ahead. Lick your fingers. You know you want to. You know you’re
you make pastry, licking your fingers is part of the deal.
It’s the payment you give yourself for making it. If you
don’t lick your fingers while making pastry, you’re
doing it wrong.
is like magic from the oven. You take flour, sugar and
butter, maybe add an egg or two and possibly some milk or
cream. Mix it together in just the right way, and you end up
with little pieces of heaven. Crispy, flaky heaven.
professionals who produce pastry are alchemists, maybe
wizards. They are artists of the highest order: Picassos of
pastry, Botticellis of butter, O’Keeffes of the oven. They
can do things with sugar and flour that we mere mortals can
never even attempt.
that does not mean that baking is hard. At the very top
level it is practically impossible, but that is true of so
many worthwhile things. The rest of us, though, can still
turn out a very serviceable tart — even if we are more
inclined toward cooking than baking.
helps to remember that top bakers are essentially
scientists. They work in precise and exact proportions to
achieve the desired results. If you follow the formula, you
should be able to re-create that flaky pie crust, that
smooth fruit filling.
you need are a couple of general rules. For best results,
always weigh your ingredients instead of measuring by volume
— that said, I never do this because I do not feel the
need to get all obsessive about it. If you do measure by
volume, as I do, be sure to fluff up your flour before
spooning it into the measuring cup. Then level off the cup
with something such as a knife that has a straight edge.
overwork your doughs; that will make them tough. And keep
the butter cold and moisten only with ice water; the colder
the ingredients, the flakier the pastry will be.
some rules are meant to be broken. Of the three recipes I
made here, two used butter that was either softened or at
room temperature. Call me a rebel.
first of these was a fabulous Strawberry Chocolate Tart from
a recipe by Michel Richard. Michel Richard is acknowledged
as one of the top chefs in America, and if he says to use
room-temperature butter in his tarts then you can bet I am
going to do it.
glad I did. The chocolate crust — it uses what he calls
his cocoa sugar dough — is less like a tart shell than a
chocolate wafer. It must be all that room-temperature
butter. And the filling is a combination of strawberry
purée and chocolate.
and chocolate go notably well together, but usually they are
separate and distinct — a strawberry dipped in chocolate,
for instance. But in this case, they are actually blended;
it’s a chocolaty strawberry flavor. The combination is
unusual, but irresistible.
made chocolate eclairs, which surely rank with the internal
combustion engine and the home computer as one of mankind’s
are made with a dough, not sweet, called a pate à choux.
What makes pate à choux so special is its ability to turn
into a hollow shell when it is cooked, like a pastry
balloon. You can use it to make the savory snack gougeres,
or you can take it to its fullest potential and make eclairs.
you need for the eclair is a pastry cream and a pastry bag
to pipe the cream into the shell. Then you simply dip the
top into a chocolate glaze and you have one of the finest
desserts ever created.
I had to make Cognac and Almond Tartlets. I simply had to.
They are individual tarts. They have a sweet almond filling.
They have cognac in the crusts. They even use softened
butter. Of course I had to make them.
recipe comes from France, where pastries are often made with
ground almonds or almond flour. These tartlets strike me as
again, the crust is savory, or at least not sweet. That is
where a lot of the elegance comes in. But if you think about
it, if you used a sweet crust it wouldn’t be tart, right?
crust, as noted, is also made with cognac or other brandy.
You don’t really taste the alcohol, but you would
definitely miss it if it were not there.
the filling is the star of these tarts. You simply grind
almonds and mix them and sugar into lightly whisked egg
whites. That’s all. Well, you could put a splash of a red
fruit jam on the crust before you add the filling if you
want, and I would recommend that. Another dollop of jam on
top after you have baked it doesn’t hurt, either.
ahead. Try it. You know you want to.
tablespoons whole almonds
tablespoons confectioners sugar
stick plus 2 tablespoons (6 tablespoons total) unsalted
butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces, divided
cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
tablespoons cocoa powder
pounds fresh strawberries, washed and trimmed, divided
cup granulated sugar
ounces bittersweet chocolate
cup heavy cream
Place the almonds in a heat-proof bowl. Bring a cup or two
of water to a boil in a small pot and pour over the almonds.
Allow to sit for 45 seconds to 1 minute, but no more. Drain
the almonds. Remove the peels by rubbing them.
Place the almonds and the confectioners sugar in a food
processor and pulse on and off until finely ground. Add the
salt and 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of the butter and process
until smooth. Beat 1 of the eggs in a small bowl and add
half of it to the mixture (you can discard the remaining 1/2
egg). Mix together the flour and cocoa powder and add 1/3 of
this combination to the almond-butter mixture; mix just
until incorporated. Mix in the second portion of flour until
incorporated. Add the remaining third of the flour in short
pulses, just barely mixing it. Do not overmix.
Place the dough on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten it
out into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap and refrigerate for at
least 3 hours before baking.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a
12-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. With a fork, poke
holes in the dough. Smear the remaining 2 tablespoons of
room-temperature butter all around the inside of a 9-inch
pie plate. Carefully lay the dough into the pie plate and
press it into place. Using a knife, trim the extra dough
from the top edge, if any. Place the shell in the freezer
for 10 minutes.
Cover the cold shell with a piece of parchment paper and
fill it with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes.
While the tart dough is in the oven, make the filling:
Purée 2 pounds of the strawberries and the granulated sugar
in a blender until smooth and pour the mixture through a
fine-mesh strainer. Microwave the chocolate on high, at
30-second intervals, stirring in between, until melted.
Pour the strawberry purée into the chocolate and mix with a
whisk. Stir in the heavy cream, whisking constantly. Beat
the remaining 2 eggs in a small bowl and add to the
chocolate mixture; whisk until combined.
After the tart shell has baked, remove the weights and
parchment and let cool for a few minutes. Leave the oven on.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the shell and bake the tart
for 30 minutes, or until the filling is set in the center
but not solid. Test for doneness by shaking the pie plate
gently; the tart should still jiggle slightly. Allow the
tart to cool.
Finish the tart by arranging the remaining fresh
strawberries on top.
serving: 391 calories; 28 g fat; 15 g saturated fat; 113 mg
cholesterol; 6 g protein; 37 g carbohydrate; 24 g sugar; 3 g
fiber; 53 mg sodium; 32 mg calcium.
from "Sweet Magic" by Michel Richard and Peter
stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
cups all-purpose flour, divided
large eggs, plus another if needed, divided
cups whole milk
large egg yolks
tablespoons granulated sugar
tablespoons cold unsalted butter
teaspoons vanilla extract
ounces good quality dark chocolate or combination milk and
dark, finely chopped
cup heavy whipping cream
Eclairs are best when served the same day they are filled.
They can be stored in a refrigerator, covered with plastic
wrap, for up to 3 days; however the pastry will absorb
moisture from the filling and eventually become soggy. The
chocolate glaze can be prepared and refrigerated up to 1
week in advance (reheat over a double boiler); the pastry
cream can be stored up to 5 days in the refrigerator in an
airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap pressed
directly on the surface.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and position 2 racks in the top
and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with
parchment paper and use a pencil to draw 10 (4-by-1-inch)
rectangles on each with a space between each rectangle. Turn
the pieces of parchment over.
Place a medium saucepan over low heat and add the butter
pieces, water and salt. Stir occasionally with a wooden
spoon so the butter melts evenly. When the butter has
melted, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately
remove the pan from the heat and add 1 cup of the flour all
at once. Beat vigorously with the wooden spoon until the
dough comes together in a mass around the spoon. Place the
pan back over medium heat and continue to cook, beating, for
another minute or so to dry out the dough — the pan will
have a thin film of dough on the bottom.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on
medium speed for 1 minute to slightly cool the dough and
develop the gluten. In a separate medium bowl, beat 4 of the
eggs together until you can’t distinguish the yellow from
the white. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs a couple
of tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to blend
completely into the dough before continuing.
When all of the eggs are incorporated, the mixture should be
shiny and elastic and stick to the side of the bowl. It
should also pass the "string test": Place a bit of
dough between your thumb and forefinger and pull them apart.
The dough should form a stretchy string about 1 1/2 to 2
inches long. If the dough has not reached this stage, beat
another egg and add as much as needed, a little at a time,
until the dough is finished.
Spoon this dough into a pastry bag (or a gallon-sized
plastic bag with a small hole cut out in one corner) fitted
with a 1/2-inch plain round tip. Pipe the dough into
1/2-inch high rectangles to fill each template drawn on the
parchment paper. If you don’t have a pastry tip, spoon the
dough directly onto the templates about 1/2-inch high.
a small bowl, lightly beat 1 egg to blend thoroughly. Brush
a light coating of egg over the tops of the piped dough,
being careful that the egg does not drip down the side (it
will glue the eclair to the paper). You will not use all the
egg. Bake both sheets of the eclairs for 20 minutes; then
reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, switch the
sheets between racks and rotate the pans from front to back,
and bake for 20 minutes longer. Reduce the temperature again
to 300 degrees and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer to dry out
the interior. The eclairs should be a deep, golden brown,
with no bubbling moisture visible around the sides. Transfer
the eclairs to a rack to cool completely.
Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set it aside. Pour
the milk into a medium saucepan and heat to just below
boiling; remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk
together the remaining 1 egg, the 2 egg yolks and the sugar
until well-blended and smooth. Add the remaining 1/4 cup
flour and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very smooth.
Very gradually, pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the
yolk mixture, whisking constantly to temper the yolks.
Slowly pour the yolk mixture back into the hot milk,
Heat this mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the flour
from lumping, until it reaches a boil. Continue to cook and
whisk for another minute, until the pastry cream is very
thick. Remove from the heat and whisk in the 2 tablespoons
of cold butter and the vanilla extract. Press a piece of
plastic wrap directly on the surface of this pastry cream,
then set the bowl in the ice water. Once the cream has
completely cooled, use or store in the refrigerator until
Spoon the pastry cream into the (cleaned and dried) pastry
bag or another gallon-sized plastic bag with a small corner
cut out and fitted with an elongated, thin tip or a 1/4-inch
tip. If using the long, thin tip, insert it into one of the
short ends of an eclair as far as it will go. Squeeze firmly
as you slowly pull the tip out of the pastry, filling the
cavity with the pastry cream. If using the plain tip, insert
it into 2 evenly spaced places in the bottom of the eclair,
squeezing firmly to fill the center of the pastry. Repeat to
fill the remaining eclairs.
Place the chocolate in a small bowl large enough to
accommodate an eclair, which is about 4 inches long. Bring
the cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Immediately pour it
over the chocolate and let the mixture sit for 1 minute.
Stir until the mixture is completely blended and smooth.
Cool for 10 minutes.
Turn the eclairs upside down, dip the top of each one
halfway into the chocolate glaze and let the excess drip
back into the bowl. Set right side up on a serving platter
and allow 30 minutes for the glaze to set.
serving: 182 calories; 13 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 100 mg
cholesterol; 4 g protein; 14 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 1 g
fiber; 63 mg sodium; 38 mg calcium.
from "The Art & Soul of Baking," by Cindy
AND ALMOND TARTLETS
cups plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus
extra for greasing pans
cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
cup cognac or other brandy
fruit jam or preserves, optional
cups ground almonds, see notes
cups superfine sugar, see notes
Grind the almonds in a food processor until they form a
powder, or at least a coarse powder, but not to the point
that they turn into almond butter. If you don’t have
superfine sugar, make your own by putting granulated sugar
in a blender for 10 or 15 seconds.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 6 individual tart pans,
each at least 1 1/4 inches deep, with butter.
Place flour, brandy and egg in a bowl and add 3 tablespoons
of cold water. Mix to combine and then add the butter; knead
to make a smooth dough. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
Dust the counter and rolling pin with flour and roll out the
dough to a scant 1/4 inch. Use a bowl a little larger than
the pans to cut out circles in the dough, and line the pans
with them. If desired, spread a little fruit jam or
preserves into the tart.
Make the almond filling by lightly whisking the egg whites
and mixing in the almonds and sugar. Pour the filling into
each pastry-lined pan. Bake the tartlets for about 30
minutes, until golden brown.
serving: 1,011 calories; 63 g fat; 29 g saturated fat; 143
mg cholesterol; 20 g protein; 93 g carbohydrate; 47 g sugar;
6 g fiber; 93 mg sodium; 135 mg calcium.
from "The Art of French Baking," by Ginette