Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Tale of Two Tarts

Tarte D'Alsace

Auntie Sharon decided to visit at the spur-of-the-moment, leaving me little time to devise a proper menu, so I took my lead from Ina Garten and Giada DeLaurentiis, who both swear you can prepare a fabulous, impromptu meal with whatever you find in your pantry.

Let's see if they're right.

I really wanted to make my strawberry mascarpone cheesecake with biscotti crust for Auntie, but it was already late Thursday night and I'd just eaten the last almond biscotti from Trader Joe's. I was also out of strawberries. Even if I schlepped to the store, I wasn't sure I'd have enough time to bake the cheesecake and let it set. I knew I had all the ingredients for Anne Burrell's olive oil cake, but the recipe called for five eggs on top of two egg whites, which seemed a bit excessive.

A quick survey of my fridge revealed two Fuji apples ... hmmm, didn't I see Ina make a beautiful French apple tart on TV just the other day? I had everything I needed for the pastry - flour, butter, salt, sugar, ice water - I was good to go! Or so I thought ... After I had the pastry dough resting in the refrigerator and sliced the apples, I checked Ina's recipe and realized I didn't have Cavados or apricot jam to brush over the fruit.

I had to improvise.

I found some almond paste in the freezer and a bottle of pear brandy I'd used to make clafouti, so I macerated the apples in 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of pear brandy and the juice of half a lemon. When the pastry had rested for an hour, I rolled it out using my new French rolling pin (which works great and was a steal for $13 at Sur La Table). Then I spread the almond paste over the pastry before arranging the apple slices in a pretty, diagonal pattern, just Ina suggested. I topped the tart with a few pats of butter, stuck it the oven and voila! I made a last minute, fancy-looking, French pastry using only ingredients already in my cupboard.

I served my apple tart Friday afternoon with coffee after Mom, Auntie Sharon & I had visited a couple of nearby plant nurseries. I forgot to take a picture, but everyone said they liked it. The brandy gave it a nice depth of flavor, and the almond paste added a decadent sweetness.

Almond paste is my crack.

I wonder if I can pull off almond croissants like the ones at Peet's? Hmmm...

The next morning I realized I didn't have anything to serve for lunch. Mom & Auntie Sharon were coming by to take Emi to the bonsai show at our neighborhood park. Then I remembered I had some Gruyere cheese in the fridge and a plan began to take shape. I'd been wanting to make a Tarte D'Alsace inspired by Trader Joe's frozen version.

It's basically a crispy flatbread topped with caramelized onions, ham and Gruyere cheese. I thinly sliced two Farmers' Market yellow onions and caramelized them with butter, a little bit of leftover white wine, a pinch of sugar and slivered garlic. For the crust I borrowed Brandon's trusty pizza dough recipe, which I whipped up in the Kitchen Aid and rolled out while Mom stirred the onions.

Then I scattered the onions evenly over the dough, chopped up some prosciutto instead of ham and sprinkled it over the onions, and topped it all with grated Gruyere cheese. I baked the tart on a pizza stone in a 425 degree oven for about 12 minutes before taking it off the stone and baking it for a few more minutes right on the rack so the crust gets really crispy.

Brandon, my biggest critic, liked it so it must've been good!

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