Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wild Blackberries Tart

Unripe wild blackberries growing in Madrid area
To say that Madrid is a beautiful city is an understatement, but even the most delightful city can be stressful sometimes. Luckily, the regions surrounding Madrid offer an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life.  Whenever you are tired of the frenetic life in the city you can always escape to one of the numerous villages in the Madrid area and in half an hour you can find yourself surrounded by beautiful and soothing landscapes.

It was on hot Sunday morning that my sister and I decided to go and discover one of those beautiful places. We headed to Manzanares del real, a wonderful place just 40 minutes by bus from down town Madrid.

As soon as we started walking towards La Pedriza  protected biosphere along the river, we made a  pleasant discovery.
On the road sides the abundance of wild plants growing took me back in time to when I was young and used to make such little discoveries every time I left the city for  the village and  go to the fields to pick up apricots and plums, enjoy a corn on the cob grilled on wood flames, pick up luscious and inviting pomegranates, but above all to fill my stomach with ripe (and sometimes unripe) blackberries. Their sharp taste and fragrance were and still are too difficult to resist.

Blackberries filled the area, looking at me and my sister as if they were begging to be picked and eaten. It was the perfect surprise that complemented the joyous discovery of this wonderful village.
As we started picking and savoring that amazing taste of our childhood and remembering the good old days, we thought we should pick up some more to take home. We had a bottle of water that we emptied quickly and started to fill it as we walked along the riverside. It wasn't easy finding ripe fruits, but we managed to fill almost all the bottle. And this is how we got back to Madrid with some free fruits and a wonderful taste of the Madrid countryside.

At first I thought it was best to eat these fruits, fresh, as they are. But, it's not always easy finding quality fruits like that, so in honor of their exquisite taste, I decided to feature them in a tart. Who would say no to another tart with summer berries? I know I wouldn't!

Ripe blackberries, a true delicacy
It wasn't hard to come up with something that would do justice to these fruits. Their fragrant and sharp taste would perfectly complement a creamy velvety mascarpone filling accompanied with a buttery crust that melts in your mouth.

To do this mascarpone cream and blackberries tart you will need few ingredients, some patience and a lot of love.

For the crust you will need:
  • 250 g flour
  • 125 g butter
  • Tsp of sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • Ice cold water
This amount is sufficient for a 20 cm tart pan. If you have a larger pan or you need to do more calculate the amount accordingly. The steps needed to succeed in doing the crust were clearly explained in my previous post Tartelettes or mini tarts, so please check it for all the details you need.

Few steps are needed to have the perfect pie crust

For the filling
  • 200 ml of cream
  • 200 g mascarpone or cream cheese if you wish
  • 20 g of sugar
  • teaspoon of vanilla
  • Teaspoon of white rum, or any other liquor that you prefer

The essential steps you need to do
Whip the cream with the sugar until the cream is fluffy and has soft peaks. As you have noticed, the amount of sugar used in this recipe is minimal. You can add more if you want, but remember that you want a balanced dessert and not a sickly sweet one.
In a separate bowl, whip the mascarpone, the vanilla and the liquor to fluff up the cheese. Finally combine the whipped cream and the cheese.

Pour the cream into the cooled crust, or pipe it. It doesn't have to be an elegant piping. Then let the berries fall over the cream. You can add some shaved chocolate or leave it as it is. 

Blackberry and cream cheese pie with a hint of chocolate for added flavor

And now you can enjoy a summery and delightful dessert!

Light and fruity, a pie to do again and again

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tartelettes or Mini Tarts

A trio of mini pies or tartelletes
The French have cute names for desserts, don't they? Tartelettes or mini tarts are cute little pies that are such a joy to prepare and ideal for parties and birthdays. Like their bigger siblings, mini tarts or pies are made of basically two components, the pie crust and the filling. If you master the pie crust you will be able to prepare hundreds of sweet and savory recipes using a different filling each time.

The pie crust evolved throughout history. In the past it was made out of a simple flour water mixture and was used as a carrier to the filling and not as an essential part of the recipe. Pies, in the past, served societies' classes in a a rather peculiar way, the rich would eat the filling and leave the crust for the poor to consume. 

During the Renaissance, the pie pastry experienced many changes, fat began to be added and the recipe was taken to another level. It was made more malleable, served many purposes and became essential to the success of the recipe.

Shortcrust is one of these crusts that are used for tarts, pies or quiches. It is done by incorporating cold fat (butter or shortening most of the times) then adding a bit of ice water.
As the rule of thumb, the proportion of fat is half the amount of flour. There are some other varieties where egg is added or sugar, and sometimes even increasing the amount of fat to give even more flaky, delicate and buttery dough that melts in the mouth.

As for the filling you have an endless choices savory or sweet varieties. From a simple pie with jam to more elaborated and sophisticated fillings, where various textures might be mixed together to get a balanced but  surprising taste.

After enjoying the summer pudding I prepared earlier, I had many summer berries left, so I decided to use them in mini tarts or tartelletes with different shapes and fillings.

For the crumbly and buttery shortcrust you need (enough to prepare  9 to 10 mini tarts):
  • 200 g of flour
  • 100 g of butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspon of sugar
  • Ice cold water (cold water mixed with ice cubes)
How to:
The easiest way to make the  dough is by mixing the butter, flour, sugar and salt in  a food processor and pulse for just few seconds, you don't need more than a minute. At this stage the dough should look like wet sand, the kind that sticks to your feet while walking on the beach!

Transfer the mixture to a working surface or to a bowl, and start adding some water,  teaspoon by teaspoon. When you add the first spoon, mix it to the dough, but do not knead, and if the dough comes together in a ball, stop mixing. Usually for this amount you might need two teaspoons of water. However, flours differ in their capacity to absorb water. Therefore be careful when not to add too much water at once which will leave you with a sticky dough in need of more flour.

Another important thing to remember when preparing these kind of buttery and crumbly doughs is that you should not mix and knead like you would do when preparing a bread or pizza dough. If you do so, the pie crust will be hard which goes against the purpose of this dough.
When the dough is ready roll it into a disk or ball and let it rest in the fridge for at least half an hour before using it.

Preheat your oven to 180 C. On a floured surface, slowly start flattening the pastry with a lightly floured rolling pin. The dough should almost half a centimeter in thickness. Cut the shapes you want, put in them in the tray and again leave them in the fridge for 10 minutes. This additional resting step will allow the pie to keep its shape as it bakes in the oven.
Pie crust, few ingredients needed for sublime texture and taste
Before baking the pie shells, cover them with baking paper and some rice, beans, chickpeas or whatever you have available to keep the dough from rising. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the paper and the beans and bake for an additional 5 to 10 min or until the pastry acquires a beautiful lightly golden color.

I prepared several fillings, and they are all easy to make.

For the white chocolate ganache and blueberry filling you will need.
  • 125 g white chocolate
  • 75 ml  of heavy cream 
  • Few drops of creme de cassis which is a liqueur flavored with black currents
  • Some blueberries 
Heat the cream with the berries, pour them over the chopped chocolate, stir until well combined then add the creme de cassis.
Let it cool for some time then add it to the cooled pastry, you can add some drops of toffee, and then cover  fresh blueberries. The ganache might be a bit runny but is absolutely amazing.
For the love of angels, try this tart
For the mascarpone and raspberry mini tarts
  • 100 g mascarpone
  • 100 ml heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla 
Whisk the mascarpone cheese. At first it might get liquid but as you beat it more it will get thicker.
Mix the sugar with the cream and whisk until it thickens a bit then add to the mascarpone. Mix the cream and the cheese and beat until you get a fluffy and creamy texture.
Pipe the mascarpone cream into the pastry shells and decorate with fresh raspberries.

Red, white and golden, the colors of a great dessert
 For the redcurrants and chocolate ganache tartelettes
  • 100 g of semisweet chocolate
  • 70 ml of heavy cream
  • A teaspoon of vanilla
  • Some redcurrants
In a saucepan, heat the cream with the redcurrants. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate, mix until well dissolved and combined, add the vanilla and mix again, cool and pour into the tarts. Decorate with fesh redcurrants.
Red currants and chocolate ganache, a pure delight
And here you have it with one pie crust recipe and simple fillings you will have three different and delicious types of tartelletes, a pure delicacy that will surely impress.
Mini tarts with summer berries

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer Pudding

A summery pudding that refreshes and delights
It's summer, the perfect season for outdoor activities, vacations, sea-side promenades, family gatherings in mountains to enjoy the cool night, or by the sea to profit from the refreshing breeze.  

But above all, summer is the season for the best fruits and what is more summery than delicious summer berries. Whether eaten fresh or in desserts, summer berries never disappoint. What's better is that the great variety of berries will surely satisfy even the most picky eaters. Summer berries are the highlight of a refreshing and delightful summer treat that will satisfy your craving for a sweet, fruity and cold treat that give you, albeit temporary, a relief from the oppressive summer heat.

Bread has been a staple food since the earliest civilizations. In addition, stale bread was used since time by-gone in sweet and savory puddings which is a clever way to avoid wasting such a precious food commodity.  However, it is believed that summer pudding appeared in the 19th century Britain which consisted of  a pudding flavored with summer fruits especially  raspberries and redcurrants.

During my visit to Barcelona, I passed by its famous food market, La Boqueria, where you can find almost everything you can imaging. They had a variety of excellent berries so I couldn't resist buying some. Mind you, I consumed a lot of them fresh, and they were yummy. But I wanted to feature these berries in a dessert that would honor their taste and texture and what better than a home-style summer pudding.  
Summer berries are some of the most appealing and tasty fruits
For this recipe you will need (for a small bowl about 8 cm in height and 10 cm  in diameter):
  • 500 g of summer berries. I used strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and redcurrants. You can use the mix of fruits you desire.
  • Brioche bread: about 9 pieces. You can use other breads, but the brioche's butteriness and soft texture complement the tartness of the fruits.
  • A teaspoon of vanilla.
  • 100 g of sugar or a bit more if you want it sweeter. This would vary depending on the sweetness of the berries you are using.
The recipe is easy to realize, just follow these steps:

In a saucepan combine about 200 g of the berries with the sugar. Let them simmer on a low heat for few minutes until the fruits exude their juices and the sugar is well dissolved and combined with the fruity nectar.  Off the heat, mix the remaining fruits with the cooked berries.
Make sure there is enough syrup to cover the bread. In case you aren't sure, add some a tablespoon or two of water.

The four basic steps needed to prepare this dessert
While the fruits are cooling, line your bowl with plastic. Prepare your bread by removing some of the brown crust it has and start lining the bowl with the bread. Add the fruits and cover the top with the remaining bricohe bread. Seal it with plastic and refrigerate over night. Press down the pudding with a plate; this helps to get the pudding together and not fall apart as it you remove it from the bowl.
Candied rose petals add a romantic and luxurious touch to any dessert
The next day, remove the plastic that covers the top of the pudding, and then turn the pudding on the serving plate. Remove the plastic that covers the sides.
Decorating the pudding with rose petals

Decorate it as you wish. I used sugar glazed rose petals to give it a summery and romantic touch.
Crystallized rose petals adorn the pudding
The dessert is great on its own, but it can be served along with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  
Serve with vanilla ice cream for a more summery feel

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Catalan Menu: Part II, Crema Catalana

In my previous post, Catalan menu part I, I shared with you some of the easy and delicious dishes common throughout the Catalonia region and its darling city Barcelona. You all know I have a sweet tooth, so you didn't think I visited Barcelona without eating a dessert or two. If there's one dessert you have to try while in Barcelona, that dessert would have to be Crema Catalana, or Catalan cream.    

Catalan cream is similar to the french Creme brulee, but with some some basic differences. The French version is made with heavy cream and egg yolks while the Spanish or Catalan version is made with milk, egg yolks and corn flour as a thickening agent. The creme brulee is thickened through a bain Marie (a double boiler).

From a historical point of view, this dessert is considered as one of the oldest cream recipes in Europe as it was featured many times in medieval Catalan recipes books. The dessert apparently has some Jewish and Moorish influences as it is believed that it was within the Jewish tradition to thicken milk with eggs and the Moors added their aromatic flavors such cinnamon and lemon peel to it. 
In addition, this creamy dessert used to be served on the 19th of March, Saint Joseph's day, and that´s why it´s also called crema de Sant Josep. but now you can find it all year around!

Just few ingredientes, easy steps and you will get an amazing and refreshing dessert suitable for a distinguished end to a traditional and delicious Catalan meal or to enjoy in a beautiful summer evening or night!

For 2 persons you need:
  • 250 ml of milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 8 g of corn flour
  • 30 g of sugar
  • Flavoring aromas:  traditionally you need lemon peel and a cinnamon stick. However I added some additional flavorings: vanilla pod and lavender. You might be surprised by the use of lavender, however this flower adds an aromatic undertone that lifts the flavor of the cream to a new height.  
In a sauce pan, combine the milk and the flavoring aromas and let it simmer for few minutes.
While the milk is simmiring, add the sugar to the egg yolks, whisk throughly for about 2 or 3 minutes until the eggs are well aerated and pale in color .
Now add the corn flour and mix untill it´s well combined Strain the milk, and slowly start adding it to the egg mixture.

Bring back the mixture into the saucepan, put it on a low heat and start whisking slowly until the mixture start to thicken which will take a few minutes.
The cream now is ready to be poured into recipients. You can use clay dishes for an authentic feel.
Level the cream so you get an even surface, leave it to cool.
Then put in the fridge for a few hours.
When cream is cold, and ready to be served sprinkle sugar on top and with a blowtorch caramelize it.

When you caramelize the sugar, leave it to cool for few minutes.
The cream is ready to be served, decorated as you wish and enjoy a creamy, smooth and fragrant dessert!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Catalan Menu, Part One

Sagrada Familia Cathedral

Back to Madrid, my adopted city, from the amazing Barcelona but I can´t wait to go back and enjoy everything this city has to offer, especially its cuisine.

In Barcelona you can find all types of cuisines, but what one should really try is the local food. The Catalan cuisine is part of the Meditarranean diet, that is based on vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, cereals and seafood. In other words a very healthy, rich and delicious diet!

I have tried some of Cataluñia´s most popular dishes and in this post I will try to recreate some of them so you can sample a few of the treats that Barcelona can offer to you!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and what better way to start a journey with pa amb tomaquet; it´s the typical breakfast in Cataluñia and in many other Spanish regions. All you need for this simple dish is bread, garlic, tomato, olive oil, salt and pepper. Yes, just that, bread with tomato!

Simple ingredients for a great breakfast

Grate a medium-sized tomato, which is enough for one person, season with salt and pepper. Toast your favorite bread, while it´s still hot rub with a garlic glove, then drizzle some oil over the bread, and serve the tomato puree on the side. Dunk in the warm crunchy bread in the refreshing tomato sauce and enjoy.
A good way to start your day!
For lunch, why not try one of the Mediterranean most popular vegetables, the artichoke. Catalans are in love with artichoke, it's no surprise it ranks as the number 2 vegetable in Cataluñia after tomatoes. Catalans are pretty creative with its use and you can find it featured in so many local recipes. I will share one with you which I had in Barcelona which was incredibly delicious and is so easy to make.
Before baking in the oven

It´s Artichoke with Iberian ham and parmesan cheese, for it you need:
  • 500 g of artichoke (if fresh boil them until soft, if in jar just drain them)
  • Garlic (to taste)
  • 150 g of cured Spanish ham
  • Parmesan cheese (about 200 g or more)
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in an oven proof pan, add the garlic. Wait until the garlic smell hits you to add the artichoke. Stir for 3 to 4 min. Season with salt and pepper, but don't be heavy-handed with the salt as the ham and the cheese are salty, otherwise the dish will be too salty. Add the ham all over the artichoke, sprinkle the cheese and put in the oven. It´s ready when the cheese has melted and the ham is a bit crispy.
Creamy and hearty wholesome meal

Add some oregano and drizzle with high quality fragrant oil extra virgin olive oil. You can add pepper and rosemary if you want. Enjoy with some red wine or all by itself!
Serving suggestion

The main course will be with the one of Catalonia´s star products: Botifarra!
A sausage taking its source from an old roman recipe, it contains pork meat and spices, even though you can find other varieties where rice or blood are added and even truffles!
There is an endless list of botifarra recipes, and I chose the one with white beans since the buttery sweet consistency of the beans really compliments the meaty spiciness of the sausages. 

For the botifarra with beans you need, for 3 to 4 persons:
  • 600 g of sausages (2 pieces)
  • 500 g of cooked beans
  • A garlic clove
  • The juice of a lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of ground cumin and cinnamon
  • Chives
If you are lucky and have a barbecue, grill the sausages, if not fry them in a pan with some oil.
Sausages frying in the pan

Meanwhile heat the beans. Crush the garlic with the salt and the spices and add the lemon juice. Mix with the beans and add a little bit of the water you used to heat the beans and then drizzle with high quality olive oil.
Serving suggestion
Serve some beans in the plate and add the fried sausages and garnish with chives!

I know by now you're craving for something sweet, but that will have to wait a bit!