1/4 cup plus 1 TBS water in a small pot.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Do not stir.  Allow sugar to simmer until syrup reaches 210-215 degrees.  Remove from heat.
  2. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  3. Pull dough from fridge and trim ends.   and cut the log into 12 equal parts.  Place a pice of dough in each muffin cup with the rolled side facing up/down (as opposed to side-to-side).  Dip you thumb in cold water and then press thumb into the center of the swirl.  Gently push dough against the bottom and up the side for the cup until dough reaches at least 1/8 of an inch past the top.  Repeat until you have all 12 cup filled and then pop the tin into the freezer to chill while you finish the custard.
  4. Whisk flour, salt and cold milk together in a cold pot.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the milk thickens (about 5 minutes).  Remover from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Whisk egg yolks into the cooled milk.  Add the sugar syrup and vanilla extract.  Whisk until combined.  Strain custard into a glass measuring cup.
  6. Pull muffin tin from freezer and fill each cup with custard to 3/4 of the way.
  7. Bake in preheated oven until the pastry is browned and bubbly and the top starts to blister, 12-15 minutes.  All tarts to cool 5 minutes, remove from tin and serve warm.

Can be reheated in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes.

The egg custard tart, a tale in 3 (or more) parts

Ever since a trip to Hong Kong 10 years ago, I’ve been meaning to make egg custard tarts.  Each year I am reminded of the idea in the immediate lead up to the Lunar New Year.  Inevitably, I miss the “holiday deadline,” vow to do better the next year and then forget until early January of the year following when I am once again reminded that its once again too late (heaven forbid I consider making these treats any other time of the year).

This year I was ahead of the game for a couple of reasons.  First, the Lunar New Year falls late in 2021 (not until February 12th) giving me a little extra time after the rush of the holiday baking season to rebuild my baking fortitude.  Second, 2021 is the year of the ox, my own Chinese zodiac sign.  So, I find myself a little more motivated than if it was, say, just the year of the rooster.  [As an aside my Western astrological sign is taurus, the bull (well, sometimes I’m a Gemini, but I identify more as a taurus).  What do you get when doubled up on bovine astrology?  One stubborn human.  Also, likes salads.]

But, back to the tarts.  During my visit to Hong Kong, I remember hearing about the egg custard tart rivalry between Hong Kong and Macau.  As such, I thought it would be fun to make both types.

And then I started to do the research.

What I thought was a friendly pastry duel born of colonization has turned out to be a mystery as philosophically deep as the chicken and egg question.  Though in this case, the question is, which came first, the dan tat (Hong Kong/ Chinese style)?  Or the po tat (Macau style)? OR the pasteis de data?

I’m still not completely sure.  All I know is that at this writing, I’ve tried three different versions.

But, I’ve got to start somewhere or another 10 years will pass, so let us begin with the least technically difficult of the three: the Hong Kong style egg custard tart.

Made with a short crust (think slightly sweet pie dough), the tiny tart has origins in the English custard tart.  Hong Kong was colonized by England in the early 1840s and while it’s presumed that the influence of European style pastry came along with colonization, legend has it that the Hong Kong style egg custard tart specifically was born of competition between department stores some time between he 1920s-1940s.  While the contemporary recipes I’ve found use butter, lard or shortening was used in the early 21st century due to dairy shortages (and likely, the cheaper price point).

After World War II, the bite sized pastries became popular in the casual tea restaurants and by all accounts, have been a run away hit ever since.  In addition to the short crust,  this version uses evaporated milk (again, I’m guessing due to shortages with fresh dairy) and an interesting method whereby you make a sugar syrup to add to the custard.

Baked in tiny fluted tins (muffin tins will do just fine in a pinch), the Hong Kong tarts are associated more with breakfast and dim sum than dessert.

With a ratio of pastry to custard that about even, they’re best served warm and are a perfect pairing with milk tea (so I’ve read).

You could easily make the dough a day or two before (pop it in the fridge) and have these warm, light tarts ready just in time for brunch.

Next week, what I thought was the Macau tart but might really just be a version of the pasteis de nata…which is really the Macau tart.  Maybe.

Hong Kong Style Egg Custard Tarts

makes 12,  3 inch tarts

Ingredients

For short crust shell

  • 1/2 C (1 stick) of very soft unsalted butter
  • 1/3 C confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 egg at room temp
  • 1 1/2 C sifted flour

For custard

  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C hot water
  • 1 egg + 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 C evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. To make the dough, whip the butter using a hand mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Sift-in confectioner’s sugar.  Beat to combine.  Add-in egg, beat to combine.
  3. With beaters on low, add in first 1/2 cup of flour.  Mix until just combined.  Add in second 1/2 cup and repeat.  When ready to add 3rd 1/2 cup, set aside mixer and fold in final 1/2 cup by hand.  Fold dough until it comes together.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead a couple of times to bring dough together and form into a disk.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in fridge of at least an hour.  This step can be done a couple of days in advance.  Just be sure to pull out dough when you begin making the custard.
  5. To make custard, place oven rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees
  6. In a smallish bowl, stir sugar into hot water.  Stir until sugar is completely dissolved and then set aside the syrup until cooled completely.
  7. Roll your dough to about 1/8inch thickness.  If you are using tart pans,  measure diameter (traditional seems to be about 2.75 inches, or 7 centimeters).  Either draw a template or find a cutter (I used a mug) with a 3 1/2 inch (9 cm) diameter. Working gently and trying not to stretch your dough, fit each dough disk into the individual tart tins.  Level-off the top with your fingers or a knife.  Gather scraps and roll-out again until you get 12 tart shells.  Put shells in fridge while you finish the custard.
  8. Whisk egg and yolks one at a time into cooled sugar syrup.  Whisk in milk and vanilla.  Strain custard mixture into a 2 cup measuring cup if you have it (easier to pour into tarts).
  9. Remove tarts from fridge.  Please on a baking sheet.  Fill each tart shell to about 90%.
  10. Bake in preheated oven for 24 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 8 minutes, or until the centers don’t jiggle (mine needed a couple of extra minutes).
  11. Let cool for 10-15 minutes and tarts will easily slide right out of the tins.  Best enjoyed warm.  [note, while this is probably true, I found them to be incredibly satisfying right out of the fridge the next morning].

To reheat, pop into a preheated to 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Red (wine) velvet cake

What if I told you there exists a velvet cake where the red comes not from food coloring but from the passionate, 350 degree chemistry between cocoa and red wine?

Could there be anything more romantic?  Could there be anything more perfect for your valentine (especially if your valentine is you)?

Read on, and I will show you the way.

The red (wine) velvet cake is Stella Parks’ (of Bravetart) take on taking on the ridiculous amount of red dye that’s in contemporary red velvet cake.   According to Ms. Parks, food science is the key here.  Raw cocoa powder comes together with red wine in an explosion of anthocyanins creating the the red in red velvet a little more naturally.  And really, can you think of a situation where 3 ounces of food coloring is a better idea than 12 ounces of a dry red wine and half a cup of cocoa powder?  I know you can’t because it doesn’t exist.

Truth time.  I didn’t use raw cocoa.  I used normal, old valhrona.  Did it make my cake less red?  Probably.

But, it wasn’t supposed to be the bright red of what we think of as red velvet in today’s terms.  Even with roasted cocoa, the red wine gave this rich chocolatey cake very pretty hennaed highlights.

Now we all know caked decorating isn’t really my jam, but I couldn’t resist dressing her up a little for Valentines Day, what with the chemical reactions and the chocolate and the wine.

I used my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe (listed below), and, unable to resist the food coloring siren completely, had a little fun with pink.

From a flavor perspective, this cake doesn’t taste like what we’ve come to know as red velvet.  When you compare ingredient lists, it shouldn’t.  Starting with the red wine and much more cocoa than my red velvet cake recipe, this red velvet also has just a hint of cinnamon. It is rich, decadent and special.

And before you ask, it doesn’t taste like win.  That’s what the other 13 ounces left in your bottle of wine are for.

Happy Valentine’s Day friends.

A note here on the recipe versus the pictures.  This recipe makes A LOT of cake.  As written, it makes 3, nine inch layers at about two and a half inches high.  For the pictures, I made two very thick six inch cakes (which I split to make four layers) and one normal nine inch layer.  That nine-inch layer is going to guest star with some ice cream and a little chemistry of it’s own in a couple of posts.  But, my point is that I think you could half the recipe and get a very respectable double layer eight or nine inch cake.

Red (Wine) Velvet Cake

Stella Parks, in Bravetart, Conic American Desserts

Makes 3X8″ cakes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 C (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 C (2 1/4 ounces) raw cocoa powder (I didn’t have raw, it was fine)
  • 3 1/2 sticks (14 ounces) unsalted butter, soft but cool
  • 2 C gently packed (16 ounces), light/golden brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 TBS (1 ounce) vanilla
  • 6 large eggs at room temp
  • 1 1/2 C (12 ounces) dry red wine
  • Batch of cream cheese frosting

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line three 8″ round baking pans and grease with pan spray or butter and flour.
  2. Sift together flour and cocoa, Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or hand mixer), combine butter, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and vanilla.  Mix on low speed to moisten and then increase to medium and cream until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes (pause to scrape down bowl along the way).
  4. With he mixer running, add the eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg before adding the next.
  5. Reduce speed to low and sprinkle in one-third of the flour-cocoa mixture, incorporate and follow with one-third of the wine.  Repeat, allowing each addition to be just barely incorporated before adding the next.  After last addition, remove bowl from stand and fold batter using spatula to make sure batter is evenly mixed.  Divide evenly among the cake pans (about 22 ounces each).
  6. Bake until the cakes are domed and firm when gently pressed and an inserted toothpick comes out with a few crumbs still attached.  Cool completely.
  7. Remove from pans.  Level and frost as desired.

 

David Lebovitz’s Chouquettes

I think I’ve said this before.  And even if I have, it bares repeating.  If you aren’t following David Lebovitz on Instagram (@davidlebovitz) you are missing out on some of the most gorgeous Parisian instagramming out there.  I enjoy following his daily life as much as I enjoy his recipes and cooking

I book marked this recipe months ago (well, at this publication, it’s be a year)– before losing my baking mojo and so they were at the top of the list when I finally fired up my oven in August.

Choux pastry (translation: cabbage) is an enormously satisfying to make dough, heavy in butter and eggs that puffs up and hollows-out in the oven.  Made savory or sweet, the sweet versions are often filled with the worlds most delicious foodstuffs including custard (the cream puff) and ice cream (profiteroles).

With chouquettes, the middles are left airy while the tops get a liberal coating of Belgian pearl sugar.

With chouquettes, the middles are left airy while the tops get a liberal coating of Belgian pearl sugar.

Chouquettes

David Lebovitz

Recipe estimate is 25, at the suggested walnut size, I got closer to 40 

Ingredients

  • 1 C (250 ml water)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsps sugar
  • 6 TBs (90g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks (it’s okay if it’s cold or room temp)
  • 1 C (135g) all purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, at room temp
  • For glaze: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp milk
  • Pearl (you want Swedish, not Belgian) or Crystal Sugar.  Here is where I order mine from:  Swedish Pearl Sugar.

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat water, salt, sugar and butter in a small saucepan, stirring until the butter melts.  Remove from heat and add flour all at once.  Put pan back on the heat and stir rapidly until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Remove from heat and allow dough to cool for a couple of minutes.  Briskly beat-in eggs on at a time until the dough is smooth and shiny.

Using a piping bag or gallon-sized ziplock back, carefully transfer dough to bag using rubber spatula.  Mr. Lebovitz suggests using two spoons to scoop the dough but choux dough might be the stickiest substance on earth so I strongly suggest the piping method.  Snip bag at 1/2 inch diameter (of course you can also use a 1/2″ tip but since you aren’t looking for definition, why bother).

Pipe walnut-sized mounds of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  If you are left with little soft-serve peaks from piping, gently pat down with a finger dipped in water.  Brush top of each mound with egg wash and then liberally coat each with lots of pearl sugar.

Bake until puffed and well-browned, about 25-30 minutes.  If you want a crispier choux, poke a hole in the side with a knife after removing from the over to allow steam to escape.

As a note, these really are best the day they are baked.  But if you have more self control than I do, they can be frozen (double freezer bag) once cooled.  When ready to eat, defrost to room temp and warm on a baking sheet in a 350 degree (ish) oven until crisp.