Cranberry Curd Tartlets

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This fall I was lucky enough to come across a mass haul of fresh, local, and organic cranberries. These bright, tangy berries freeze remarkably well, and not unlike lemons they are capable of producing a punchy curd that can be used in a variety of desserts. When paired with orange juice, a handful of brown sugar, some good vanilla extract and placed in a nutty shortbread shell, cranberries are happy to shine on center stage.

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Cranberry Curd Recipe

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cranberry Curd
Ingredients:

14.5 oz fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup fresh orange juice (from about 3 oranges)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed (2.5 oz)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks plus 1 whole egg

Method:

Combine the cranberries, water, and orange juice in a medium saucepan. Cover the pan and set it over medium heat. Cook the cranberries for 35-40 minutes, stirring frequently, until they pop and release liquid. Use the stirring tool to burst open any stubborn cranberries. Remove the pan from the heat just before the liquid begins to thicken. Use a fine mesh strainer to separate the juice and the pulp from the solids, making sure to scrape the bottom of the strainer to include all the pulp. You should have 1 3/4 cups of juice with very fine pulp. Discard the remaining seeds and solids.

In a clean pot, cook the cranberry juice with the sugars, salt, and butter until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts, approximately seven minutes.

Whisk together the egg yolks and whole egg until the mixture lightens slightly. Vigorously whisk in the warm cranberry liquid one tablespoon at a time. Return the mixture to the pot, and cook over medium-low heat while whisking constantly. Cook the curd until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and registers 160° F on a candy thermometer. Strain the curd into a glass bowl and cover securely with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let cool completely to room temperature. The curd can be made up to 1 day ahead and stored well covered in the fridge. Loosen the refrigerated curd by stirring it with a spatula before assembling the tarts.

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Spiced Pecan Tart Shell Recipe

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Sweet Tart Dough, in Baking: From My Home To Yours
Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (188g)
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (4.5oz)
1 large egg yolk
35g toasted pecans

Method:

Lightly grease 8 to 10 small individual tart shells with removable bottoms.

Combine the flour, icing sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Place the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor along with the toasted pecans. Pulse until the pecans are fairly finely ground with some visible bits remaining.

Add the butter to the food processor and pulse just until the largest chunks of butter are the size of small peas. Lightly whisk the egg yolk with a fork. Add the yolk in three batches, pulsing after each addition. Once the egg is added, pulse in long ten-second pulses until the dough begins to clump and curd. Dump the crumbly dough out onto a clean work surface and knead sparingly to fully incorporate the ingredients.

Place a small handful of dough crumbs in the bottom of a tart shell. Press the crumbs gently but firmly along the edges of the shell. Place another tiny handful of crumbs in the shell, then press them down evenly and seal the edges to form the bottom crust.

Place the tart shells on a tray and refrigerate them for ten minutes. Prick the bottom of each tart with a pointed toothpick approximately 8 – 10 times to dock the shells. Place the tarts in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Bake the tart shells for 12 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 5-6 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the bottoms are completely dry. Let cool completely on a wire rack. The shells can be made up to 1 day in advance. Store the shells in their individual pans in an airtight container until you are ready to assemble.

To Assemble

Carefully spoon or pour the curd into the prepared tart shells. Slide the tarts to one side of the tray so that they remain stationary then cover the tops with a sheet of plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour to set the curd. At this point, the tarts can remain in the fridge overnight and be served the next day.

Just before serving, prepare the whipped cream topping.

Chantilly Cream Recipe

1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar or granulated sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine all three ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Carefully remove the tarts from their individual moulds. Top the curd with a generous scoop of whipped cream and serve immediately.

Contemporary Pecan Pie

Here is what you need to know about this pie:

A mixture of brown sugar and honey takes the place of corn syrup.
Brown butter makes it toasty and rich like a dark cup of coffee.
One tablespoon of lemon juice cuts through the sweetness like a knife.
A subtle 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon adds depth and warmth.
It tastes 100% traditional.

When I set out to make a classic pecan pie without corn syrup, I had to pause to ask myself why. Was it because corn syrup is inherently evil? Had I just been brain washed into thinking that it was that bad? I had avoided corn syrup in the past largely because it seemed a more processed product than raw honey and organic maple syrup, but to completely denounce the sweetener without any research hardly seemed fair.

What I discovered was that due to the unknown effect of consuming large amounts of fructose, high-fructose corn syrup is generally considered to be a consume-at-your-own-risk kind of ingredient. On the other hand, pure glucose syrup is a simple sugar that has several interesting applications in the kitchen. The problem is that most commercial corn syrup actually contains an unspecified amount of high-fructose syrup as an ingredient, unless the brand advertises otherwise. Eventually, after sifting through multiple conflicting articles, I decided that regardless of the possible pitfalls of corn syrup, honey and maple syrup are always going to be superior options for me. Not only do they impart so much more flavour, but it is incredibly easy to find people who produce these products locally and organically.

With that settled, I turned to crafting a recipe that was both free of corn syrup and ‘traditional’ – that is one without bourbon, chocolate, or any other third party ingredient attempting to offset the sweetness. Rather, I relied on the subtle aroma of darkly browned butter, a whisper of cinnamon, and soft notes of floral honey to add dimension without compromising the classic flavour of molasses and nuts. Use this as an opportunity to see how far you can brown your butter without burning it, and you will be rewarded with unparalleled flavour.

Contemporary Pecan Pie
Adapted from: Carole Walter. ‘Southern Pecan Pie.’ Great Pies and Tarts.

Ingredients:

1 disc prepared pie pastry*

7 tablespoons unsalted butter (3.5 oz)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons mild honey
8 oz pecans

*an additional disc of pastry is required for a braided edge

Method:

Roll the disc of pastry into a 12 inch circle. Carefully fit the pastry into a 9 inch pie plate, then crimp or decorate the edge as desired. Freeze the shell for at least 30 minutes.

Darkly brown the butter, then let it cool while you prepare the other ingredients. Click here to learn how to make brown butter.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the oven racks so that you can place the pie plate on a rack in the lower middle of the oven, and a baking tray underneath it on the bottom rack.

When the oven has finished preheating, toast the nuts on a baking sheet for 6-8 minutes or until they are aromatic and slightly oily.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, white sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt.

In a large measuring cup, combine the cooled brown butter, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

Pour the liquid over the sugar mixture and stir until the ingredients are moistened. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, just until they are well combined. Wisk gently – you do not want to incorporate too much air into the mixture or it will puff up during baking. Whisk in the honey.

Remove the prepared pastry from the freezer. Spread the cooled nuts across the bottom of the pie shell. Give the filling a final stir then pour it over the nuts. Fill the pie to a scant 1/4 inch below the top of the crust, to allow room for the filling to expand during baking.

Place a large metal baking sheet on the bottom rack of the preheated oven. Place the pie on the middle rack and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour, rotating carefully after 30 minutes. Use a pie shield if necessary to prevent overbrowning in the last 20 minutes. The pie is finished baking when the crust is completely golden brown and the filling has puffed up through to the centre. The filling should still wobble slightly when the tray is jiggled, and it should only begin to crack in the last few minutes of baking – if at all.

Let the pie cool completely before serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Brown Butter Spiced Madeleines

Earlier this week I ventured into the heart of hipster Toronto, to visit my old haunting grounds in Kensington Market. This is one of my favourite places in the world for several reasons, but what really keeps me coming back is the sheer density of food, art, and fashion jammed into one energetic space. Nothing gets me excited like the thought of more culturally diverse markets, spice stores, and delicatessens than I know what to do with. It did not take me long to spot a bakery that had sprung up in my absence, and I was dancing when I realized I was in for a treat. Go to Blackbird Baking Co. and get yourself some bread, because the wholegrain Pullman I took home set a whole new standard. And if vegan restaurants and vintage clothing is more your thing, there is plenty of that in the area as well.

With it being fall, the season in which we add spice to everything, my main mission was to restock my depleted spice cabinet. A fist-full of whole nutmegs, ground ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, all-spice, and Chinese 5-spice together create the base of a solid winter horde. Since balancing spice is an acquired skill, I thought what better to learn than to whip up batches of bite-sized madeleines, each flavoured with a slightly different combination of spices. After much munching, this version emerged as the winner.

Brown Butter Spiced Madeleines
adapted from Epicurious, Spiced Madeleines

Ingredients: 

3 3/4 oz unsalted butter, browned and cooled*
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (94g)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ceylon cinnamon (or 1/2 teaspoon regular cinnamon)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
large pinch all-spice
pinch salt
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 large eggs, at room temperature

*Click here to learn how to make brown butter

Method: 

Brown the butter. Whisk in the vanilla extract and let cool to lukewarm.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, all-spice, and salt.

Whisk the eggs and sugars together until well combined.

Add the flour to the egg/sugar mixture and gently whisk, or fold with a rubber spatula, until no streaks of flour remain. Quickly fold in the cooled butter just until you have a uniform batter.

Cover the top of the batter with plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Butter and flour a madeleine pan. Fill each cavity 2/3 full with the chilled batter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350ºF and bake for another 6-8 minutes or until the centers spring back to the touch.

Turn the madeleines out onto a wire cooling rack. Dust with icing sugar just before serving, or drizzle with a simple glaze of water and icing sugar once they have cooled.

Apple-Cranberry Pie

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Apples rank high among the many ingredients that I have no excuse for purchasing anywhere but locally, and lucky for me sometimes I don’t even have to do that. This versatile fruit is much like rhubarb and zucchini around here, in the sense that during one week of the year everyone suddenly encounters an overabundance of crop. If that sounds like a complaint than I apologize, because what I really want to do is bust out the bobbing barrels and throw an apple harvest party. Before you laugh, remember that we have entire festivals dedicated to both maple syrup and pumpkins.

Certainly worth celebrating is the fact that Ontario is home to some of the best baking apples in the world, including the much coveted and super crispy Northern Spy. The key characteristic one is looking for when choosing apples for pies and other desserts, is a flesh that holds its shape well after baking. Some apples will rapidly disintegrate when heat is applied, which is especially problematic if you like to partially cook the fruit or prepare the filling beforehand. A quick internet search will turn up which varieties grown in your area are the best for baking, and which are best left for making applesauce. In this particular pie I used a 3lb bag of local McIntosh, but when options are available consider using a combination of apples and playing with different flavours.

For the crust, use your favourite recipe for all-butter pie pastry or try this one from Four and Twenty Blackbirds via Food52. Their formula and method is genius, and certainly deserves a place in a serious pie maker’s repertoire.

Apple-Cranberry Pie
Adapted from Four and Twenty Black Birds via Food52
And Williams-Sonoma

Ingredients:

2 discs prepared pie pastry*

3 lb (whole) tart baking apples
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 ground all-spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 oz fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

*For complex designs or heavy lattice patterns, part of an additional disc of pastry may be required.

Method:

Prepare the pastry as directed. Roll one disc of pastry into a 12 inch circle, and fit it into a 9 inch pie plate. Return the shell to the fridge to chill while you make the filling. Roll out the second disc of pastry as thinly as possible without stretching or tearing the dough. Using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or scalpel, cut the pastry into long strips for a lattice. Alternatively, use cookie cutters to stamp out pieces for a unique design. Refrigerate the prepared pieces of top pastry.

In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar with the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice, salt, and tapioca starch. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4 inch thick wedges. In a Dutch oven or a large non-stick pan, gently toss the apple slices with the sugar mixture until they are evenly coated. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the apples begin to tenderize. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Let the filling cool to room temperature.

To prepare the cranberries, combine with the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the orange juice in a medium saucepan. If using frozen cranberries, cover the pot and heat on low, stirring occasionally, until the berries have thawed. For fresh cranberries, cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until some of the berries begin to break down and the natural pectin has thickened the liquid. Remove from the heat and let cool completely to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400°F

Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the cooled apple and cranberry mixtures. Scrape the filling into the chilled pie shell, leaving only enough room to fold over and crimp the pastry (if you have some filling leftover that is fine). Arrange the top pastry over the fruit, seal the edges if necessary, and crimp as desired.

Bake in the preheated oven for 55-65 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is a rich golden brown. Rotate the pie halfway through baking to ensure even colouring, and use a pie shield to prevent the edges from overbrowning if necessary.

Let cool completely before serving.