Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream

The first time I traveled to Seattle was almost three decades ago. I remember leaving there feeling grateful my friends didn't strangle me for using up some of our limited discretionary time schlepping through an endless number of stores looking for glass Christmas ornaments. To this day, neither one of them has allowed me to forget the mania I made them a party to. In part because it wasn't the first time they had to endure accompanying me on one of my preoccupation, borderline obsession quests. On a prior trip to the east coast trip it was wooden cranberry beads. Thirty years ago when I agreed to put my house in not one, but two of the local Christmas House Walks, online shopping, Etsy, and Amazon Prime were completely unknown concepts. Had any one of them been available way back when, I would have understood if my friends decided to just leave me behind. Particularly my friend, who having grown up in a Jewish household, had never decorated a Christmas tree in her life.

While traveling today, I no longer spend the majority of time stopping at and walking through stores. Instead, I have a new passion: taking photos. Nowadays its random stops along the road if something catches my eye or simply heading to specific 'must see, must attempt to capture firsthand' destinations. Granted, this too may qualify as potentially annoying behavior (and slightly more dangerous) for those who travel with me, but hopefully much more preferable to spending time shopping for 'tchotchkes'. On a recent road trip out east, my nephew asked the person who shall remain nameless "Were you ready to put a sharp stick through your eye with all of Auntie Lynn's photo stops?". Fortunately, no one in my immediate circle of family and friends is wearing an eye patch. Not yet anyway. 

I returned back to the Seattle area a couple of weeks ago. This time to visit one of my running friends who had recently moved there. Fortunately for me she is both a patient and adventuresome friend. We had an incredible five days exploring and hiking in a variety of places in the areas around Seattle. I went to bed each night filled with the kind of anticipation most five year olds experience on the night before Christmas. Thank goodness for long exhausting days or I may not have slept at all during my stay. And the gifts of seeing new, unfamiliar landscapes each day, well, they did not disappoint. From the still, crystal clear water at Rosario Beach at Deception Pass on Whidbey Island, to the ginormous, imposing, century old trees, to the rushing rivers, to the spectacular waterfalls, to the fields of wildflowers, these views were so breathtaking it was surprising we made it to any of our destinations.

Like the landscapes of the Northwest, this Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream is also a feast for the eyes. What is not to love about a tart made with fresh blueberries, blackberries, and cherries piled high on a golden shortbread crust filled with a mascarpone cream? Especially when the blueberries and blackberries are tossed with in a mixture of melted marionberry jam and kirschwasser. 

With berries just now coming into season, this Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream is the quintessential summer dessert. 

The crisp texture and buttery flavor of the shortbread crust makes it the perfect base for this tart. Made with all-purpose flour, confectionary sugar, kosher salt, chilled unsalted butter, egg yolks, and a bit of ice cold water, it is one of the easiest pastries to make. After the dough is processed in a food processor and chilled in the refrigerator for at least an hour, it is ready to roll out. As tart crusts go, this one may be one of the easiest to make.

The recipe for the crust makes enough to fill an 11 inch (removable bottom) tart pan. 

Before the tart crust is baked, it is chilled in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. After preheating the oven to 350 degrees (F), remove the crust from the freezer and prick the bottom of tart shell with a fork. Lined with either parchment paper or aluminum and fill with pie weights or beans, the crust is first baked blind for 15 minutes to help stabilize the sides. The paper/foil/bean liner is removed and the crust returns to the oven to bake for an additional 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Allow the shortbread crust to cool completely before assembling the tart.

The recipe for the mascarpone filling came a July 1998 issue of Gourmet magazine. In the ingredient list there was an asterisk (*) placed next to the mascarpone cheese. While mascarpone cheese is readily available today in most grocery stores, nineteen years ago it was something 'available at speciality food shops and some supermarkets'. There is nothing quite like the taste of this buttery, triple cream cow's milk cheese. Substituting cream cheese for the mascarpone cheese is an option, but why would you want anything less than the rich, delicate flavor and creamy texture the mascarpone cheese brings to the tart filling? Trust me when I say you wouldn't. The original recipe also called for the use of granulated sugar, however, I have replaced it caster sugar as it blends seamlessly into the mascarpone and whipping cream. And fortunately caster sugar is another one of those more readily available ingredients here in the states.

The mascarpone cream filling is spread over the cooled shortbread crust. Smoothing the top of the filling with an offset spatula makes it easier to pile the berries on top.

One of the things I bought while in Washington was a jar of Marionberry Jam. Larger, sweeter and juicier than blackberries, Marionberries are grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest and considered by some to be the 'Cabernet of berries'. If Marionberry Jam isn't 'readily available in your neck of the woods', blueberry or blackberry jam can be substituted. The jam mixed with some kirschwasser was heated just until the jam melted, then lightly tossed with the blueberries and blackberries. See notes below for alternate kirschwassser options.

The tart is ready to serve once assembled or can be refrigerated for several hours before serving. Topping the tart with cherries and/or edible flowers is optional. Wrapped in plastic wrap, a leftover piece of the tart was equally delicious the next day. However, for optimal flavor serve the Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream on the day it is made.

I love summer fruit tarts and I am hopelessly, deeply, madly in love with this Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream. The flavor combination of the shortbread crust, mascarpone cream filling, and berries is almost sinful. Although considering it is one of those 'part fruit and dairy' desserts, think of it as being good for you! Having resurrected this recipe from my 'recipe archives' it will be one making regular appearances here this summer. And I suspect once your family and friends taste this tart, it may be one of your most requested summer desserts. 

Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream (Tart inspired by the Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream recipe (Gourmet/July 1998). Crust inspired by the Bon Appetit/July 1996 Tart Crust recipe.) 

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
13 cup confectionary sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1" pieces
2 egg yolks (from large eggs)
1 Tablespoon ice cold water

1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cream, removed from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before using
1/3 cup well-chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup caster or superfine sugar
2 pints fresh blueberries
1 pint fresh blackberries
Optional: Handful of fresh cherries
3 Tablespoons of (seedless) Marionberry Jam (See Note)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Kirschwasser (See Note)
Optional: Edible flowers for decoration

1. Add the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a large food processor. Pulse until ingredients are mixed together.
2. Add butter. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Mix in egg yolks and water. Process until moist crumbs form.
4. Gather dough into a ball, flatten slightly, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour (or up to 2 days).
5. Roll out chilled dough on a lightly floured surface into a 13 inch round (slightly thicker than 1/8" but not as thick as 1/4").
6. Fit rolled dough into an 11" tart pan with a fluted rim and removable bottom. Place tart pan in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
8. Remove tart pan from freezer. Use a fork to prick bottom of the shell. Line the shell with parchment paper or aluminum foil, fill with pie weights or beans. 
9. Bake shell in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully remove parchment paper/aluminum foil. 
10. Return tart pan to the oven and continue baking for 18-20 minutes or until tart shell is lightly golden in color. Note: Check the tart crust midway through. If the crust has bubbles, deflate with the prongs of a fork.
11. Place baked tart shell on a cooling rack. Allow the tart shell to cool completely.
12. Remove sides of tart from the cooled shell and transfer shell to a serving platter or cake stand.

1. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the mascarpone cream and caster sugar using a hand mixer until well blended.
2. Add in chilled whipping cream. Beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.
3. Place berries in a medium sized bowl.
4. In a small saucepan, simmer the jam and kirschwasser only until the jam has melted. Pour over the berries and stir gently using a spatula.
5. Spread the mascarpone mixture over the tart shell. Smooth using an offset spatula.
6. Mound the berries over the filling. If using, randomly place fresh cherries on top.
7. Serve immediately or chill the tart up to 2 hours ahead.
8. Serve tart chilled or at room temperature.

Notes: (1) Can use blueberry or blackberry jam in lieu of the marionberry jam. (2) Can use a dark berry liqueur, such as blueberry, blackberry or cassis instead of the kirschwasser. (3) Instead of blueberries and blackberries, could use blueberries only, blackberries only, blueberries/blackberries/strawberries, blueberries/blackberries/raspberries, strawberries only, or any berry combination of your choice. (4) For the tenderest shortbread crust, consider using King Arthur All-Purpose Flour. (5) If you can't find caster sugar, use superfine sugar or make your own by processing granulated sugar in the food processor until it has the consistency of caster sugar.

Mesmerizing views at Rosario Beach at Deception Pass on Whidbey Island, Washington (June 2017)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing

After making the long drive to and from Boston a couple weeks back, I promised myself I would take a short break from road trips. But it turned out to be one of those broken promises. Although unlike most broken promises, this fell into the category of a good one. And like the trip out east, this one too felt like a whirlwind. This time the destination was Cincinnati, aka the 'to be or not to be' city where my favorite niece would embark on her post-college professional life. As she was spending most of the first day meeting with her 'to be or not to be' future team members, I wandered the streets of Cincinnati for three hours with my camera, wearing the wrong shoes, and without a map. If there is ever a way to get a real feel for a new place it would be to explore it on foot and rely on asking for directions rather than on the Google Map App. Whether or not it was my lucky day or not, I never got or felt lost, discovered some of the city's architectural treasures, found a Graeter's Ice Cream shop, and met some really kind, helpful people along the way. From my perspective, I loved everything about this city. But then again I was looking at it through a different lens than my niece. While going on a morning run, this time holding a three mile course map in my hand, I wondered if she would be able to see just some of the beauty and potential I felt this place held. Easy for me to think this was going to be a no-brainer decision for her. But then again, I had to remind myself my lens was very different than that of this new college graduate.

As I walked through a bookstore I came across a plate inscribed with the words "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." (Neale Donald Walsch). How true I thought. Making those life decisions pushing us outside of our comfort zone are sometimes, but not always easy ones. As we were driving back, I could see my favorite niece was at the edge of her comfort zone place. I would have been blind not to. However in my heart, I knew she was much stronger, more resilient, more resourceful than she believed. And how did could I possibly be so certain of this? Well, as her aunt, she has, for better or worse, some of my DNA.

While making a career life decision and tackling a new recipe aren't exactly on the same equal playing field, there are some common threads between them. The unknown outcome and a bit of skepticism are two of them. As enticing as Ottolenghi's Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing recipe was, I wasn't sure about the taste and texture of a cake made olive oil instead of butter or even vegetable oil. Up to this point, I had dismissed making any cake having olive oil as one of its' ingredients. Why? Because I couldn't wrap my head around it having both savory and sweet uses. It was one of those unknowns holding me back from even trying it.

So I had a choice. Speculate the outcome or make it to actually discover the outcome. Since nothing good or even great comes from speculation alone, the choice was clear. Make the cake. After reading the reviews of others who had made (and loved) Ottolenghi's cake, I decided there were some minor adjustments necessary to increase my chances of getting the best possible olive oil cake outcome.

The recipe in the US version of the Ottolenghi cookbook called for the use of three large Granny Smith apples. It seems the European version may have called for the use of Bramley apples. Apparently it is one of the favorite baking apples across the pond but one not available here in the US. Spoiler Alert: I loved the taste and texture of the Granny Smith apples in this cake, but would consider using Braeburn apples the next time I make it as its' flavor and texture profile is closer to the Bramley apple than the Granny Smith apple is.

Given the choice between measuring and weighing my ingredients, I have come to fully embrace the weighing approach. It makes a difference.

Once the sifted dry ingredients are mixed in, the batter will be very thick. Or thicker than most other cake batters. In addition to the diced apples, some lemon zest is also in this cake. Don't be tempted to leave out the lemon zest as it adds a very subtle, complimentary flavor to the cake.

Four eggs are used in this recipe. Two whole eggs are mixed in with the batter while two egg whites (whipped to a soft meringue consistency) are carefully folded in at the end (in two additions). Note: Over-folding in the egg whites will adversely affect their impact on the cake's final baked texture.

Baking time as well as the interior/exterior textures were two of the issues raised by others who had previously made this cake.The original recipe called for the use of a single 8" springform with a baking time of 90 minutes in a preheated 325 degrees (F) oven. Separating the batter into two 8" cake pans and reducing the baking time to 30-35 minutes resulted in two perfectly baked, evenly moist layers. 

The aroma of these cakes baking in the oven was nearly intoxicating. After allowing the baked cakes to cool for 20 minutes, they were removed from their pans and transferred to wire racks. Once fully cooled to room temperature,  the cakes were wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. While this isn't a necessary step to the process, allowing the cakes to rest helps to deepen, mature their flavor. Could I have frosted and immediately served the cooled, not refrigerated overnight cakes? Yes, I could have. And so could you. However, I really liked the idea of baking the cakes one day and icing them the next.

The Maple Icing is really a cream cheese frosting made with butter, light brown sugar (or light muscovado sugar) and maple syrup. While not an overly sweet icing, it paired perfectly with the dense, moist cake. The recipe below reflects ingredients for a double batch of the Maple Icing. Trust me when I tell you not to cut the recipe in half. Seriously, a double batch of the icing makes for the perfect cake to icing ratio. 

If there was ever a cake worthy of being served at breakfast, brunch, dinner or for any celebratory occasion, this Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing qualifies. 

I am happy to tell you my trepidation over cakes made with olive oil has been replaced with (aka a lens shift) confidence and fearlessness. One bite of this Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing instantly converted me into appreciating the complexity, richness, and flavor olive oil brings to a cake. If by chance you think of apple cakes as fall or winter confections, I encourage you to see this as a four season cake. In other words, don't wait months to make it the first time. 

It looks my road trip days to Cincinnati are not over. Only the next time I travel there, I will have my own personal tour guide.

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing (slight changes to the Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing recipe in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)

Heaping 1/2 cup (80 g) golden raisins
4 Tablespoons water
2 1/4 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup olive oil (recommend a high quality extra-virgin)
3/4 cup (160 g) superfine or caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla or vanilla bean paste (or the seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean)
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
3 large Granny Smith or Braeburn apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3/8" (1 cm) dice
Grated zest of one lemon
2 large egg whites 

14 Tablespoons (200 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 g) lightly packed light brown sugar (or light muscovado sugar)
Scant 12 Tablespoons good quality maple syrup
16 ounces (440 g) cream cheese, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F). Prepare two 8" cake pans, line with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Place raisins and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over low heat until all of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat, transfer to a small bowl and allow to cool.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add oil, sugar, and vanilla. Beat until they come together.
5. Gradually add the eggs. Note: The mixture will be smooth and slightly thick.
6. Add the apples, raisins and lemon zest. Mix until combined. 
7. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients. Note: Batter will be very thick.
8. Whisk egg whites, either by hand or with a hand mixer, until they have a soft meringue consistency. In two additions, fold the egg whites into the cake batter. Try to maintain as much air as possible.
9. Divide batter equally between the two cake pans and level with an off-set spatula. Note: Weighing the pans helps to ensure their evenness.
10. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan until cool enough to be removed.
11. Allow the cakes to completely cool. Can wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight or for up to 2 days.

Icing and Assembly
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar and maple syrup until light and airy.
2. Add the cream cheese and beat until the icing is completely smooth. Note: Can chill icing for approximately 20 minutes in the refrigerator to make it easier to ice the cake.
3. Place one of the cold/chilled cakes on a cake plate or platter. Spread half of the icing on the cake.
4. Invert the second layer and place on top. Spread with remaining icing. Serve immediately.
5. Store cake covered in the refrigerator. Flavors mature over the course of several days.

Notes: (1) Recommend weighing ingredients versus using measuring cups. (2) The ingredients for the icing have been doubled. If halving the recipe, ice between the layers of the cakes and finish the cake with a dusting of confectionary sugar. (3) The original recipe calls for baking the cake in one 8" springform pan for 90 minutes. The use of two 8" cake pans and baking for 30-35 minutes is strongly recommended. (4) You can bake and ice the cake the same day as you serve it. However, for a more deeply flavored cake, make the cake at least one or two days before icing and serving.

Cincinnati, Ohio. The Roebling Suspension Bridge and an archway in a city park. (June 2017) 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars

The long awaited new season of "House of Cards" came out on Netflix this week. Initially I had planned on binge watching it, but after viewing the trailer I am not certain I could handle the intensity of the full season of this slightly surreal political drama all at once. So I am going to attempt to pace myself and try making the the thirteen chapters last at least a month. If for some reason you have never watched or gotten into "House of Cards" you should. It's so crazy good. And in full disclosure, watching it may even drive you a bit mad. But shouldn't really great television have an impact on our thinking or even cause us to have an emotional reaction to the characters or the content? My definition of great television explains why I also find shows like "This is Us", "Homeland", "Breaking Bad", and "Game of Thrones"so compelling. As much as I am not a fan of a long hiatus between the seasons of some of my favorite shows (waiting is not one of my virtues), having a short reprieve from their heart racing intensity is probably a good thing. While genuinely well intentioned, I will let you know whether or not I ultimately succumbed to binge watching "House of Cards". Wonder what the odds in Vegas would be on this.

Clearly having chocolate and Oreo cookies in the house is dangerous as having access to a full season of television series all at once. And yes, for someone who much prefers home-baked cookies over store-bought ones, it might seem a little strange to you that I would bring Oreo cookies into the house. Although it's not strange for me at all. For as long as I can remember, I have had a weakness for this chocolate cookie with white filing confection. They are one of my guilty pleasures. Years back when Double Stuffs came out on the market I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Bring me a package of Double Stuff Oreos and I would go to the end of the earth for you. At least once.

Combining chocolate and Oreos together isn't exactly anything new. Chopping Oreos by hand, mixing them into melted chocolate, sprinkling them with sea salt, and then cutting them into bars may only be a slightly nuanced version of a Sea Salted Chocolate Covered Oreo. Eating an Oreo cookie dipped in chocolate feels like you are eating a cookie. However, eating a bar made of chocolate and chopped Oreos feels like you are eating a candy bar and a cookie without having to choose one over the other. 

I happen to like the taste of milk and dark chocolate blended together, but when you make these Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars feel free use one or the other. Or if you don't want to choose, use an equal combination of both. For the past several years I have been melting chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. I may someday go back to it in the microwave, however, I seem to have more success tempering the chocolate and ensuring it has a glossy finish the 'old-fashioned' way. 

The majority of recipes I came across for Oreo Cookie Bars or Bark called for putting the Oreos in a plastic ziplock bag and using a rolling pin or meat tenderizer to 'crush' them. But I wanted these Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars to be filled with cookie chunks and pieces, not cookie crumbs. So I coarsely chopped them with a knife. 

After mixing the coarsely chopped cookies into the melted chocolate, I poured the mixture into a parchment paper lined 9"x12"(half-sheet) baking pan as I wanted these bars to have a uniform thickness. Smoothing the top with an offset spatula helped to fully immerse the chunks of cookies into the chocolate. During the summer months when the humidity increases, exposed chunks of or even whole cookies will soften, ultimately spoiling the whole eating experience. If you ever took a bite of a 'soft' Oreo cookie, you know what I mean. Unless you are planning on binging on these Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars in one day, keep the chunks of cookie hidden in the chocolate.

Rather than set up the chocolate by first putting it in the refrigerator, I let it sit at room temperature for somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Long enough for me to be able to pre-cut it into bars using a sharp knife. Once precut the pan went into the refrigerator for somewhere between 15-20 minutes. Long enough for them to set up a little more, but not too long for the the final cut to be made. After the second and final cut, return the bars back to the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to ensure they would be easy to handle when being wrapped.

Did I mention the top of the not yet set Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars were lightly sprinkled with some sea salt and the finely chopped crumbs from just one Oreo Cookie? It's a finishing touch detail taking them from ordinary to extraordinary.

These Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars were wrapped in pieces of parchment paper and tied with baker's string. You have the choice to wrap or not wrap them. But they really do look pretty wrapped. #justsaying

If you are looking to serve an incredibly delicious, not for the faint of chocolate heart, semi-homemade cookie bar to your family and friends, make these Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars. Cut them into squares instead of bars for the 'bite-sized' version. In other words, for those who might wan to pace themselves. Either way you decide to cut them, they are bound to quickly disappear. 

Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bars

14 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
14 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
22-24 Oreo cookies (regular or Double-Stuff)
Sea Salt

1. Line a 9"x12" baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Coarsely chop 22-23 Oreo cookies with a knife. Set aside. Finely chop 1 Oreo and set aside.
3. Place chocolates in the top of a double boiler or a bowl sitting over a pan filled with about an inch of water. Stir occasionally until chocolates are completely melted. Remove from heat.
4. Stir in the chopped Oreos. 
5. Pour chocolate and Oreo mixture into the prepared pan. Use an offset spatula to smooth out surface as much evenly as possible.
6. Lightly sprinkle top with sea salt and the finely chopped Oreo.
7. Allow the pan to sit at room temperature for approximately 20-30 minutes or until you can begin to cut into bars into 1"x 3" bars with a sharp knife. Note: If the cut doesn't remain, allow to sit slightly longer and recut.
8. Place the pan of partially cut bars in the refrigerator to harden. Approximately 15-20 minutes.
9. Remove from the refrigerator and use a sharp knife to make a final clean cut. Return cut bars to the refrigerator for an additional 20-30 minutes.
10. Remove chilled bars and wrap with parchment paper and baker's string. Serve and enjoy.
11. Store bars in tightly covered container.

Notes: (1) I used regular Oreos, but for bars with a greater amount of Oreo filling in them, use the Oreo Double Stuffs. If you want a Mint Chocolate Cookie (Oreo) Bar, use the Mint Oreos but omit finishing them with a sprinkling of sea salt. (2) Instead of using both milk and dark chocolate, can use either milk chocolate or dark chocolate only. (3) For slightly thinner bars, spread mixture out onto a large baking sheet. Either cut into bars or break into bark. 

Views of some of the statues and one of the formal gardens at The Mount in Lenox, MA. (May 2017)