Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Parisian-inspired Pistachio and Raspberry Tart

If you've been to Paris, you know that its a city with many faces, varying moods and endless offerings for food, activities, historical monuments, nightlife, shopping, drink, the list goes on.  My first picture of Paris existed, for years, only in my imagination.  Fitting well within the stereotype of most young American girls, from when I was a pre-teenger and well into my teen years, Paris beckoned to me from afar (and far it sure seemed).  It intrigued me immensely.  Paris seemed to be a city that promised romance and endless beauty within.  It seemed like a glittering beacon that exuded otherworldly elegance and would be unquestionably chalk full of fascinating history.  I pictured myself visiting someday.  I imagined it to be the perfect place to fall in love.  In more then one way.

I pictured a city filled with art, both in the plethora of world-famous museums and in the city itself.  I imagined greenery abound, ornate and stately building facades, window boxes spilling over with colorful flowers.  I saw inviting cafes teaming with chic Parisians whiling their afternoons away lunching or drinking artistically foam-topped cups of coffee.  I pictured women, dressed in a classic, ever chic, understated fashion, looking perfectly put together and totally gorgeous with little to no effort.  I imagines perfectly manicured parks with floral explosions of color, sprinkled with bubbling fountains throughout the city.  And cute little ponds within these said parks teaming with toy boats as perfectly styled Parisian children grinned agog, watching their boats bobbing along the elastic waters surface, their parents close by keeping an eye on them with affectionate smiles on their faces and at each other (because this is the city of love, isn't it?  So of course, I imagined all the couples madly in love).  I imagined the tastiest of foods.  Ripe, robust, nutty, strong flavored cheeses.  Vividly colored, cream filled pastries (mainly eclairs). Steaming mugs filled to their brims with hot drinks.  The rustling crunch of a baguette as one ripped off a hunk, to find the bread yielding and soft in the center.

Oh yes.  This was the Paris that existed in my minds eye.

I have been to Paris three times now (a forth trip in the works for this summer) (yes, I finally made it!).  And no, I do not feel an ounce of boredom at this prospect of returning yet again, despite having already been there a handful of times.  In fact, I feel much the opposite.  Thrilled.  Titillating anticipation.  I cannot wait to step back into the the city of light and all its splendor.  Because in fact, all that I imagined Paris would be is exactly what I found upon finally stepping foot into the city when I was 22 years old.

My first time in Paris was during the tenure of my studying abroad.  I picked Florence, Italy specifically for my study destination (for the reason that I knew nothing about this particular city so decided to go somewhere totally new in idea for me), and this was my first time in Europe.  I was spellbound. 

I had imagined and dreamed about the magic I was sure Europe held, and upon arriving, I was swept up in it.  The picture perfect landscapes, the high speed trains able to whisk one to another country in mere hours, the mouthwatering and foreign foods I was able to try in their authentic origins, the cobbled streets and quaint alleyways, the lyrical languages that made up the noise backdrop as I wandered.  I loved all of it and vowed to live there someday. 

My first time visiting Paris had been during this time of mine spent in Italy studying.  My Mom flew over to visit me during the last leg of my trip and whisked the two of us off to Paris for my 23rd birthday.  Now THAT was mind-blowing.  Totally and utterly fantastic.  I will never forget our picnic on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower as the massive monument sparkled behind us, a glitter strewn backdrop to a low key but incredibly memorable meal.

My second and third times in Paris were with two different exes.  Each were very different experiences, both of which I absolutely loved.  Nighttime bike tours were taken through the insane, death-defying traffic of Paris, the city aglow all around us.  Bike rides were taken through the French country side and out to Giverny to tour Monet's famous waterlily gardens.  Sprawling picnics in parks were had.  Kisses stolen.  Coffees sampled (despite the fact that I dont like coffee).  We crept our way into the hushed, life sized jewelry box of a stained glass cathedral, Saint Chapelle.  Pastries were eaten with gluttonous joy and wild abandon.  A tiny charm necklace was unearthed in a little boutique shop, delicate and pale gold with a miniature Eiffel Tower charm on it (still worn often to this day).  Notre Dame was climbed.  The Marais was wandered.  The list goes on.  Both trips were romantic, a total blast, very memorable and are now treasured memories of mine.

To see some of those awesome photos from my previous Paris adventure, you can click here.  And here for even more photos (including lots of pastries).  And finally here for the third part of my last Paris adventure.

(As well as throughout this blog entry.  All photos I took during my trips to Paris).

The recipe I am about to provide you with was inspired by a luscious, creamy tart which was stumbled upon during one of these trips to Paris.  The tart that was sampled (and burned a permanent sugar encrusted outline in my memory) and immediately begged to by copied was a pistachio raspberry tart.  So, upon arriving home, an attempt at recreating this was made.  And actually, the homemade version tasted and looked better than the original!!!  See for yourself in the photo (and recipe) below:

Without further ado, the recipe inspired by the adventure:

For the crust:
1.5 cup of all-purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup of unsalted pistachios, skinned
1 stick + 1 tablespoon of butter, chilled and cubed
1 large egg yolk

For the pastry cream and garnish:
2 cups of whole milk
6 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1.5 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3.5 tablespoons of butter, at room temperature
12 oz. fresh raspberries
Finely chopped unsalted roasted pistachios

1.      1.  Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C degrees.

2.  Pulse flour, sugar and pistachios in a food processor.  Add butter and pulse until it resembles a course meal.  Stir in the yolk and pulse again until the dough forms clumps and curds.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead just to incorporate dry ingredients.
3.      3.  Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.  Press dough evenly over the bottom and up sides of the pan.  Freeze for about 30 minutes before baking.

4.      4.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature.  Alternatively, you can split the dough between four 4-inch mini tart pans and bake individually if you so desire.

5.      5.  To prepare pastry cream, bring milk to a boil in small saucepan. 

6.      6.  In a separate heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar until well blended.  Still whisking, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk from the other saucepan.  Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remained of the milk.  Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil.  Keep at a boil, still whisking, for one or two minutes.  Then remove pan from heat.

7.      7.  Whisk in vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes.  Then whisk in bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky.  Scrape the cream into a bowl.  Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, stirring the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.  The cream can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

8.      8.  To serve, spread the pastry cream in the tart shell and smooth the top with a spatula.  Arrange raspberries on top and sprinkle with pistachios.  Refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Baking up some Bee Sting Cake

Bee Sting cake is the English translation for this delectable German cake.  In German, the name is Bienenstich.  This just happens to be, hands down, my favorite German cake.  It lands on the long list of worthwhile culinary uncoverings that I have happened upon in my time living abroad thus far.

When considering the undertaking of a bohemouth cake like Bienenstich, I simultaneously groaned inwardly and tittered with excitement, my inner dessert lover whom Ive been trying to wrestle into a more controlled suppression lately threatening to explode out of me once more.  Well, I reasoned, I can just make the cake and not eat very much of it.  Its on my list anyway, in terms of recipe research and testing.  So, in the name of a blog entry, (my inner dessert dominatrix began jumping up and down), I threw in the towel and went grocery shopping.

What I hadn't realized beforehand was what a project this particular cake would be.  With two layers and a thick, almost custard-like pastry cream sandwiched in the middle, plus the cake being topped with a crusty, sweet, almond and sugar layer, I had my work cut out for me.

I began baking around 8pm and didn't finish until midnight.  Flour spotted the counter tops (and the floor, and my clothes).  Mixing bowls covered in various debris lay strewn across the kitchen surfaces.  Myself, sweating slightly in the 90 degree heat of the evening (which sadly, hadn't offered much respite from the steaming hot day prior).  A baking bomb had gone off in my kitchen.

Once well into baking and finding myself knee deep in the recipe, on impulse I decided to double the recipe in an attempt to make one thick cake that could easily be split in half, in order to easily heap the sweet cream in the middle.  I was hoping to cut my time in half by doing so, as opposed to baking two separate cake halves.  Instead, I ended up added more time to my evening.  Upon the doubled cake batter half baking, I discovered it was much too thin to split. It was barely thick enough to be one layer.

The pastry cream had been boiled, mixed, and taste tested.  The spoon licked clean.  The bowl covered in foil and shoved into the fridge to cool overnight.

The almonds had been mixed with sugar and honey, brought to a boil, stirred and cooled.  The result?  A grainy, incredibly sweet, crunchy burst of sugary deliciousness in ones mouth with each spoonful.  I restrained myself in order to have enough left to top the cake, but it wasn't easy.  Now you see part of why I bake in the first place.

I spread this finished sweet almond mixture on top of cake layer number one and baked it a few minutes longer, in order for the almond spread to meld to the top of this cake layer.  Everything seemed to be humming along smoothly. Which is of course, naturally, when a wrench will be thrown into the mix.

My discovery of another cake layer needing to be baked was made at 11:20pm.  Fabulous.  Disheartened, I threw together the ingredients and forgot to double the recipe like I had the first time around.  The finished result?  A nearly pancake-thin cake layer that I could barely scrap out of the pan.

This is going to taste like sh*t, I decided.

I plated each cake layer separately, covered them with foil and staggered off to bed.

In the morning, I assembled the cakes.  I spooned the pastry cream onto the pancake-of-a-cake-layer, trying not to explode with laughter while doing so.  This is not going to make for very symmetrical or pretty pictures, I sighed inwardly.  I perched the significantly thicker top layer on the pastry cream and stood back to survey my work.  The top layer seemed to slide slowly, precariously down whenever I went to lift the plate (to bring it back to my room for photos), so I had to move with the speed of a slow motion film while making my way back down the hall to my room with the heavily plated cake.

Finally, the photos were taken (not my best work but ok enough), and I decided to sample the goods.  What is baking without this obvious perk?  I expected nothing special.  I assumed disappointment.  A taste that would be forgettable and nothing noteworthy.  Possibly even gross.  However when I took a bite, I was all the more shocked. 

The cake layers were dense but totally moist, cakey and soft.  The cream in the middle, the perfect sweet compliment.  The cream was a light breath of saccarine air atop the dense cake layer, a nice contradiction.  The top of the cake was the standout.  The honey sugar almond topping was slightly crunchy, honeyed, adding an interesting third texture dimension when paired among the pastry cream and tightly packed, moist cake layers below.

I could not believe how scrumptious it tasted, despite how funny and rather lopsided it looked.  I am proud to say, this might be one of the tastiest cakes I have ever made.

I need to recipe test it once more, in order to make sure I have the measurements just right before sharing with others.  I know.  Disapointing after reading this blog post, to be on the receiving end of this news.  I wasn't measuring with the most punctual of please, forgive my not including the recipe just yet.  But please stay tuned.  I will post the recipe sometime in the next week of two.  Brookes Bombastic Bienenstich...keep a look out. 

In the meantime, if after reading my post, you feel a gnawing compulsion to try your own hand at Bienestich before I am able to release my own recipe on here, I can provide you with a recipe to experiement with in the meantime.  Take a look here.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Part THREE of Most Marvelous Food Moments of my Living in Europe

This cheese fondue bubbled as it was set in front of us.  The bread basket beckoned, soft white pillowy clouds of starchy goodness awaiting their being dipped in the thick, cheesy liquid.  We ate the entire thing.  Absolutely phenomenal.

While the cakes were sweet and delicious, this was more about the environment, which was totally swanky.  The hotel was glittering, plush and quiet.  Snow swirled down outside the windows as we sat, cozily sequestered inside over a fierce card game.

After one meal of cheese fondue, we were more then enthusiastic to have another one the next night after our thrilling day of skiing the Swiss Alps!!  This fondue was just as good, possibly better.  The cheese was thick and white, bubbling and wafting steam.  The bread was a mixture of light and dark which made for an enticing variety of taste texture.  One more soft and light while the other was a bit more dense and seeded.  The salad, crunchy, light, a refreshing side paired with the artery-clogging mind-blowing richness of the cheese.

While this appetizer looks ugly, the taste was far from it.  The bread was soft and yielding but with a crunchy crust.  The mushrooms were cooked to perfection and had been soaked in a coconut milk sauce, with the most subtle hint of sweetness, deliciously seasoned, so yummy.

This was our meal in Barcelona, Spain.  The potatoes (pictured below) were excellent.  The sauce, something like a spicy mayonnaise aioli, was delectable, zesty, and super tasty when paired with the potatoes which had a slight kick to them.

Oh my gosh, these drinks were good.  Especially the middle one.  They are from a vegan restaurant in Barcelona called Flax & Kale.  The middle drink was made with almond milk, cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, coconut and nutmeg.  It was light, sweet and DELICIOUS.

Raw vegan carrot cake.  Dense, sweet, sweet, surprisingly yummy.

Pumpkin ravioli topped with tomatoes, in a light sauce.

Card sharks enjoying a competitive game with sides of cucumber and cheese sandwiches, vegetable quiche and apple cinnamon cupcakes.  The perfect afternoon.

"Bread of the Gods," or Pao de Deus, in Lisbon, Portugal.  Hands down, one of the best desserts I have ever eaten in my life.

Handmade chocolates at a little street market in Barcelona.

This seafood dinner was an event in itself.  The restaurant was PACKED.  People rushing this way and that.  The servers, hurried, serious, but allowing an occasional burst of animated chatter and a momentary warm smile with a patron to punctuate their rushing around, their arms so loaded with trays one couldn't help but marvel and watch.  The seafood was dripping with butter, simply seasoned, delicious.  The garlic bread was addictive.  The crust was crisp, the bread buttery, melting in ones mouth.  The fish was flaky and perfectly cooked.

Another seafood dish, white fish cooked in rice, and a side of garlic shrimp.  Simple but excellent.  We LOVED this meal.

Loving Lisbon!!!

Handmade chocolates <3

Vegan carrot cake and green tea.  Mmmmmm.

Poffertjes in Amsterdam.  These were like little pillows of dough.  Sweet, they literally melted in your mouth, warm, buttery, the dough was light as air, SO yummy.

LOVED this dinner, with friends at Jackson Dubois in Amsterdam.  The concept is street foods from all over the world, served tapas style as small dishes.  So much fun and so tasty!!!  I would highly recommend this place.

Awesome brunch in Amsterdam.  And the brownie?  Gluten free, sugar free, dairy free. And totally shockingly?  One of the best brownies I have ever had in my life, no joke.  One never would have known it wasn't a regular brownie.  It was fudgy, rich, chocolatey, SO delicious.

Way cool dessert display in Amsterdam.

I have never been a big honey person, but this honey I tried in Bad Orb, Germany??? WHOA.  Smooth, super sweet, really, really good.

One of my favorites ever.  Iimori in Frankfurt, for their green tea torte cake.

In my sugar-free eating explorations, this is one of the recipes I loved the most.  Banana Carrot Pancakes, oh man, so tasty.

Sugar free pumpkin pie.  Another tasty one!!

More of that phenomenal honey I discovered in Bad Orb, Germany.  Before, honey excited me about as much as a bland salad, or a cup of plain yogurt.  After trying this honey though, it was like discovering Reese's peanut butter eggs for the first time.  Glorious.

Cinnamon oatmeal pancakes, homemade by me :-D 

One of the most famous sweet shops in all of Paris, as well as one of the older tea salons in the city.  Super swanky.

Pastries from Laduree.

Dinner in Piazza Navona, Rome.  God, the ambiance here alone is enough to make eating here worth it on any summer evening.  The sun casts gold tones across the buildings, splattering the square with a warm glow.  The fountains bubble.  Accordion musicians play.  The smells of pasta, fish and wine float through the air.  The square is bustling with activity.  Romantic revelers wander, artists selling their wares, families searching for dinner after a long day of sightseeing.

Salmon gnocchi, this was superb.

An awesome meal in Paris.  I don't know what this chicken was seasoned in, what was in the sauce, but it was super delicious.

These were crisps made of honey, sandwiched with thick pastry cream.  Light, sweet and fruity.

Enjoying Crepes in Paris.

Pistachio raspberry torte.  This was to die for.

Picnic on the outskirts of Paris.  Some blue cheese, baguette, fruit and pastries.  Mmmmm.

And two more AWESOME meals in Italy.