Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Easy As Pie

When Paul's birthday rolled around a few weeks ago, I opted to cook dinner for him rather than take him out. Partially because we had been out to dinner with twenty of his closest friends the night before so it would have seemed a tad repetitive to go to yet another restaurant, and partially because I figured I could provide a bit more luxury with respect to the food than I would be able to afford at a restaurant.

I had planned to make a veal roast in the manner suggested in A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes (cream, cream, morels, you get the idea, it was amazing), saffron carrots, a green salad courtesy of our CSA box, and his absolute favorite item in the world, the humble potato. Who says he isn't of Irish descent?!

For dessert, I briefly considered a cake, but with the weather so hot and the dinner party so small, it just seemed to be altogether too much.

Now I have quite vivid memories of the fruit pies, tarts and crisps my mother made when I was growing up...we just about lived on them during the summer when peaches and nectarines were plentiful and in the fall when our apple trees were prolific. Due partially to the steamy weather and partially to the good associations with baked fruit desserts, my imagination rushed to that realm almost immediately. How perfect would a birthday pie be?

But you see, I did have to be careful. Paul has many wonderful traits, but his tendency towards finicky eating is one that I occasionally find difficult. But this being his birthday, I honored his abhorrence of large pieces of onion (very small is acceptable), anything involving asparagus and his wariness of stone fruits. What to fill the pie with? I felt raspberries were a safe bet, I'd seen him request a raspberry cocktail at a restaurant recently.

I recalled a recipe that I had found to be intriguing in Serena Bass's delightful cookbook Serena, Food & Stories (you simply must try the meatloaf and accompanying sauce, I was somewhat of a revelation) for a Raspberry Frangipane Pie. Her introduction described a meeting she held with a group of fashionistas to discuss party menus for Fashion Week. Assuming no one would eat anything, she set the pie out as a token offering. By the end of the meeting it was gone. How could I resist trying such a magical confection?

The pie essentially consists of a crust, fruit, and an almond cream . It was, as I hoped, delicious. The tart edge of the raspberries (I didn't add any sugar) was a perfect foil for the richness of the frangipane. It was lively, unexpected, summery...everything you want in a warm weather dessert. And then the pie got me to thinking...I've had something like this before...what was it...aha! Last summer Clotilde inspired me with the idea of a walnut cream under Italian plums in a tart. And I was obsessed with it until plum season ended. And a year later had totally forgotten about it.

Now I recall what a wonderful guiding principal the idea of nut cream and a complementary fruit is for pies and tarts. The options are endless...peaches with hazelnut cream, strawberries with almond cream, apricots with pistachio cream...and on and on and on.

As my mother counsels, I stick with Martha Stewart's pate brisee for the crust, but I tend to be less strict with the concoctions that fill the tart. I've provided both Clotilde's and Serena's recipes for nut cream here (I love the heavy does of liqueur that Serena advises and the creme fraiche that Clotilde suggests), but they are of course just starting points. Assemble you tart (blind bake your crust first) or pie with a thin layer of cream on the bottom and a generous dose of fruit on top (sprinkle with sugar or don't, I leave it up to you and your fruit), throw it in a preheated oven (375 perhaps?) for as long as it takes for things to bubble, and you'll have perfection on a plate.

From Serena, Food & Stories by Serena Bass

Yields enough for one pie or tart

1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup sugar
2 extra large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon whiskey, cognac or rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract (I omit this)

Put all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and blend for 30 seconds. Scrape around the base with a rubber spatula and blend for another 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and set aside.

Walnut Cream
From Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier

Yields enough for one pie or tart

1 1/4 cup walnut halves
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
3 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 teaspoon vanilla, rum or other flavoring of your choice

Combine walnuts and sugar together in a food processor and grind to a coarse powder. Add egg, creme fraiche and flavoring and mix again. Mixture may be prepared up to a day ahead.


A World in a PAN said...

What a fantastic meal!!! Lucky Paul!

Emily said...

I would never have thought of almond cream in a pie, but it sounds amazing!

Farmhouse Kitchen said...

Oh Laura..the birthday dinner sounds amazing..and I LOVE the pie. I do love raspberry pie...there is one that I make out of the Silver Palate..can't remember which one..but it has Creme de Cassis in it..and it is GOOD. I am dying to try the walnut cream..I bet it would be fantastic with apples this fall. Hummm Apples and favorite.

I am facing my brother's 40th birthday dinner here tomorrow night. Just as you..we opted to stay home. I'll cook..actually John will bbq. We're doing salmon.
I want to do John an asian soy to follow.

I think it is fun staying in for a birthday too....Makes for a relaxed evening...

More later

Laura [What I Like] said...

A World In a Pan - Yes, that's what I told him.

Emily - I know, it doesn't automatically come to mind does it? But thank god someone came up with it...

Farmhouse Kitchen - Oooh, yes apples sound fabulous. Dinner sounds amazing, I hope you have a dishwasher enlisted to help out!

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