Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TWD -- Beauty is its own excuse for being

Beauty is its own excuse for being
My mother, who came from an era when poetry and famous essays were memorized, could always come up with the appropriate quote for every occasion. When our cocker spaniel, a beautiful dog, would leave a big puddle in the middle of the living room rug, she would shrug and quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Beauty is her own excuse for being." I would have to say this about the French Apple Tart. It looks beautiful, but the taste was lacking, paling in comparison to a good old American apple pie oozing with thickened spicy filling and a flaky top crust all ready to soak up the accompanying vanilla ice cream.

I would like to blame my apples. I used Granny Smiths, as indicated in the Baking with Julia recipe, and even chose ones the same size as the ones used in the video found on You Tube. They even came from the state of Washington, the state from which the baker Leslie Mackie hails. But mine were dry. Perhaps when you live in the Midwest, far from the apples' origins, and it's the middle of the winter, one should expect dry. In fact, my apples were so dry, I actually added water to the filling and sprinkled water on the apples on top of the tart. When the recipe indicated the apples would give up their juices during the baking period, I thought, "What juices?" when I pulled the pan out of the oven. And when the recipe indicated the apples on top would caramelize as the result of the juices, butter and sugar basking in the hot oven, mine just laid there. It wasn't until I squirted water on the top with a turkey baster did I get a small degree of caramelization.

7-inch crust before blind baking
Since I live in a household of two, I decided to cut the recipe in half and use a small pie pan to make the tart. Half the pie actually called for more filling than half the recipe, so I used about two-thirds of the recipe for a seven-inch pie.

I liked the method of blind-baking the crust -- at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. I usually blind-bake my crusts at 425 to 450 degrees for a shorter period of time. The longer time and reduced temperature, I found to be very satisfactory and resulted in a better crust.

Before blind baking, using beans as weights
Would I make this pie again? I doubt it, unless the reviews from other bakers are more positive. I am curious to see if someone tried apples other than Granny Smiths. If so, and the result was a success, I might try this one more time. The tart, after all, is quite beautiful.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

TWD -- A most satisfiying pizza

I had the wonderful experience of actually baking the Tuesdays with Dorie assignment, Pizza with Onion Confit, with my daughter, Katie. We live approximately 1,300 miles apart,  and since we are both Tuesdays with Dorie participants, we decided to make the January 8 assignment together when she and her family were at our house in Ohio for Christmas. What a thrill!

The sponge
Since everyone in her family loves pizza and we needed a break from turkey leftovers, we decided that the Onion Confit would be the ticket for supper one evening. We started by mixing up the sponge (I love any bread that has a sponge), then started making the Onion Confit. We live in a very small town and buy a lot of our groceries at a drug store (that's right, a drug store). But our drug store is more than just a drug store which offers some boxes of cereal and half gallons of milk to see weary shoppers through until they could get to an actual grocery. Our drug store has become a grocery -- complete with fresh lettuce, peppers, celery, carrots and onions. When we went shopping for the onions, my granddaughter couldn't believe the price -- a 3 lb. bag of nice onions for 49 cents. That's right, 49 cents.

Caramelizing the onions
Katie sliced those onions as per instructions, and I rode herd on the cast-iron skillet (a Midwest staple), slowly caramelizing the onions with the addition of sugar, wine, vinegar and thyme (we had to used dried.) We had seven inches of snow on the ground and our thyme was buried.

After that mixture was thick and gooingly delicious, we patted out our pizza crusts, topped them with the Onion Confit and some gourmet olives we had in the fridge and tossed on handfuls of a combination of Italian cheeses (also purchased from our drug store).

The finished product
The result was delicious. Katie and I both agreed we would make this again. In fact, after she headed back to Texas, I experimented, making the crust again with pastry flour (two-thirds all purpose flour and one-third cake flour). I buy this flour at a Mennonite market but it can be easily made at home using the above proportions. I loved the result. The crust was not as chewy and decidedly crispier. That will be my go-to flour for pizza crust in the future.

Now, bear with me here. As you can see by my moniker, I am a retired newspaper editor, one who wrote editorials on a regular basis for many years, sometimes causing a stir in the community in which I live. The desire to add editorial comments is a hard one to give up, even after one retires. So here is my editorial comment: The drug store where we buy much of our food is Discount Drug Mart. We have a WalMart, but I prefer not to shop there. WalMarts are hard on home-town newspapers. They don't, as a rule, advertise in them, and tend to drive out the good advertisers who do. That happened in our town. We lost our one supermarket (a fabulous place to shop and a major advertiser) after WalMart arrived. But, Discount Drug Mart stepped up to the plate and added fresh fruits and vegetables after our supermarket closed. It has always supported our local newspaper faithfully with ads and inserts. Eighty percent of a newspaper's income is derived from advertising. So when people see their newspapers getting smaller or disappearing altogether, they need to know that the internet is only partially responsible.