Despite the fact that I just got two new cookbooks for Christmas, when a 40% off Borders coupon appeared in my inbox, I just couldn't resist. So after work on Monday, I made a quick stop at the bookstore. I didn't have much time, so I picked up a book that I've borrowed from the library, the King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking. Right, another huge book that I don't have room for. =) But it's in keeping with my recent attempts to make our diet healthier.
As I was quickly browsing, a book cover caught my eye. It was Nick Malgieri's new book, The Modern Baker. I'll have to take a closer look at it the next time I'm at the bookstore. But it got me thinking about how lucky today's home bakers are. We have access to a lot of tools that just weren't easily available to home bakers not that long ago. For instance, I love my scale and parchment paper, just to name a couple things. And we have access to some fantastic ingredients, either online, in specialty stores, or often in our neighborhood grocery stores.
But I think the greatest thing we have available to us is the knowledge and experience of others. The Tuesdays with Dorie group of bakers is a great example. We have the collective experience of several hundred bakers to draw on. We can ask each other questions, through the weekly P&Q posts, by email, on Facebook... Each week we can read about each others experiences, mistakes, new ideas, best practices... And it just amazes me that we can so easily connect with Dorie Greenspan herself, the author of the cookbook we're baking from.
Which leads me to this week's TWD recipe. The way our group works is that each week, a different person selects a recipe for everyone else to make. Well, for the start of the new year, Laurie asked Dorie to choose a recipe for us and bake along with us. What a great idea! She chose the French Pear Tart.
The biggest change I made to the recipe was to use apples instead of pears, since I don't like pears. I thought of Nancy over at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs as I picked up some macoun apples at Central Market on Friday night. I made the Sweet Tart Dough for the base, adding a little freshly grated nutmeg, since I like nutmeg with apples. The almond cream filling came together quickly in my food processor. I was lucky enough to be able to buy almond meal in the bulk section at Central Market. Then I peeled and sliced the apples to place on top of the filling.
I baked the tart for about 45 minutes, until the almond cream was getting browned on top. But after taking it out of the oven, I realized that the middle didn't look done enough. So I ended up putting the tart back in the oven for another 15 minutes, with foil over the edges to keep it from browning too much. I'm still not sure it was quite done enough, since the filling was pretty soft in the middle. Dorie suggests brushing the tops of the apples (or pears) with apple jelly as a glaze. My apples looked pretty dry on top, so they definitely needed something, but I didn't have any jelly that seemed like a good flavor match. So while the tart was cooling, I made a quick batch of caramel syrup to brush onto the apples.
Okay, that last statement really sums up how far I've come in the last year. I never would have said that I could quickly make caramel anything this time last year. =) Some of the confidence comes from practice, but some of it comes from the great tips I've gotten from other bakers.
The verdict? Wow. I loved this dessert. The flavors were delicious together. My crust got really browned around the edges, which was fantastic. The apples were just right, and I was surprised how much I liked the almond cream, since I'm not that fond of almonds. I especially liked how it got crisp on top and sort of melded with the crust near the edges of the tart. I liked it the first day, but I think I liked it even more the next, once the flavors had more time to blend together. Jamie liked it a lot too, and so did Gillian. Brianna just liked the crust, so maybe I should just make her some shortbread cookies. =)
For the recipe, head on over to Dorie's blog. Don't forget to check out all the other wonderful French Tarts on the TWD blogroll. And for a special anniversary treat this week, read Dorie's answers to many of the questions that the TWD members have wanted to ask her over the past year.