Tarts and Creams and Cake... Oh My

If I scream, and you scream, what are we all screaming for?

The answer, of course, is ice cream. Or maybe it's cake. Or it could be tarts. Or caramel, or crêpes, or puff pastry, or custard, or mousse, or soufflé, or... holy bananas, make it stop.

I mean, not permanently. I love ice cream. And cakes and tarts and caramel and crêpes and all those other delicious treats. But I've been up to my elbows in pastry all week and I'm not sure how much more I can take before my teeth rebel and deteriorate and my body decides it's had about enough, thank you, and forces me to collapse into a sugar-induced coma. So there.

It started last Monday with tart dough. There I was, happily mixing and rolling out pâte sucrée, making pastry cream, slicing apples and pears, warming up the apricot glaze. It all seemed so wonderful! So flaky, so sweet, so... innocent!

I should have known better. Next thing I know it's a week later and I'm hurling caramel ice cream down my throat and wrestling my classmates for the last bite of chocolate mousse. Ahem. Don't look at me, I'm too ashamed.

...Actually, it's been sort of a great week. There was an incident involving the indecent hurling of caramel ice cream down my throat, but I'm happy to report zero incidents of chef knife dueling over the last lick of whipped cream. And, to be fair, that caramel ice cream was flipping delicious.

I want to tell you about everything we made at school this week - from buttercream to ladyfingers to italian meringues, but I'm afraid I can't tell you as well as I can show you. So, here you go... just a taste.

Tarte aux pommes (Apple Tart)

Tarte aux poires à la frangipane (pear tart with almond cream)

Crème au beurre (buttercream)

La génoise (egg foam cake)

Crêpes au citron (crêpes with lemon syrup)

Beignets aux pommes, coulis de fruit (apple fritters with fruit coulis)

Pâte à choux (pastry dough used to make cream puffs)

Choux à la crème chantilly (cream puffs)

Beignets soufflés à l'orange (orange fritters)

Crème caramel (...crème caramel)

Glace à la caramel (caramel ice cream)

...Two servings of caramel ice cream.

Bande de tarte aux fruits (puff pastry fruit tart)

Soufflé glacé aux fruits (frozen fruit soufflé)

Soufflé au chocolat (chocolate soufflé)

Soufflé au poire (pear soufflé)

Clearly, I had my fair share of sugary fancies this week. I wish I could accurately describe the deep, slightly bitter, nutty smoothness of the caramel ice cream to you, or the airy, buttery flakiness of the puff pastry fruit tart. The rich smell of vanilla infused crème anglaise, and the delicate pear flavor beautifully enrobed in a soufflé. Sigh.

I have the recipes for all of these things, and I'll give them to you if you want them, but, for this post, I decided to go with the choux à la crème chantilly. "Shoe a la crem shantee-ee." ...That's cream puff, to you and me.

Choux À La Créme Chantilly
(Cream Puffs)

Caramel ice cream may be smooth and delicious, and chocolate soufflé may be rich and fancy, but the cream puff holds a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, we used to get them at the Wisconsin State Fair, along with grilled sweet corn and barbecued beef. My parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle and two little sisters would all squeeze around a dusty picnic table on the fairgrounds, right near the barns housing the prize-winning animals, the smell of cows and butter and fresh cream wafting around us. Someone would bring a big tray of freshly baked, Wisconsin cream puffs to the table, and we'd scoop them up and dig in, starting with the light, chewy pastry, quickly moving to the sweet, airy cream. Pretty soon we'd be sloshing whipped cream down our shirts and licking stray dollops from each other's fingers. And then 2-year-old Casey would fall asleep and 4-year-old Emily would get upset that she spilled cream on her shirt and I, at age 6, would ask if I could please please have another cream puff. ...Please?


For the choux dough:
  • 1 cup water
  • 110 grams butter (slightly less than 1/2 cup butter), cut in chunks
  • pinch salt
  • pinch sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 4 to 5 eggs
  • extra egg, for egg wash
For the crème chantilly:
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • vanilla extract

To make the choux dough, put the water, butter, salt and sugar into a pot and bring to a boil. As soon as the mixture reaches a boil and the butter is completely melted, take it off the heat and add all of the flour at once. Place the pot back on a medium flame and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon about 30 seconds, until the dough comes together and forms a mass that does not stick to the pan.

Dump the dough into a large, clean bowl. Crack 4 eggs into a separate bowl, and add them to the dough one at a time, making sure that each is fully incorporated before adding the next. You can do this step either by hand with a wooden spoon or in an electric mixer using the paddle attachment. The mixture should be firm but smooth. You'll know it has absorbed enough eggs when a spoon or finger run through the batter leaves a channel that fills in slowly, and a dollop of batter lifted on a spatula curls over itself and forms a hook. If the dough still seems too firm (if the channel formed by a spoon through the batter takes a long time to fill in), crack the 5th egg, break it up with a whisk in a separate bowl, and add drops of egg until the batter is just right.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF convection (or 400º regular).

Fill a pastry bag with the choux batter, and pipe out small circles of dough onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. If you don't have a pastry bag, you can make one by cutting off one of the bottom corners of a large, plastic ziptop bag. Just fill the bag and pipe the dough out of the little hole. You can make your cream puffs any size you like, just make sure they are all generally the same size.

Brush the circles lightly with egg wash, and bake until the dough has puffed up and is a deep, golden brown. Turn off the convection oven, or lower the regular oven to 300ºF, and leave the choux in for another 5 to 10 minutes to dry out. Remove the choux from the oven when they are dry and feel light and hollow (if you're not sure they're completely dry, take one out and split it open. The inside should be bone dry - any moisture will leave you with soggy creampuffs.) Allow the choux to cool before slicing off their tops and filling them with cream.

To make the crème chantilly, beat the heavy cream (either by hand or with an electric mixer) until it starts to thicken. Flavor it with the sugar and a drop of vanilla, and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to overbeat the cream, or it will turn to butter. Pipe the cream into the cool, dry choux pastries, and serve immediately.

This recipe makes a lot of cream puffs (roughly 50) - feel free to halve or even quarter it for a more manageable batch of deliciousness.


The Awful of Offal

Just as it always does, summer is moving too fast. When did it become mid-July? Just yesterday it was the beginning of June and I was learning to flavor stocks and chop vegetables, and today I'm knee deep in organ meat. Organ. Meat. I'm talking about veal kidneys, sweetbreads (oh, they sound delicious, but don't be fooled - sweetbreads have nothing to do with either sweets or bread; they are the thymus glands of veal, young beef, lamb or pork), calf's liver, tripe (that's the stomach lining of a cow, for those interested), and lamb's tongue. The proper name for these tasty treats is offal, and it's pronounced just like it sounds. And tastes.

I know it's sort of hip to enjoy eating offal, and I'll admit that liver does have its merits (mainly in the form of my Gramma Inez's chopped chicken liver - more on that another time), but what can I say? Ingesting animal entrails just isn't really my thing. But, as Chef S. likes to say, "tough luck on you." So, on Friday I put on a clean chef's coat, suppressed my upchuck reflexes, and started the day by boiling and peeling lamb tongues. Les langues d'agneau. Sounds much better in french, n'est pas?

It was nasty. The tongues were the worst. Any preparation that starts with: "eliminate the larynx and disgorge the tongue under cold running water" is bound to be sort of gross, but I'm not sure I can accurately describe the extent of the grossness. Suffice it to say, of all of the wretchedly gross things in the world, the act of peeling off the outer skin of a poached lamb's tongue has got to be up there. And I mean up there. Yech.

The sweetbreads weren't much better. One of the prep instructions is: "using a finger, eliminate any nerves or cartilage." Uh huh, yeah, I'd love to stick my fingers into a smelly lump of thymus nerves. I thought you'd uh, never ask. And yes, we did make a heaping plate full of veal kidneys (a.k.a mushrooms in mustard sauce),

but if anyone brought them over to the Level 1 kitchen, I don't know. I'm not trying to make any Level 1 vegans cry.

So, like the first half of summer, offal day at school came and went, and I'm happy to say that I did try every dish we made on Friday: sautéed kidneys with mustard sauce, grilled and pan-fried sweetbreads (actually, the pan fried ones taste sort of like chicken nuggets... not bad for thymus glands), sautéed calf's liver with caramelized onions, and lamb tongue with spicy sauce. I may have whimpered and gagged a little bit, but I did it, and it's over. In the words of Chef S., "and blah blah bah, blah bah, and dat's the end of dat stoh-ry. Now make me a clean-up, get reed of dis zoo." Gladly.

This week begins a seven-day stretch of pastry at school - everything from pâte brisée to sorbet to soufflé - and I couldn't be happier. To celebrate this sweet turn of events, I thought you might like to make an apple tart with strawberry compote. I promise, there's nothing awful about it.

Apple Tart with Strawberry Compote

Ingredients: For the Dough:
  • 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water
For the Strawberry Compote:
  • 1 large container of strawberries (about 16 ounces), hulled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons water
For the Apple Filling:
  • 2-3 apples (I used Granny Smith)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

First, make the dough. Sift together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix the cold, cubed butter into the dry ingredients using two forks or clean fingertips, until the butter is incorporated and the mixture has a sandy texture. Form a well in the butter-flour mixture and add the egg/water mixture into the well.

Begin to combine the liquid into the flour-butter mixture, being careful not to overwork the dough (overworked dough leads to tough, heavy crust). If the dough seems too dry (if it's too flaky and won't stick together), add a few drops of ice-water (only a few small drops at a time!) until it comes together.

Gather the dough, form it into a flat disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the compote. Put the strawberries, sugar, water, and lemon juice in a sauté pan over medium-low heat, and cook slowly under a parchment paper lid, until the strawberries are very soft and have exuded their juices.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. When the dough is thoroughly rested and chilled, roll it out on a floured surface and gently press it into an 8-inch tart pan. Spread the strawberry compote in an even layer on the bottom of the pastry shell.

Cut the apples in half, and core them. (Some people like to peel them first - one step too many for me, but if you prefer peeled apples, by all means, go for it). Slice the apples in very thin slices horizontally, and arrange them decoratively on top of the strawberry compote, making sure to place the slices very close together (the apples will shrink in the oven, so be generous with the little slices).

Pour the melted butter over the tart, and bake it in the 425º oven for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 350ºF and bake for an additional 50-60 minutes. When it's ready, the apples should be soft and brown on the edges, and the pastry should be golden brown.

Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or room temperature with a dollop of cold whipped cream.

Makes one 8-inch tart.


Tumbled By Tomatoes

Um, hi. Is anyone still here? It's been awhile, I know - let me catch you up.

School-wise, since fish day, we've covered shellfish (I ate my first raw oyster! It was slimy. And lemony and fresh tasting. I didn't not enjoy it. I also ripped apart a live lobster, poached it and ate it with a sauce américaine. I still feel sort of bad about that) as well as roast chicken, duck à l'orange, roast pork, grilled chicken and steak,

poached veal, braised lamb shank, and chicken simmered with horseradish cream sauce. I also passed the Level 1 practical exam by chopping a mean macédoine of carrot (among other things) and am now officially in Level 2. So, you know, that's good.

I'd like to tell you more about chef school, or maybe even give you a recipe, but I'm feeling distracted by tomatoes. You see, everything we've been making at school is delicious and fancy and french, but most of it is also very heavy and rich and wintery. And that's all well and good, you know, when it's the winter and you're looking for a hot, bone-sticking meal, but it's finally starting to feel like summer around here (just look at that 4th of July sunset!),

and I can't help but shift my focus to cooler, sweeter, juicier pastures. And what's summer without tomatoes? Those swollen red and yellow skins, firm and fleshy, luscious and bright, with the scent of dirt and sunshine - they're the consommate beacon of summertime eats. So, I could give you the recipe for a delicious veal stew in cream sauce, but wouldn't you rather have the recipe for Jane Bursky's tumbled tomatoes instead? They're cool and fresh and taste like summertime on the patio. Eat them with some crispy bread and a few slices of sharp cheese, and I'd call that dinner. Yum.

Jane Bursky's Tumbled Tomatoes with Mediterranean Herbs

I usually balk at the idea of storing tomatoes in the refrigerator - nothing ruins the fresh, juicy taste of a tomato like refrigeration - but with this recipe, the time in the fridge seems to enhance the tomato flavor by giving the herb crust time to do its work. The crust draws out the tomato's moisture, leaving the little ruby spheres with a concentrated flavor of fresh tomato. Thanks, Chef Jane!


  • 1 tablespoon herbs de provence
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried or dehydrated garlic (if you can't find this, use garlic powder)
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes


Use a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder to mix the seasonings together and pulverize them slightly. If you don't have a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder, just skip this step.

Wash tomatoes in cold water and drain, but do not dry them. Put the tomatoes in a large bowl and toss them with the herb mixture until they are evenly coated. Refrigerate, tossing and "tumbling" in the bowl occasionally, until all the water is evaporated. The herb and salt mixture will form a crust on the tomatoes. Serve chilled.

Note: the tomatoes keep for 2-3 days, UNCOVERED in the refrigerator. The drier and crustier the salt and herb coating, the better they taste.

Makes about 4 cups of tumbled tomatoes.