Egg Custard Tarts

One of my favorite things to eat in New York on a Sunday morning was some delicious Chinatown dim sum. Whenever we'd go, my boyfriend would always devour the egg custard tarts. So I was curious to see if I could make them myself. They're more popular in China and Great Britain than in the States, I had to improvise a little, translating a Paul Hollywood recipe from metric system to the U.S. system.

These were little heartbreaking buggers to make. Of the twelve I made, six couldn't keep themselves together out of the pan. I was surprised by how sloppy they looked too, compared to the lovely perfect ones Paul made:

However I have been called a perfectionist, so despite being a little messy, they did taste just as egg custard tarts should.

For the pastry:
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup butter, cold and unsalted
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
For the custard:
3 cups milk
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of ground nutmeg

1. Combine the flour and ground almonds in a bowl.

2. Add the butter and mix until it looks like dry sand, then add in the sugar.

3. Add the whole egg and mix thoroughly, finally bringing the dough to a ball shape.

4. Place the dough on a floured surface and form into a disk shape refrigerate 1/2 hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

** I knew that these would be hard to get out, so I lined the tins with strips of parchment paper to help get them out. I highly recommend doing this!

6. Roll out the pastry into a large 1/8 inch thick circle.

7. Using a 4 1/2 inch cutter (way larger than you would expect) cut out circles of the pastry and carefully line the muffin tin. The pastry needs to reach all the edges of the tin and come slightly over the top. Place in the fridge while you make the custard.

8. For the custard, warm the milk in a sauce pan until just warm to the touch (think luke warm).

9. Beat the 7 egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a separate bowl until pale and creamy.

10. Carefully add the milk to the egg/sugar mixture, making sure to stir vigorously, you don't want the yolks to curdle.

11. Put the custard in a pouring jug or use a measuring spoon and carefully pour the custard into the molds. You want the custard to stay in the pastry, if any spills along the sides, the custard will cause the entire tart to stick to the pan.
12. Add a pinch of nutmeg over each tart.
13. Bake for about 30 minutes. For the last 10 minutes I reduced the heat to 350 F, as they were looking pretty brown and I didn't want to curdle the custard. You know you've over done them if they balloon up too much.
14. Let them cool for 30 minutes before trying to get them out. Seriously. Wait. The custard has to set completely before these things can stand up on their own.

Alright so these do look pretty rough. I will definitely have to try again on these, because I wasn't satisfied.


Buttercream, a Study

If you think all buttercream frostings are the same, you're out of your mind. When I first started working at the cupcake shop, I quickly learned (amateur that I was) that there is no one way to make a delicious buttercream (or one right way). Specifically, there are at least five major ones; Swiss, French, German, American, and Italian. They all use very similar ingredients, your basic butter, sugar, eggs, and cream, but with their own style and proportion to make them each different in texture, color, and taste.

Some stuff you need:
- Time/patience, these things take a while
- A hand or stand mixer
- Sauce pot

American Buttercream
A lot of snooties out there don't quite consider this "real" buttercream, as it has no eggs I guess and is so simple to make. It's a combination of soften butter, confectioner's sugar, a little milk, and an extra flavoring (usually vanilla). It can have a thicker, less light consistency that the others, although it is quite delicious on some cupcakes. It's also really easy to add heavier flavors, like chocolate.

Swiss Buttercream
More formally known as the Swiss Meringue buttercream, as that is the basic ingredient, this is a lot lighter and finer than American buttercream. Egg whites and sugar are heated over boiling water, till the sugar dissolves. The eggs and sugar are then beaten together to make a thick meringue, and then butter is slowly added to the mix.
French Buttercream
This one is by far the richest buttercream as it uses all the butter as the others, plus egg yolks. The method is very similar to Swiss; you heat eggs, sugar, and half the butter over boiling water, before whipping the heck out of it all and adding more butter later. My Orange Buttercream is actually French, yum!

Italian Buttercream
Another beautiful meringue buttercream, this one is (in my opinion) the most light and delicate, but it can be a little tricky to make. Instead of heating the egg whites, you whip them on their own till stiff peaks form, while making a simple syrup out of sugar and water. Then you carefully pour the hot syrup over the eggs while they are being beaten. If you stop there, you have a beautiful Italian meringue. But then the butter is added, and the cloud deflates and looks like it's curdled, but you keep at it, until it's a smooth, light consistency.

German Buttercream
This bad boy I had to look up. It begins with a custard base, heating milk, eggs, sugar, and even more egg yolks, that thickens and cools before its whipped into oblivion. Then butter is added slowly while still beaten.

Raspberry Linzertorte

This is a bit of an over due post. I made this festive holiday tart around New Years, but I was so excited about the french macarons, that it got a little bit lost in the shuffle. But it turned out beautiful and tasted delicious, so it was well deserving of a post. I got the recipe from the Real Simple December 2013 issue, but the pattern on top was inspired by another Lindzertorte recipe in Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts. I really enjoyed making this, because it was so simple but still looks very impressive and elegant.

Total time: 2 1/2 hours
Bake time: 35- 40 minutes

1 1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (and a little more for dusting)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup cold, unsalted butter
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 oz raspberry jam
1 teaspoon powdered sugar, optional.

If you have raw almonds, toast them in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven or toaster oven for 5-10 minutes.

1. Pulse the cooled, toasted almonds in a food processor until finely ground.
2. Add the 1 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp nutmeg to the food processor and combine. 
3. Add the cubed, cold butter and pulse until the mixture is the texture of rough sand. 
4. Add the 3 egg yolks and 1 tsp vanilla. Combine till the dough begins to come together when pinched.
5. Separate a forth of the dough and form into a disc. Cover in cling wrap and store in the fridge for 1 hour (or up to two days). The dough really needs to firm up or it'll run everywhere.
6. Take the remaining dough and press it into a nine or ten inch tart or pie pan and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour- 2 days.
*I used a ten inch tart pan that I think was meant for quiche, but it worked really well. You want the edges about 1/2 an inch in thickness. Also, try rolling a rolling pin over the top of the tin to get flat, uniform edges.
7. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. 
8. Fill the dough in the tart pan with the jam.
*I just happened to have seedless raspberry jam in the pantry, but you get fancy and use homemade. Actually any jam would go great with this, so go nuts.
9. Role the disk of dough out on well floured surface, to about 1/4 inch thick. You can cut the dough into rounds (Real Simple recommends), but I went for the more traditional pattern.
10. Bake 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar to serve. 


French Macarons

The french macaron. The most fanciest of all tea cookies. By far the most difficult and finicky cookie I have every tried to bake. After two terrible attempts and many egg whites, I finally got the delicious, sweet biscuit I was hoping for! These are so pretty and sweet, and darn impressive; they are well worth the effort and frustration. I made mine with fresh strawberry buttercream, but you can fill them with jam, ganache, or chocolate.
Bake Time: 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup Almond Meal/Flour*
1/4 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
Food dye, any color
*Almond meal or flour (synonymous) can be tricky and expensive to find. You can try and make your own, which I did for my first attempt, but the almonds released too much oil and flattened the cookies. Home-made can be done, but I found it worth it for these picky cookies to just to get store-bought almond meal/flour.

Extended Instructions:
1. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. 
2. Sift 2 cups of confectioner's sugar and 1 cup of almond flour into a large bowl. Toss out any large pieces left over. Mix the two together until thoroughly combined.
3. In a another bowl, separate the 3 eggs. Beat the whites until they are pale and fluffy and soft peaks begin to form. 
4. Gradually add the 1/4 cup sugar and one or two drops of food dye until firm peaks appear.*The cookies will lighten as they bake, so make the batter bright.
5. Carefully fold the sugar/almond mixture into the eggs, 1/3 at a time. Try to use 20 strokes for every 1/3 of the mixture, about 60 total.
This part is tricky: you don't want to over beat the batter, or else you'll loose all the air and the cookies will be flat. But you also must beat them enough so the cookies don't balloon in the oven and crack. This is where many a baker will trip up, it takes time to get a feel of it. The mixture should be very thick, but still pliable enough to slide off the spatula when lifted.
6. Fill a piping bag or plastic bag with batter, using an approximately 1/2 inch tip. Pipe the batter into little 1 inch swirls on the parchment paper lined-cookie sheets.

7. Tap the cookie sheets sharply onto the counter, several times. You want little air bubbles to float to the surface and the cookies to round out (so they don't look like hershey's kisses.)
Attempt #1, too runny didn't even put in the oven.
Attempt #2, too much egg.
Attempt #3, perfection.
8. Let the macarons sit for thirty minutes, so that a film will form over the top. While this is happening, preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Also a good time to make the filling.
9. Bake 20 minutes. 
10. Place a dollop of filling on the bottom of one cookie, and place another macaron on top.
Tada! Delicious and beautiful, sweet, crunchy, and chewy. These maybe difficult to make, but once you get it right, they are fun and delightful to eat.
Bring on the glamour shots...


The Beauty of Boxed Mixes

There's something truly wonderful about snow days. With a fresh six inches of snow on the ground, I decided it was a good day to bunker down and bake. But because my family just got back from vacation, the house was a little low on food. So I scrounged up a banana bread mix. I modified it a little to be muffins, and added some walnuts from the freezer. Voila! Simple, quick and satisfying.

 A lot of people turn their noses up at boxed mixes, but there's nothing wrong with them. Unless you like taking your time and using all the pots and pans in the kitchen. Now a days, they are getting extremely fancy, with more gluten-free and organic options than ever. I like to think of boxed mixes as great bases, that you can then add your own spin on. It can be as obvious as adding chopped walnuts, but little things can make boring boxed mixes super yummy, and fast too! 

California Croissants

I recently got back from a trip to Los Angeles, CA. It was my first time in California, so I  expected great weather and fresh, delicious food. And it didn't disappoint. My entire family took the trip to see our school play in the Rose Bowl (we won!). While the restaurants we visited were awesome, the most delightful surprise for me was found at the hotel's humble breakfast buffet: the croissants.

Just, just look at that.
I have been searching for months for a crispy, flaky croissant with my coffee, and have thus far been terribly disappointed by Williamsburg (which, bafflingly, has some fairly delicious coffee shops). The croissants I found were floppy things that were the size of my face. I've been dying for the real deal ever since I saw this:
To put it in perspective, the closest thing I found was at Starbucks. Starbucks.

So when these buttery beauties were simply next to the muffins and breakfast sausage, I couldn't help but relish in the joy of finding a treasure I'd long since given up on. And yes, I was thoroughly teased for my enthusiasm.

Thank you California!

Cocoa Shortbread Hearts

I needed a simple, quick cookie recipe to make as a gift for my boyfriend's family this Christmas. These took me less than two hours from start to finish, and with a rather basic ingredient list. I got the recipe from Martha Stewart's Cookies. This book is great; there's over 500 recipes of every kind of cookie and biscuit you can imagine.
These chocolatey roll outs are rich and  crumbly, with butter acting as the only wet ingredient (magic!). They are meant to be drizzled with white chocolate, but I was short on ingredients so I just melted regular semi-sweet chocolate chips.

-1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
-1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-1/4 tsp salt
-1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 oz chocolate, chopped

1) Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit
2) Mix the flour, confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl.
3) Add the butter and vanilla and mix thoroughly until the mixture begins to come together.
* The directions recommend using a food processor, but if you don't have a one know that it can be done without! I did this by hand, using my awesome shiny pastry cutter (another gift). I worked the very dry mixture for 5-10 minutes. A fork or two knives could also work just as well.
4) Shape the dough into a ball.
5) Roll out the dough onto a floured surface, about 1/4 inch thick.
6) Use any kind of cookie cutters to cut out the cookies. I used a little heart-shaped one.
7) Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, bake 20-25 minutes, until firm to touch.
8) When the cookies are finished, let them cool on wire racks. Place parchment paper beneath the racks. Allow to cool completely!
9) Melt the chocolate, either in the microwave or in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water.
10) Place the melted chocolate in a pastry or ziplock bag, cut a small hole in the corner and drizzle the chocolate back and forth over the cookies.
11) Put the drizzled cookies in a cold place to solidify the chocolate, for about 20-30 minutes. (I stuck mine in the chilly garage). Or just eat them right then and there.
Voila! Fast and delicious cookies, perfect to fit in tins. And they don't have to be too pretty, they'll look great and thoughtful no matter what.

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