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Posts Tagged ‘mascarpone’

As a first course for my most recent dinner party – on what was predicted to be an extremely cold night – I wanted something warm and savory but not too heavy, to precede a cassoulet: good stick-to-the-ribs fare. I considered a large Alsace onion tart or individual cheese tarts; both very tasty but also things that I make fairly often for dinner guests. The two concepts coalesced in my brain, with a slight variation: Let’s do individual leek tarts!

Leeks are a great winter vegetable, and even though I’d never made or eaten leeks in a tart, I was confident they’d be good that way. None of my cookbooks had recipes for it, but a little online research produced many, all quite similar. As the main difference among them was the relative proportions of the ingredients, I decided this was a do-it-however-you-like deal. So I did.

One of my local grocery stores carries excellent big leeks, sold individually rather than prepacked in bunches. I bought three.
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When Beloved Spouse began cutting them up for me, the white and tender green parts of only two of them filled a four-cup measure, so I stopped him there. (No problem about the extra: leeks never go to waste in my kitchen.) I melted butter and olive oil in a sauté pan and cooked the leeks gently until they were just tender.
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At that point the online recipes variously said to add either heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half, as well as grated gruyère. Instead I stirred in a cup of mascarpone. When it had fully melted and smoothed out, I added half a cup of gruyère, and the tart filling was ready.
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For my pastry shells I used a pâte brisée recipe from Simone Beck’s Simca’s Cuisine. I like it because the dough is made with a whole egg and white wine, which give it a little flavor boost. Three-ounce balls of dough are just the right amount for my 4½-inch fluted tart pans.
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After filling the shells with the leek mixture I distributed another half cup of gruyère over their tops and baked them at 375° for 30 minutes. They were just beginning to brown when I took them out of the oven.
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All this was done the day before the dinner party. Cooled and covered, the tarts sat overnight in a cold room. At dinner time the next day I put them under the broiler for ten minutes to complete the browning.

Alas, I can’t show you the final result. In the bustle of serving the meal I purely forgot to take a photo of the tarts. But they were a great success, and the guests loved them. The vegetal brightness of the leeks, the lush creaminess of the mascarpone, and the warm, buttery crunch of the pastry played off each other beautifully.

If those little tarts had a fault, it was more richness than was perhaps advisable for diners about to tackle a cassoulet – but we all finished them anyway!

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I don’t often make (or eat) desserts. It’s partly because I know from experience I have no talent for making them, partly because it’s the easiest part of a meal for me to forgo. For my dinner parties, I usually rely on a few tried-and-true recipes like simple fruit tarts. But once in a while I feel adventurous, and this time I went exploring in Baking with Julia. Published in 1996, it was based on Child’s Master Chefs television series.

It’s a big handsome book, and many of its recipes are too ambitious for me. However, I’d had one solid success with it in the past – beautiful buttermilk scones – so I took courage and looked for a not-too-elaborate dessert. (An additional incentive was that, in writing up my results, I’d be able to tell my very own Julia Child story; see the end of this post.)

Hazelnut Baby Loaves looked like something in my league. I hasten to say these are not made from, with, or for actual babies. I’d describe them as the world’s lushest hazelnut-flavored pound cake, baked in individual loaves and served with the world’s richest cream topping.

Pound cake is something I’m comfortable with. No separating of eggs, no elaborate fillings or frostings. You just cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs, add dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) alternately with liquid (milk, other flavorings), transfer the batter to a loaf pan and bake it. That was the technique for these little loaves, all right, but they had some special twists.

The dry ingredients for this recipe included ground hazelnuts. I happened to have some excellent ones from Italy, which was an attraction in the first place. Rather than milk, the recipe called for a cup of crème fraiche and a little almond extract. You had to gently fold the dry and wet ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg base, rather than beating them in. The baby loaves were supposed to be baked in 8 tiny pans, 4 by 2 by 2 inches. The smallest pans I had were twice that size, so I suppose my 4 should be called toddler loaves.

Being larger, they took longer to bake than the small ones would have, so I had to watch them carefully. They came out with a slight depression in the center, rather than being nicely rounded. Maybe the batter was too delicate to hold itself up in the bigger pans, or maybe I folded too vigorously and deflated the batter somewhat. The texture and flavor of the finished loaves were wonderful, though.

And oh, the cream that’s also part of the recipe! Sweetened whipped cream is certainly a good thing. Sweetened whipped cream mixed with mascarpone and a dash of grappa is a whole nother thing – to die for. This is a cream that makes you think about smearing it all over a lover’s body and licking it off. Or at least, buying some strawberries to have with the leftover cream the next day. Which is what we did, and I’m looking forward to it for tonight.

By the way, all the recipes in the book are credited to professional chefs who worked with Julia on the television series. This recipe is from Johanne Killeen, a chef-owner of El Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island.

My Julia Child Story

In 1992, I was invited on a food writers’ trip to Sicily. To everyone’s excitement, Julia Child was also among the participants. When I was introduced to her, the first thing Julia said to me, looking down from her 6-foot-plus height to my 5-foot-10 inches, was “Where do you buy your shoes?” The perennial challenge for big women!

Julia was a joy on that trip. Already 80 years old, she never missed a meal, she never missed a drink, and she was interested in everything that we saw and did. On the bus that took our group from one extravagant culinary event to the next, when most of us wanted only to nap off the latest indulgence, if you were sitting near Julia she’d poke you awake and start a conversation.

I took this photo of Julia examining a 6½ pound astice (lobster) that the chef of Ristorante Porto Bello, on the island of Lipari, off the Sicilian coast, was about to prepare for our group.

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