Friday, July 31, 2009

The pastry experiment

EATING all those fabulous French pastries, as well as reading about fabulous French creations, inspired me to try to tackle one of my great baking fears: pastry.
Yeast, I’m fine with. Meringue? No worries. But the thought of making pastry, for some reason, sends me all to water.
Or it did, I should say, until I sucked it up, set an afternoon aside and had a go at creating these apple frangipane tarts.
Before I even pulled my apron on, several hours were spent sitting in front of the bookshelf, surrounded by piles of cookbooks and the laptop, searching for just the right recipe for both the tart shell and the frangipane base.
Frangipanes appear to go one of two ways: cakey or creamy. Since I didn’t have any cream in the house and it was cold outside, I went with a cakey, Bakewell tart-style recipe from my favourite cookbook, The Essential Baking Cookbook.
Recipes for a basic shortcrust pastry are all very similar, so, armed with a mix of recipes from the baking bible and Tartelette, the other baking bible, I was set to go.
Five hours later, the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it. There was flour on the floor, pastry scraps on the bench (and the floor) and I think I used every bowl in the house. I wish I’d taken a photo ... although on second thoughts, it's probably best not to have any photographic evidence. Geez it was fun though.
And how did they turn out? Well, the pastry was a bit tough in places (I got a bit nervous that it wasn’t coming together enough and I think I added too much ice water) and the frangipane rose more than I was expecting, turning my artfully arranged apple pieces into the Mongolian steppes rather than the delightful roses I was hoping for. But they tasted pretty good.

Apple frangipane tart

Quantities enough for one 20cm tart, or (as I did) two 9cm tarts and a freeform attempt with the leftovers

Shortcrust pastry

1 cups plain flour
90g unsalted butter, chilled, chopped
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tbs ice water
1 egg yolk

Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in sugar. Add butter and, using your fingertips, rub butter into flour mixture until it looks like breadcrumbs. (You can use a food processor, in fact most recipes suggest it, but I don't have one.)
Make a well in the middle and add egg yolk and almost all the iced water. Mix with a flat-bladed knife and add the rest of the water if it seems dry.
Turn out onto a floured surface, pat into a disc and wrap in cling wrap. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Divide the pastry into three and roll it out between two sheets of baking paper to cover the base and sides of the tin you're using. Gently transfer into greased tin and refrigerate again to rest.
Blind bake shells in a pre-heated 180C oven for 10 minutes, remove the paper and baking beads and then bake again for 7 minutes or until golden and dry.
Allow to cool.

90g unsalted butter
1/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Several drops almond essence (amount to taste)
2/3 cup almond meal
1/3 cup self-raising flour

Cream butter and sugar with electric beaters until light and creamy and add the egg and almond essence, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Fold in the almond meal and sifted flour with a metal spoon.
Spoon the frangipane into the tart shells and arrange sliced apple on top. Brush apple with a little melted butter and sprinkle sugar over the top.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until risen and golden.

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