Friday, April 20, 2007

Eric Kayser's Matcha Tart

I found the tart on the cover of Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savoury Tarts completely seductive in her brazen pairing of flamingly red fruit and matcha. But looks aside, I've been eager to dive into this newly translated edition of a title from the Parisian master baker, whose recipes (as shared in Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets) are always straightforward yet elegant in their simplicity (for instance, these Galettes à l’Orange or Fondants aux Pommes or Tigrés).

Seeing as Eric Kayser has at least as many doors in Japan as he does in France, the choice of cover tart seems fitting. Nonetheless, most of the recipes in the book are very French, and my copy now resides happily next to another very French title on the art of the tart, Christine Ferber's Mes Tartes.

It's not a conventional tart in the crust-and-filling sense. A rich and buttery financier-like batter (made with egg whites, confectioner's sugar, ground almonds, flour and beurre noisette, and flavoured with matcha) stands in more than admirably for the tart base.

Cake-like in texture with a moist and closely knit crumb, this base is crowned with red currant jelly and red currants (I used raspberry preserves and raspberries instead). More importantly, it's one of those effortless recipes requiring labour no more arduous than some unhurried stirring - a real keeper in the repertoire that I just know will come in handy some day when I need to dish out a good and good-looking dessert pronto.

A few minor changes, apart from the fruit substitution as red currants are virtually impossible to find in this neck of the woods (for the original recipe, pick up a copy of the wonderful book). I was sipping one of my favourite Mariage Frères teas, Thé des Impressionnistes, when perusing the book so quite naturally was thinking about how much I enjoy the way vanilla lends depth to the lovely floral green tea blend. So I added a split vanilla bean to the caramelising butter, which also bolsters the nuanced vanilla-ey flavour already associated with browned butter thanks to Maillard reactions. And I've added a very tiny pinch of salt, which as a salt fiend I almost automatically add to any baked goods recipe which omits it in the conviction it goes a long way in heightening all other flavours.

My rectangular tart tin was not the specified dimensions (20 x 30cm) but I didn't want to use the suggested alternative (26cm round), so I had a bit of leftover batter. But this kept, like all financier batters do, really well overnight in the fridge and I was able to enjoy warm, freshly baked little matcha friands (topped with bits of candied orange peel, pine nuts and black sesame) this morning for breakfast, which reminded me very much of the sort of treats you're likely to find nestled in a chic Sadaharu Aoki boîte.

I've given the full quantities of the recipe, seeing as you may have the right-sized tin or may want extra batter for making minis - financier, madeleine, barquette, tartlet and mini muffin/cupcake pans would all work, simply adjust baking time accordingly (takes anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes depending on how dimunitive your miniature tins are).

Matcha & Vanilla Tart with Raspberries

Adapted from Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savoury Tarts

Makes one 20 x 30cm rectangular tart or 26cm round tart

300 gm unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the tart tin
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out
10 egg whites
300 gm confectioner's sugar, sifted
130 gm ground almonds
1/4 tsp fine salt
2 tsp matcha, plus a little more for dusting
130 gm plain all-purpose flour, sifted
375 gm raspberries
2 Tbsp sieved raspberry preserves (or seedless raspberry jam)

Preheat the oven to
175°C (350°F). Grease your chosen tart tin with softened unsalted butter, making sure to reach every crevice especially if the edges of your tin are fluted. (If your tin is smaller than the recommended size, as mine is, not to worry - adjust your baking time accordingly and use the leftover batter to make minis.) Place the tart tin on a baking sheet and set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the 300 gm of unsalted butter. Toss in the split vanilla bean and the seeds which have been scraped out. Make beurre noisette but be careful not to burn it - let the butter cook and caramelise slowly until it turns nut brown in colour and smells like toasted hazelnuts. Remove immediately from the heat and scrape all the vanilla-infused butter into a jug, including all the flavour-laden brown bits which have settled onto the bottom of the saucepan. Discard the split vanilla bean.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites with the confectioner's sugar until well blended.

Add the ground almonds, salt and matcha. Mix until evenly blended. Add the flour, gently whisking until incorporated.

Add the liquid butter (which should be added whilst warm) in a very gradual stream while whisking constantly so it properly emulsifies with the batter.

Pour the batter into the tart tin till about three-quarters full. Do not over-fill as allowance should be given for the batter's slight rise in the oven. (Leftover batter, if any, keeps well overnight in the fridge and makes for tasty teatime treats you can bake up in a jiffy.) Bake with the tart tin on the baking sheet (which helps catch any drips or spills) for about 30 minutes. Less if your tart tin is smaller than that specified -
start checking at the 20 minute mark; a skewer inserted into the centre should emerge clean when it is done and the edges will be tinged golden brown and will have shrunk ever so slightly away from the sides of the tart tin.

When done, remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.

Liquefy the sieved raspberry preserves or seedless raspberry jam in a small saucepan over low heat. Spread evenly over the cooled matcha tart. Arrange raspberries on top. Dust sparingly with matcha.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dinner Party 101 (or How to Cook a Multi-Course Meal and Actually Enjoy It)

I am on occasion asked by guests how much time I actually take to prepare the multi-course dinner they are eating. I assume the question, often a tad guilt-tinged, is prompted by uncomfortable imaginings of hard labour whilst enslaved to a hot stove. The truth is, it couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, I may have started days in advance, but only because I prefer to steal the odd hour here and there to do what can be done beforehand, and more importantly, in a pleasurable and leisurely fashion, rather than be on my feet all day on the day itself and have to panic about the impending arrival of hungry folk.

I'm no hostess with the mostest, but having figured out a few things over the years has made entertaining a much less harried, and by virtue of infinitely more enjoyable, process. These days, when planning a meal such as the one here (which took place in our truffle rush), I always try to keep the following with regards to menu structure and content - much of which will seem rather obvious, but I am more absent-minded than most - in mind:

Have all the necessary serving ware at hand
By which I mean all the extra stuff needed to plate a dish beyond laying the table. For instance, I don't use egg cups all that often, so I made it a point to unearth them from the dusty recesses of my highest shelf to save the last minute rootle (not to mention washing and drying) before serving the White Truffle Oil-Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout and Truffle Chip from Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook.

Pick dishes that can be effortlessly finished à la minute
This particularly applies to dishes served at the beginning of a meal, when appetites are at their sharpest and a quick succession of small good things works best to keep them piqued. For the Foie Gras Brûlée from Michel Richard's Happy in the Kitchen, the mixture of foie gras with eggs and cream (which is cooked in a water bath in a low oven and results in an exquisitely velvety and soft texture) can be made a day in advance and chilled; to serve, simply sprinkle with sugar, blowtorch, and brush with hazelnut oil and balsamic vinegar.

Think high-low
High-impact, low-effort dishes. Coincidentally, most easily the case with luxe spins on the humble, comforting and familiar. I really fancied the soup + sandwich idea behind the 'Shroomwich, also from Happy in the Kitchen.

I topped the thick soup (more a dipping sauce really, made from an intense mushroom jus and cream, slowly reduced till thick) with a cap of milk foam. And to dip it with, brioche slices sandwiched with salted butter and truffle shavings (these dainty fingers are best prepped 24 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge so the truffle scent gets a chance to really permeate the fat) - these were inspired very much by
Procacci’s panini tartufati, those divine truffle sandwiches that have become a veritable Florentine institution.

Break a complex dish down into bite-sized components and you'll crunch through it in no time
Complex, or multi-component dishes, are by their very nature time-consuming, even for the most able of multi-taskers. The most painless way to tackle them is to break up the work over several brief bursts. In the case of this truffled take on Vincisgrassi, a rich lasagne-like dish I absolutely adore, rather than make the pasta sheets, besciamella and porcini sauce in one long haul trip, I spread it over the course of three short spells. In fact, the assembly of the layers could (and should) also be done ahead of time, allowing the flavours to sit and mingle, then all that needs to be done, the oven takes care of.

It's all about fastidious mise en place
Not being the speediest of cooks, I live by this...Anything and everything that doesn't suffer from and/or improves with being done ahead of time should be done ahead of time. In fact, there are many dishes that virtually make themselves once every element is prepped in advance - in other words, finishing the dish becomes a simple matter of assembly/plating. A terrific example is carpaccio; this Otoro Carpaccio with White Truffle Oil Aioli is a delicious variant on the more classic beefy number.

Keep to one high-effort dish requiring plenty of last minute attention
One painstaking dish in a menu is plenty painstaking for the evening- this is one lesson I've taken a long time to learn. Honestly, nobody - least of all your guests - expects you to kill yourself over each and every course, particularly if the line-up is not a short one. If the wait for the high-effort dish in question will be long-ish, momentum-wise it makes most sense to save it for the end of the meal - not just for sheer dramatic value, but because at that juncture, most would be reasonably sated and would actually appreciate a longer-than-usual break between courses. To this end, I find that risotto fits the bill perfectly. Above, Risotto Carbonara with Black and White Truffles from Eric Ripert's A Return to Cooking - risotto cooked in black truffle juice, topped with a raw egg yolk, smothered with white truffle shavings and finished with a bacon cream sauce.

Small is beautiful
A lesson I'm still learning - in three-or-more course meals, portion size is important. The cook's natural tendency, in a bid to share as much as possible whatever abundance of culinary riches she may have in possession, is to over-estimate how much it is humanly possible to comfortably consume. Much better than having diners leave feeling like geese fattened for liver, is to control portions in a manner that leaves them still wanting a little bit more.