Petite Bartlett Pear Tarts

Petite Bartlett Pear Tart

The last time I was in Paris I was lucky to have sampled Cedric Grolet’s William Pear tarts, just out of the oven. Smitten, I looked for William pears but the closest pears I could find were baby Bartlett pears. They appear at Whole Foods our my Midwest farmers market around The beginning of October. My almond cream does not have any flour. Never fear, it will set up,just fine without it. find it creamier and lighter than a traditional Frangipane that’s made with flour. Six 4″ partially baked Pate Sablée or Pate Sucrée tart shells (You can use your own recipes or find mine on my pages. You can also use the Pierre Herme recipe which appears in his own books as well as Doris Greenspan’s books. It is my preferred pate sucree recipe at this point in time).

YOU WILL NEED THE FOLLOWING COMPONANTS for six 4 inch tarts:

  • 9 fresh Bartlett pears about 2.5”-3” tall
  • 1 cup of almond cream
  • Six 4” pate sablée or pate sucrée partially baked tart shells (You can use your own recipes or find mine on my pages. You can also use the Pierre Herme recipe which appears in his own books as well as some of Doris Greenspan’s books. It is my preferred pate sucree recipe at this point in time). You need about 370 grams of dough for 6 tart shells. You will have to re roll the scraps. Make sure not to over bake them. They should be firm and pretty blond. They’ll take on quite a bit of color in the oven during the second bake.
  • 1/2 cup of sliced almonds for garnish
Read More

English Style Scones

One More Bite scones and Strawberry/Lemon Preserves

Having a scone at a little tea room in Clovelly, England was a revelation. Clovelly is a little fishing village, my favorite kind because I love the sea. The cafe was built into the side of a cliff that bordered the beach. I remember the precipitous descent from the top of the cliff down rickety stairs, a thin white railing keeping us from plunging down to the beach below. The scones were the best we’d had in England. They were light and soft and not too sweet or rich, forming the perfect platform for thick Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves.

Beach at Clovelly
Cottage Tea Rooms

Since Clovelly, those many moons ago, I have fiddled around with a number of recipes, looking for that memory I had. I often start with Cooks Illustrated because everything is scaled and it makes it that much easier to sort out how to adjust ingredients. They have a recipe for a English style scones and it was good but not quite what I was looking for. In the end, I used it as an outline but made some changes. I also tried Mary Barry’s recipe and a few other British recipes that call for self rising flour. Getting self rising flour in the states is difficult and expensive. I didn’t find that it made a difference in the finished scone, so I wouldn’t no her with it. The difference between British self rising flour and US AP flour is that the British flour has baking powder in it and is milled from softer wheat. You can always try this recipe with pastry flour, which is lower in gluten than AP flour. Keep in mind, flours that are lower in gluten will need less liquid, so hold more back and add as needed.

INGREDIENTS

Mise en Place
  • 425 grams (15 oz) all purpose flour (Gold Medal or Pillsbury)
  • 113.5 grams (4 oz) cultured butter, room temperature, about 65-70 degrees
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons double acting baking powder
  • 100 grams (2 large eggs)
  • 245 grams (1 cup) whole milk
  • 68 grams (1/3 cup) superfine sugar

Read More

Sandra’s Stuffed Zucchini (Courgettes Farci)

Another of my friend Sandra’s Recipes. I helped her make this one the same weekend she made the Artichokes à la Barigoule in her stone house in Chartres. We picked the tarragon, parsley and zucchini in her garden and purchased the ricotta and feta at the farmers market.

You can improvise with the herbs although I suggest always using parsley and chives. Sandra used thyme, when she first made this for me and I do that version but often substitute tarragon or chervil when I can find it.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 large zucchini (about 2.5 pounds)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon or thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 8 oz ricotta
  • 3 oz feta cheese
  • 3oz grayed gruyère cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Salt
Read More

Pear Preserves with Star Anise and Vanilla

Please read my page on preserving before you attempt this recipe

I love pears but they are very low in pectin and thus problematic to use in preserves. There are a few solutions for this issue.

You can purée one third to one half the pears and keep the other half in large chunks. The purée thickens the preserves base which compensates for the looser gel. You can add a high pectin fruit to the pears. Nice pairings are, white or red currants, green apples, lemons or cranberries or pineapple quince. What’s important to respect is the delicate flavors of pears so when I mix in other fruits I use a ratio of 2:1: two parts pear to one part partner fruit. You can also use about two teaspoons of Ball pectin (not the low sugar pectin). I make sure you mix it with a few tablespoons of your sugar so it doesn’t clump. As an extra anti clumping step, I dissolve the pectin/sugar mixture in a small bowl with some of the hot liquid from the preserves. When I’m certain it’s dissolved, I throw it into the pot while stirring. The pectin will help the pears gel as long as you also use a pectin bag with the shells and seeds of the lemons you juiced for the preserves. I also save all my lemon seeds in the freezer and you can add whatever you have. Throughout the year, as I juice lemons for other preparations, I put the seeds in a zip lock bag and throw them in the freezer.

With this preserve preparation, I will be getting the pectin I need from the the juiced lemon shells and The body I need by puréeing half the pears.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.2 kg (2 3/4 lb) ripe but firm Fetel or Bartlett pears or 1kg net
  • 750 g (3 3/4 cups) grams superfine sugar
  • 60 grams (1/4 cup lemon juice from tart lemons (about two Eureka lemons)
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • Pinch of salt
Read More

Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti (with variations)

Being Italian, I remember biscotti always being in my grandmothers pantry or my mother’s cookie jar.

Every Christmas, my Grandma Natalia and my Aunt Nina made dozens of biscotti. Some they kept and some they gave away in great big tins, each cookie hand wrapped in waxed paper. They took one dough and made several different types of cookies: biscotti flavored with lemon and anise and studded with almonds, little pillows with cinnamon sugar, and little logs covered in sesame seeds.

Over the years my mother collected a variety of biscotti recipes and would bake them, put them in tins and freeze them. They freeze really well and we always had a variety of biscotti for dessert.

There are several formulas for biscotti, using different fats. My grandma Natalia and Aunt Nina used vegetable shortening. My mother has a few recipes that use butter and some that use only whole eggs or whole eggs plus yolks.

One of my favorites is a biscotti recipe with cranberries and pistachios. I have altered it a bit, to make it my own. They are very crunchy biscotti, meant to be dunked in coffee, tea or a glass of Vin Santo. If you like this formula, which uses no fat other than the egg yolks, you can keep the base and just substitute the additions. These biscotti have a very crisp bite. Hazelnuts or dried cherries and chopped bittersweet chocolate, chopped chocolate and candied orange rind, almonds and apricots and walnuts and dates are all nice combinations. You can add spices, Vanilla or citrus zest as well.

You’ll notice the Beth’s Little Bakeshop logo in the cup. It’s where I’m currently a pastry chef. If you come to Evanston Illinois, stop by for a biscotti and a cup of Intelligentsia coffee.

Read More

Grandma’s Favorite Soup (meat and vegetable soup)

This is a vegetable soup on which my brother and I grew up. It was loved even by my father who hated vegetables. It is a soup that my own children devoured even when a bite of a vegetable would make them gag.  It is a vegetable soup base that is pureed and becomes a thick base for chunks of veal, beef and pastina.

it wasn’t until my first trip to Florence that I realized this was a fairly typical Tuscan preparation and is called Zuppa Passato. I hope you enjoy it as ha e three generations of my family.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb carrots
  • 1lb celery
  • 1 lb onion
  • 20 oz tomatoes, preferably San Mariano tomatoes DOP (that means they are certified San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1/2 lb green beans
  • 2 lb beef bones
  • 1lb chuck roast
  • 1 lb veal breast or shoulder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon Italian Seasonings
  • 1tablespoon salt

Read More

Sorrento Lemon Marmalade Two Ways

Sorrento lemon marmalade

I’d like to share two easy ways to prepare lemon marmalade. Blanching or chopping peel by hand is not necessary.

I’ve used Sorrento lemons here but you might be able to use Meyer Lemons or Blood oranges. They key is to use citrus that doesn’t have bitter skin. With bitter skinned citrus you have to separate the peel from the fruit and blanch it anywhere from 5 times for oranges and lemons and 7 or 8 for grapefruit. It’s a tedious and time consuming task.

I discovered the joy of Sorrento lemons in Sicily. They are used in lemon salads, Marmalade and fish. They have beautiful perfumed skin and juice with almost no bitterness in the skins. The first time I tried them I was smitten. Imagine my joy when I stumbled upon Sorrento Lemons imported from Italy at Whole Foods at the beginning of the Covid-19 confinement in Illinois. It was the last trip I took to the grocery store and I bought about 8 pound of lemons figuring I wouldn’t be back anytime soon.

The two styles of whole fruit marmalade: Italian style English style. What is the difference? The Italian marmalade is more of a jam, thick and glossy but opaque. The English style has bits of peel suspended in a clear jelly. Keep in mind that for the most visually beautiful marmalade it is necessary to separate the peel from the rest of the lemon, supreme the segments and make a pectin bag with the seeds and membranes. It’s a lot more work.

The English style looks beautiful but I really prefer the Italian style. You need to cook it less because you chop the peel really fine and it thickens the mixture even before you boil it. The flavor is a bit cleaner and brighter. The English style is lovely but I do cook it a few more degrees to get a decent gel.

Make them both and decide which you prefer. You can also add flavors like lavender, ginger or elderberry or a low pectin fruit, like pears, for a little variety. In that event, I prepare the pears separately, up to the point of the last boil and using my standard ratios (look at my page on preserving). I prepare the lemons separately, up to the point of the last boil and combine them for the last boil. If you use elderberry syrup, I’d add it a few minutes before the marmalade gels.

So, I hope I inspire you to make some marmalade with these lovely Sorrento lemons. Just a bit of a warning, the classic ratio of fruit to sugar in marmalades is 1:2, one part fruit to two parts sugar, far more sugar than I would use for non citrus fruits. I have reduced the amount of sugar with the Sorrento lemons because they are not as bitter or tart as Seville oranges, grapefruit or standard lemons. My ratio is 1 part fruit to 1.5 parts sugar. I would advise against lowering the amount of sugar because it will take longer to gel and you’ll risk over cooking it and risk losing the fresh lemon flavor. If in the end it tastes too sweet you can always add a bit of citric acid or Eureka lemon juice.

Please read my page on preserving before you make this recipe. I go over cooking vessels, sterilizing jars, making a pectin bag and testing for gel.

INGREDIENTS FOR BOTH MARMALADES

  • 1000 grams (1kilo) Sorrento lemons (imported from Italy)
  • 1500 grams of sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 sterilized jars and lug lids lined with Plastisol (you’ll probably only use 3-4 but I like to have extras)
  • Clean, lint free cloth
  • Wooden skewer
  • Borosilicate beaker or metal ladle and funnel
  • Jelly roll pan and silpat

Read More

Cornmeal-Cardamom Thumbprints Cookies with Orange Marmalade

orange-marmalade-thumbprint-cookies

The origins of this cookie started with a recipe I fell in love with from Carol Walter’s Great Cookies book. It’s her Cornmeal/Cardamon Biscotti recipe which in turn was given to her by Sam DeMarco. So it goes with recipes. It is one of the best biscotti recipes I’ve tasted although I did significantly cut the cardamon so it is a whisper not a roar. Around the time that I made the biscotti I tasted a thumbprint cookie that someone had filled with orange marmalade. I thought the cornmeal/cardamom biscotti dough might make a nice little vehicle to house the orange marmalade.

I scaled all the ingredients to grams, which is much more accurate. I eliminated the raisins, thinking that the marmalade would be sweet enough. I altered the baking time since it’s a thumbprint cookie, not a biscotti. I believe it maintains the delicate crisp texture that drew me to the original biscotti recipe that inspired this variation on a theme of cardamon, cornmeal and almonds. I’m tempted to add a little sweet and or bitter almond oil to boost that flavor. If someone tries that please let me know how you like it.

INGREDIENTS

  • 185 grams AP flour (1 1/2 cups spooned in and leveled)
  • 75 grams cornmeal ( 1/2 cup spooned in and leveled)
  • 2 tsp double acting baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 143 grams slivered almonds (1 cup)
  • 150 grams superfine sugar (3/4 cup)
  • 114 grams whole eggs (about two large eggs)
  • 113 grams unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
  • 227 grams good quality Seville orange marmalade (1/2 cup)

Read More

Grandma Nat’s Authentic Sicilian Cannoli

The only other cannoli I’ve had that rivals my grandmother Natalie’s was from a now extinct pastry shop in Chicago called La Pasticeria Natalina, which was owned by a talented young pastry chef called Natalie Zazour. Interesting that the two Natalies made the best cannoli I’ve had in this country. Daniel and I are going to Sicily this fall to celebrate his graduation from college so I’ll keep you posted about the cannoli in Sicily. Zazour’s cannoli were different than mine, made with imported sheeps milk Ricotta, dark chocolate chips and a strip of candied orange. They were lovely and I’ve tried them with my family but I always return to Grandma Nat’s, at their insistence.

The first key to good cannoli is to fill them to order, So, if you see pre filled cannoli in the refrigerator case at a bakery, walk away.

The second key to good cannoli is the shell, which must be light and crisp in order to contrast with the creamy filling. That is why you can’t pre fill them. Every minute they sit in the refrigerator they soften from the moisture of the filling and the inherent moisture in the refrigerator case or your refrigerator at home. You can fill them really fast with a pastry bag, so it barely saves time if you pre fill them and stick them in the fridge. And no, don’t fill and freeze them. Just don’t. This recipe makes about 40 shells. Grandma Nat used to keep them in a shoe box on the top landing of her two flat. The staircase to her apartment wasn’t heated so the shells kept well in the dry chill of that space. Hers lasted about 6 months.

The third key to a good cannoli is a filling that is light and creamy and has the unique taste particular to ricotta. Whether you use sheep’s milk ricotta or cows milk, make sure it’s whole milk and it’s creamy. If it’s grainy, you’ll never be able to eliminate that grainy texture even if you work it through a fine mesh sieve or tami. If you live in or around New Jersey, I would recommend trying sheep’s milk ricotta. You can order imported sheep’s milk Ricotta from Pastacheese.com. I love it but it’s too expensive for me to get it shipped to me from New Jersey. When you shop for ricotta insist on tasting it. It should be smooth and creamy, tasting of fresh milk. My grandmother has a technique for lightening the ricotta that I’ve never seen elsewhere: she makes a biancomangiare, which is cornstarch pudding, with whole milk. It lightens the filling without adding richness or a competing flavor. I love mascarpone and I know those who use it for cannoli but in my opinion, it’s too rich and its flavor overpowers the ricotta. Some use whipped cream. It’s not traditional and not very stable and once again, you want your filling to taste like fresh milk, not cream. It would be worth trying to mix Italian Meringue into the ricotta instead of the biancomangiare. You’d have to reduce or eliminate the powdered sugar but the Italian Meringue might lighten the ricotta without affecting the flavor and would be more stable than the biancomangiare. I don’t know how it would affect the texture. However, for the home cook, the biancomangiare will be easier, and my family has forbidden me from altering the recipe. So, if you try Italian meringue let me know!

So, I offer you Grandma Nat’s cannoli and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Read More

Spaghetti Alle Vongole Veraci (Spaghetti with Manila clams)

Spaghetti-With-Manila-Clams

I just returned from a two week trip to Sicily with Daniel. It was great to get away, just the two of us. We walked, we ate, we walked some more. We looked at a lot of Greek and Roman ruins, absorbed the incredible history of Sicily, a country who welcomed many different cultures and managed to keep bits and pieces of all of them. Then we ate some more.

The seafood in Sicily is incredible if you stick with the local fish. There is an endless supply of swordfish, sea bass, scorpion fish and crustaceans. One of my favorite dishes is Spaghetti Alle vongole Veraci. Vongole Veraci are small Manila clams. They meat is more delicate and sweeter than other types of clams and the shells are small and beautifully colored with purple.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did, sitting at a table by the sea.

Three generous servings

Read More