Friday, August 21, 2009

Collision of Forces: Peach Tart

Three forces collided today. First, I saw the movie Julia & Julie last night. Of course, it made me want to cook (and I realized, shock, that I do not own one single Julia cookbook). Second, I happened to have the last of some lovely freestone peaches from the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia. Third, my sister keeps sending me postings from smittenkitten.com, an amazing food blog with amazing photography.

The result: a freestone peach tart.

As I am sans Julia's spirit or her recipes, I thought I would stay French and in roughly the same time period. I grabbed my seldom used, but fun to read Real French Cooking by Savarin, published in 1956 by Doubleday. This Savarin is not the Brillat-Savarin of the 18th century, but rather a Robert J. Courtine, nicknamed "Brilliant Savarin," according to the dust jacket. Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1970, must have indeed been a breakthrough in its level of detail and illustration.

Savarin's book is more a collection of directions, aphroisms and instructions. Reading his "recipes" recalls times when I watched my grandmother cook, no true measuring cups or spoons in sight and a casual demeanor that came from decades of experience and much confidence.

In his foreward, he admits his approach is "unusual" and then says that first efforts at recipes "should be strictly succesful".

In the chapter on Cakes and Confections, he provides five basic pastry mixtures, including a "Short Pastry for Pies, Tarts, Etc." To appreciate the task, I will give you his directions in entirety:
Put your flour on the pastry board--half a pound for a decent-sized tart or flan--and work into it half as much butter, with a pinch of salt. (It is better to mix with a silver fork than with the fingertips, which soften the fat too much.) When the blend is satisfactory, pour on a little cold water, stirring with a spatula. As soon as you have a homogeneous mass, roll it out with a rolling pin. Leave it to 'settle' for a short while before lining the greased tart- or pie-dish with it. Prick here and there with a fork, to prevent puffing-up.
Later he directs the cook to bake it for 25 minutes in a moderate oven.

I'm more of a baker than a pastry chef. Bread requires emotion and feel, passion and warmth. Bread baking, despite the dire warning of many break cookbooks, does not require exact measurements or thermometers. Pastry I have had less success. As much as I want to be, I'm just not the exact, measuring, perfectionist type. Savarin's recipe, therefore, appealed to my personality.

I've made tart pastries before and I know about chilling for hours, rolling out, being gentle. Today, I didn't have the time or patience to follow such exacting ideas. And, after all, the French have been making tarts much longer than they have had freezers or even refrigeration, right?

(Now, at this point, I should admit that one other reason I am more a baker than a pastry maker is that I seldom follow a recipe exactly, even one as vague as Savarin's.)

I didn't have as much unsalted butter as I would have liked, so I subsituted some light cream cheese. My scale does not work as I've yet to go to a store to buy the right little shiny round battery since it died in California. I used my German measuring cup for 400 ml of flour, which meant I wasn't exactly sure how much butter/cream cheese to use. I went with about 4 oz of cream cheese and 4 Tbsp butter.

My 20-year old blender/processor combo no longer works (and the bowl would be too small anyway). I'm in the market for a new processor. As a result, I followed Savarin's instructions on using the silver fork on my wooden bread board. The dough just didn't come together like I wanted and I added more water than I expected to get it to meld.

The peaches were more succesful. I sliced them uniformly and cooked them down in a large pan with some Riesling (maybe 1/3 cup?) and a little sugar. I purposefully didn't stir much as I wanted the juice to cook down without loosing the form of the peaches.

I "lavishly" buttered my tart pan, per both Savarin's instructions and in honor of Julia's fondess for butter. The buttering definitely worked and beat any spray I've used. I baked the tart pastry at 350F for about 30 minutes. It didn't brown as nicely as I would like and tasting of the trimmings found it a bit tough (need to get that processor soon), but that extra bit of durability helped the tart hold the juicy peaches in the end.

Savarin says,
Appetite is bred by variety as contempt is bred by familiarity, kitchen-lore thus resembling love. And the woman at home, mistress of many arts, must know that table-ties are powerful ones, perhaps, in the long run, the strongest of all. Good tables are indeed the centres of happy homes, the lure and the sustainer of loving hearts.
We also grilled pizza tonight, a yummy learning experiment, but more on that later.

5 comments:

Rick said...

Yummy, wish I could eat such things. You make it look so good and interesting to fix.

Love you my dear

Amanda said...

it looks beautiful.
i'm smitten w/ smittenkitchen!

GlobalNomad said...

Well it looked good. And the peaches were lovely, but the crust was too tough.

Rick said...

Tough or not, I would gladly partake, if I would not get a belly ache.

Linda said...

Beautiful; you are an amazing young woman. I would have loved to sample it.