After a month of picnicking and al fresco dining, July rolled in. It's uncomfortably hot and I don't have air conditioning, so clearly I thought it best to start baking again. I dabble, it's true. Doug makes fun of me as I always claim to never, ever bake. Usually I'm proclaiming this as I'm handing him an oatmeal cookie or a loaf of banana bread or some such thing. He's right. I do bake more than most non-bakers, and I certainly bake more than I ever have before. But the truth is, most of the time I don't really know what I'm doing.
I rarely perceive recipes as anything more than a general guideline, a suggestion, and in baking – unless you're Betty Crocker – that's not very wise. So I do have some flops. Most of the time my baked goods are yummy or look good, but usually not both. And there are always tweaks I intend to make the next time I bake that cake, or pie, or what have you. The main problem, I think, is that so often I'm experimenting and playing and riffing, but I almost never make the same thing twice. Hence, I never actually perfect any of my baking projects. Those tweaks I mentioned? They never have a chance to see the light of day. Or rather, the light in my oven.
Some clients of mine gave me a bag of tart, little apples from their parents' garden a few weeks ago. This is what lured me into this baking surge. I tried to eat one of those apples, but it was was so sour all of the moisture was sucked straight out of my mouth. And they hurt my teeth (most apples do). Nothing can ever, ever go to waste with me, especially not a sweet home-grown gift. And so, as I do when I have a baking conundrum, I called my mom. “Apple Crisp. It's in your Craig Claiborne.” That's basically all she had to impart – which was enough. She has been making apple crisp all my life, and – cooked fruit aside – I have always loved it. Granted, I prefer to pick the crumb part all out and leave the baked apple part for someone else.
So I made an apple crisp. But, of course I couldn't just follow the recipe. I had to add blackberries. And I'm sure other stuff, too. So, while it was pretty tasty, it was really wet. Which, of course my mom warned me about: “Tweeters, just remember, the blackberries will be good but they will completely liquify, so you may need to compensate.” Compensate? I did not. She was right. So the next week, when my neighbor gave me some peaches, I decided to make a peach crumble. Keeping in mind the lesson I learned the week prior, I compensated by adding lots of extra crumble part. But, of course it was unnecessary as there were no blackberries. Just the peaches. So I essentially made a doughy extravaganza with a peach essence.
Live and learn? Or not.
Earlier yesterday, the fourth of July, I could not get back to sleep after Fred roused himself to go surfing at the crack of dawn. So I wandered into the kitchen, made a pot of coffee, and poked around in the fridge to see what I wanted to get into. And there were the black figs.
So I called my mom. And as she often does, she suggested a pie. But I just so happen to be deathly afraid of making doughs, and crusts and stuff like that. Oh, and never bread. Never. But I also refuse to purchase pre-made pastry dough. Quandry. I figured, since it was hours before I usually got out of bed, why not get down and dirty, and confront my fear with some pastry dough play times.
I followed my mom's recipe to the T. I used chilled lard. I used butter. Everything. But I also decided that I wanted to add almond flour instead of all all-purpose flour. I had almonds. I had the flour-making version of the Vitamix. Almonds sound like they would profile perfectly with figs. Oh, and there was that one, errant white peach hanging around, too...
And, against my better judgement, the riffing began again. I found about three recipes that all looked good, but were completely different: parbake crust, do not parbake crust, cut the figs in quarters, lengthwise – cut the figs in slices, widthwise (is that even a word?). Oh wait, this one calls for mascarpone and honey and I've got some crème fraiche and honey! What about a little vanilla? And some lemon zest! Here I go again on my own...
I did par-bake the crust. And, yes, I added all of the stuff I mentioned above. And it was beautiful. And it would have been perfection, cartwheels and wait for it... fireworks... If I had A) cooked it all the way through, and B) why has no one ever explained the pricking little holes in the bottom of pastry dough to me before? Maybe if I had read any one recipe all the way through...
So finally, I decided to break my bad pattern and make the very same tart again. Mostly it was because I got up so ungodly early and was confused about how much time still lay ahead in my day. And my mom's pastry dough recipe did make enough for two.
Now that it was mid-afternoon on the fourth of July, during the hottest part of the day, and in my house, after the oven had been on around 400 degrees for the better part of five hours, I succesfully created what I considered to be a A) varsity level baked good, and B) I try, tried again and got it right. Lesson learned. Go figure.
Now, let's hope Fred will make some ice cream before I melt.
Fig, Peach & Mascarpone Tart
Makes 1 9-inch tart
For the Crust:
1 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond flour
1 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sweet butter, chilled
3 tablespoons lard, chilled
3-5 tablespoons ice water, as needed
Sift flours, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Add chilled butter and lard. Working quickly and using your fingertips, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal.
Sprinkle on ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, and toss with a fork. Turn dough out onto your work surface and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refridgerator for 2 hours.
Roll dough out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured work surface. Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the dough.
For the Filling:
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup honey
Zest of ½ lemon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 fresh peaches, sliced
8 to 12 fresh figs, sliced
confectioner's sugar for dusting (optional)
To make the crust in a medium bowl combine flours, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Add chilled butter and lard. Working quickly and using your fingertips, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal.
Sprinkle on ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, and toss with a fork. Turn dough out onto your work surface and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refridgerator for 2 hours. Crust can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
When ready to roll out, unwrap the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to an 11-inch circle. If the dough starts to break up or tear as you’re rolling it, don’t panic. Simply place the dough into the tart pan and use your fingers to press it along the bottom, sides and edges. If your rolling was successful, carefully place the dough in the tart pan and press it against the sides and edges so no gaps are present. Cut any excess dough flush with the tart pan. Refrigerate dough for 20 minutes while the oven preheats.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator. Line the unbaked crust with a sheet of foil or parchment paper covering all sides. Fill the pan with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the foil and beans from the pan and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the bottom crust looks dry and the shell is a very pale golden color. Remove the pie from the oven and let the shell cool completely.
To make the filling in a medium bowl combine mascarpone, lemon zezt, honey and vanilla extract and stir to combine. Mixture will be smooth and glossy.
When the crust is completely cool, score the bottom and smear the filling evenly across the bottom of the tart. Arrange sliced figs and peaches in a circular pattern on top of the filling.
Place back in oven and bake for 45 minutes or until the pastry edges are golden brown. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve.
This tart will keep, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to two days. It’s most lovely served the day it’s made.