Tea Time

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My friend Val just launched a new online magazine, and I agreed to write a guest post for one of her first issues.  Read  about my short-lived love affair with coffee and find the recipe for this tea-steeped cream tart over at Bonbon Break.

I managed to get all the way through college without acquiring a coffee habit.

As a child, when I begged my coffee-chugging mom for sips of her coveted brew, she told me in a horrified tones how drinking coffee  would stunt my growth.  Clearly this made an impression on me (she barely clears 5 feet, so I figured she knew what she was talking about).  Now that I’m a mom, I realize she probably had her hands full without having one of her three kids amped up on caffeine.

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Tea Time

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I managed to get all the way through college without acquiring a coffee habit.

As a child, when I begged my coffee-chugging mom for sips of her coveted brew, she told me in a horrified tones how drinking coffee  would stunt my growth.  Clearly this made an impression on me (she barely clears 5 feet, so I figured she knew what she was talking about).  Now that I’m a mom, I realize she probably had her hands full without having one of her three kids amped up on caffeine.

My love-affair with coffee — which began and ended in my early post-college days — was brief.  Getting to work in downtown San Francisco by 9:00 a.m. exhausted me, and I started drinking coffee to make it through the day.  Around this same time, I also started suffering from what I thought were stress-induced stomach cramps.  Looking back, I can’t believe I actually thought 9:00 a.m. was early.

In any case, one morning, converging deadlines prevented me from making coffee.  After juggling several projects and finally completing all of them, I realized that I felt great.   Sure, I was pleased that I’d cleared my desk, but the best part — my stomach cramps had completely disappeared.

After a few coffee-free days, my stomach no longer troubled me, but I decided to have a cup of coffee just to see what would happen.  I did, in fact, enjoy my morning cup lightly sweetened and doused with cream, so I wasn’t going to give it up on a whim.  Like clockwork, my stomach cramped up, and I decided to give up coffee for good.

I already loved tea, so switching over didn’t exactly break my heart.  I’d spent a summer abroad in London during college and had wholeheartedly embraced the tradition of tea in the afternoon.   I simply started drinking tea all day long and never looked back.

I’m surprised it took me so long to try making a tea-infused dessert.  This one incorporates Earl Grey Tea in the tart crust as well as the filling.  It’s sweetened with brown sugar and flavored with vanilla, which complement the subtle tea flavor steeped into the cream.

The addition of fruit on top makes this decidedly unattractive tart presentable, and adds a tart contrast to the sweet, rich filling.

Even if you’re not a tea-lover, I’m guessing the creamy, sweet filling in this tart will win you over.

If you decide to share with your kids, you may want to do it early in the day or just tell them it will stunt their growth.   The last time my daughters ate it, they chattered wide-eyed in their beds until at least 11:00 p.m.

Earl Grey Tart with Fresh Berries

This recipe will fill a 9-or 10-inch fluted tart pan.  I usually steep the tea in the cream before starting on the crust.  That gives the cream plenty of time to cool before proceeding with the filling recipe.

Crust
1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon loose-leaf Earl Grey Tea
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick), plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut in slices
2 tablespoons ice water, strained, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whirl the first four ingredients in the bowl of a food processor until the tea leaves are coarsely ground.   Add about 2 tablespoons butter and process until you no longer see chunks.  Add remaining butter and process briefly, leaving chunks the size of peanuts.

Working quickly, turn on the food processor and pour the ice water and vanilla through the feed tube, stopping before the dough comes together.  Pinch a bit of the dough between your fingers.  If it does not stick together, add a couple of teaspoons more water and whirl briefly.

Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap.  Use the plastic wrap to help you create a large, flat disk:  fold the edges of the dough toward the center and press down to smooth out the roughness.   Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out dough into a circle to fit a 9-or 10-inch tart pan with about an inch of overhang all the way around the pan.  Transfer dough carefully into the tart pan, and then fold overhanging edge down inside the tart pan, pressing gently to help it adhere.  Prick the bottom of the crust all over with the tines of a fork.

Filling
1 3/4 cups heavy cream, milk or a combination of both, as desired
1 tablespoon loose-leaf Early Grey Tea
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 /2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 to 4 cups fresh berries

Preheat oven to 425° F.

Bring cream to a boil over medium heat.  Remove pan from burner and stir in tea leaves.  Steep for 10 to 15 minutes and then strain.  Set aside and allow to cool.

In a small bowl, combine sugars, flour, and salt.  Mix well, breaking up brown sugar lumps as much as possible.

In a mixing bowl, combine cooled, tea-steeped cream with eggs and vanilla;  beat until combined.  Add sugar mixture and mix well.

Pour the filling into prepared tart crust through a strainer.

Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350° F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until the filling is set 2 inches from the edge (don’t worry about the wobbly center; it will set up as it cools).  Remove pie from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Once cool, top tart with mixed berries.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Corn Meal

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My husband’s job as a marine biologist comes with certain geographical requirements.  Fortunately, we love living by the ocean, and we’ve bounced from beach town to beach town.

We’ve grown close to amazing friends in each spot.   Happily, scientist friends we’ve met along the way have similar geographical requirements, and so, not so coincidentally, we often find ourselves together again in a different beach town.

When we lived in Santa Barbara, CA, our friend Carrie and her husband moved there from Pacific Grove, CA, — our former home — after she finished her Ph.D program.   Carrie headed south before her husband and stayed with us while she looked for a place for to live.  The first day she arrived, she offered to make us dinner.

Carrie’s an incredible cook, so while I probably should have offered to make her dinner  — she had, after all, hauled herself down the coast alone — I couldn’t bring myself to to argue.

I’d never made polenta from scratch before, but as I watched her transform cornmeal into a smooth, golden porridge, I knew I would try soon.  She scraped the mixture it into my cast iron skillet, topped it with cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil, Gorgonzola, mozzarella, and pine nuts, and then popped it in the oven.

The smell of roasting tomatoes and garlic took the edge off a long day’s work wrangling coherent prose out of  high school students.   I remember feeling so happy that our friends had ended up on the same stretch of coast as us again.

Years have passed since then, and we’ve long since left Santa Barbara for our next adventure in Friday Harbor, WA.  I’ve made Carrie’s Skillet Polenta many times, and I always think of her when I do.

The other day, when I had a hankering for it, I found myself short on basil and Gorgonzola.  Not to be deterred, I subbed in sage and goat cheese, giving this old favorite a new twist.

I like it just as much as Carrie’s version.  Really, how can you go wrong topping freshly-made polenta with sun-ripened tomatoes, garlic, herbs, pine nuts, and lots of cheese.  Now that I’ve broken the mold, you can bet I’ll try out new combinations.

Carrie had some research to do at Friday Harbor Labs two years ago.  She brought her family to stay for the summer, and we had the chance to play on the beach again and share many meals together.

Visits with good friends always pass too quickly.

Until the marine biologist shuffle lands us — once again — on the same stretch of coast, I’m depending on Carrie’s recipes to help us feel close to her family.

Skillet Polenta with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Inspired by Carrie’s recipe (adapted from Epicurious).

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped and divided
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
4 cups water
1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese ( about 1 cup)
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese ( about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush a 12-inch-diameter ovenproof skillet generously with olive oil.

Toss tomatoes, garlic, 1/4 cup sage, pine nuts, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Combine water, cornmeal, and 1 teaspoon salt in large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Whisk constantly until the mixture begins to boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until polenta is very thick and pulls away from sides of pan, whisking constantly, about 3 minutes.  Whisk in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 cup sage.  Transfer polenta to prepared skillet, spreading it evenly in the pan.

Top polenta with tomato mixture.  Sprinkle evenly with goat cheese and mozzarella.  Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 20-25 minutes.  Let sit at least 15 minutes before serving. Cut polenta into wedges and serve from skillet.

For Skillet Polenta with Tomatoes and Gorgonzola:  Replace sage with fresh basil and goat cheese with Gorgonzola cheese.

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Cherries on Top | Cherry Upside-Down Cake

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Cherry juice soaks into this lemon-infused cake during baking, making it super-moist. This Cherry Upside-Down Cake looks impressive and tastes delicious.

The day before our last camping trip, I found a bag of cherries in the back of my fridge.   Since they were almost past their prime, I decided I to bake with them rather than throw them in the cooler with the rest of the food for our trip.

I asked Eliza if she felt like helping with a project as I waved our cherry pitter like a magic wand.  In seconds, she hopped into the kitchen asking, “Cherry Pie?”

I actually had my heart set on making a Cherry Upside-Down Cake, but this two-word question from my pie-obsessed daughter nearly changed my mind.   While I waffled, I remembered that we needed to transport our dessert–and everything else– to the campsite in our prodigiously packed Prius.

On a previous trip, I discovered an easy way to transport cake;  I simply slipped plastic-wrapped cooled layers into clean baking pans and squeezed them into the car with the rest of our gear.

Fortunately, Eliza agreed that cake seemed a better idea;  besides, she knows the mere suggestion of pie-baking quickly turns to reality in our house.   Almost certainly, a cherry pie will emerge from our oven in the near future.

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Peachy | Peach Pie with Blackberries & Ginger

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It’s hard to go wrong with sweet peaches, handpicked blackberries, brown sugar, and lots of love. This Peach Pie with Blackberries and Ginger hits the spot.

Peach Pie with Blackberries and Ginger

While devouring Sarah Weeks’ mystery novel Pie, Eliza decided she wanted to bake her way through the recipes that appear at the beginning of each chapter.   For me, this seemed like a great challenge to embark on with my budding reader/baker.

Eliza set her heart on trying out the peach pie recipe first.   In addition to the sheer deliciousness of this ephemeral summer fruit, the fact that Alice –the book’s young sleuth-protagonist– loves peach pie best certainly helped sway Eliza in its favor.

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Crystallized

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

A couple of years ago, when Eliza asked how people made salt, my husband grabbed a pot from our kitchen, walked down the hill to his lab, and filled the pot with filtered seawater.   He returned in minutes and started heating the water on our stove.

Moments like these remind me–despite the small living quarters–how cool it is to live at a marine research lab.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

Our pot of seawater boiled, burbled, and then sputtered saline explosions in dangerous arcs through the air.  Long after our windows had fogged, long after heavy water droplets streaked down the windowpanes through thick condensation, long after we’d lost interest in monitoring the pot’s contents, a thick salty paste coated its bottom.  We transferred this sludge to a baking pan and heated it at low temperature in the oven until the salt felt dry to the touch.

Our salt, with its coarse, irregular texture, tasted different, not surprisingly, from ordinary table salt you can buy at the grocery store. Eliza, who would eat salt by the spoonful if we let her, entreated us to make more.  And so,  inspired by her curiosity and our success, we started making salt full tilt.   We even came up with a goal for ourselves:   we hoped to produce little jars of handmade salt as Christmas gifts for friends and family members.

Sea Salt for Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

Grasping the serious limitations of salt production in a 900-square-foot cottage didn’t take long.   About three to four gallons of saltwater yields maybe 150 grams of salt — enough to fill one small jar.   Imagine all of that water evaporated into our tiny living space.  Even with all the windows open, boiling water for hours on end made our tiny Pacific Northwest cottage seem almost tropical in humidity.

Fortunately, we roped some friends into the project;  they usually keep a pot of water on their wood stove in fall and winter, and they loved the idea of handcrafted salt.  Soon we were hauling a five-gallon container of filtered saltwater to their house every few days.

Our collective efforts produced enough salt for both of our families to give jars of salt as gifts and leave us with a supply for our own kitchens.

But that was two years ago.

Now that I’m down to the last jar, I use our salt sparingly.  Until fall arrives, and I can get our salt factory in production again, I’ve hidden the jar and only bring it out when a recipe really calls out for it, a recipe, say, like this Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

It tastes even better than I imagined, this tart.    A thick, sweet caramel layer hides between a smooth, glossy chocolate ganache and a tender, chocolate-pecan, cinnamon-spiced crust.  A light sprinkling of salt on top looks stunning and imparts amazing bursts of flavor that set off the tart’s rich sweetness.

The process of transforming one set of crystals — sugar — into caramel on my stove, juxtaposed with the final addition of another set of crystals atop the tart — salt — that emerged from a boiling pot of water on that same stove, gives me a certain satisfaction.

To bring this salt’s journey full circle, we took our dessert down to the beach.  Eliza fashioned herself a kelp cup and washed her tart down with seawater.  No kidding.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

Of course you can use any good salt to sprinkle on top of this tart, but if you have the chance, I recommend making your own.

Whatever you do, go eat your dessert on the beach.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

Inspired by Saveur and The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.  Makes one 9-inch tart.

Crust
1 cup pecan halves, toasted
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Caramel
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons water

Ganache
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup crème fraîche
sea salt for garnish

For the crust, preheat oven to 400°F.  Whirl toasted pecans in a food processor until the pecans are finely ground and the mixture begins to look oily.   Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat 1 stick butter until fluffy.  Add the salt, vanilla, cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa, and blend until smooth.  Add the flour and stir to blend.  Finally, add the nuts.  The mixture will be dry.

Lightly grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the crust into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until it the crust is set (the dark color makes it hard to tell, but it’s done when you can just begin to smell the chocolate.). Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside to cool.

To make the caramel, combine cream and crème fraîche in a 2-cup measuring glass.  Whisk gently to combine, and then add butter pieces;  set aside.

Whisk sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water together in a 1-quart saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil–without stirring–until a candy thermometer inserted into the syrup reads 340°F.  Remove pan from heat and add the cream-butter mixture (the mixture will bubble up like mad); whisk until smooth.  Pour caramel into the tart shell and allow it to cool slightly;  cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.

For the ganache, place chocolate pieces in a 2-cup measuring glass;  set aside.  Gently whisk cream and crème fraîche together in a 1-quart saucepan;  bring to a boil over medium heat.  Pour hot cream into prepared measuring glass; without stirring, let the cream-chocolate mixture sit for 1 minute.  After 1 minute elapses, stir slowly with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and glossy.  Acting quickly, pour ganache over the caramel, and then carefully pick up the tart pan, tilting and rotating to spread the ganache to the tart’s edges.   Refrigerate uncovered until set, about 4–5 hours.  Sprinkle tart with sea salt, slice, and serve chilled.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart
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