Monday, July 25, 2016

A Fermented Version of Curtido is the Best Ever

If anyone is familiar with Pupusas, those marvelous little antojitos (cravings) from El Salvador, then you also might be familiar with the Curtido that is generally served alongside.

I was first introduced to Pupusas in 1971, in Guatemala at the InterFair, an international fair that brought all sorts of things to exhibit from all sorts of countries. There were stands that had machinery to exhibit for sale, stands that had little handicraft items for sale. It was a study in contrasts. My understanding (as I was only in the country for a little over a year at that point) is that prior to then, where Pupusas were sold at a little stand at that fair, these treats were relatively little known as such. 
Fermented Curtido
Fermented Curtido

But let me tell you, once they were introduced, they spread everywhere like wildfire, soon popping up on many street corners, sold from someone's stand or even from a window in someone's house. They became a staple around our house. We all loved them, including the kids.

So what are Pupusas?

Interestingly, I have never made these, because I have not made tortillas from scratch. Pupusas are nixtamalized corn, ground to make tortillas, then filled with usually one of three things, either minced chicharrones, pureed black beans, or cheese. Once the ball of masa is opened up a bit, then filled, and then patted out to thicker than a tortilla, it is fried or cooked on a hot comal. As if this was not just goodness itself, there was always a condiment to go with them, called Curtido."

Okay, Curtido?

Curtido means "pickled". But this condiment was a lightly pickled mixture of cabbage (the main event) with onion and carrot, possibly garlic, and fresh cilantro and oregano. Salt and vinegar were the pickling ingredients and it would set together in a big jar for a few days. This was doled out along with the pupusas. And it was heavenly.

I love cabbage, just about any old way it comes around. I realize not everyone is as enamored of cabbage as am I, but still. I loved the pupusas, but the curtido positively MADE the flavor. 

Fermented Curtido
So last year I was introduced to fermenting foods, and I quickly went on to make sauerkraut, then a long series of other ferments, some more of a hit than others. I learned a lot over the last year, both about fermenting and what works. I continue to ferment foods on occasion, trying to eat something fermented at least once a day. There is a Red Cabbage and Beet Kraut that has been a real popular ferment with me. My husband won't touch them. If it is pickled in vinegar, look out. But the ferments? No, he doesn't seem to want to try them at all. Me? Oh, MAN, I love them. I am not so into pickled things though. My husband and I - we are a real case of Jack Sprat and his wife. 

Okay, so as I started thinking about Curtido, I wondered if it was possible to make the stuff fermented or not. Obviously, the vinegar would not be used. Fermented vegetables rely on salt to hold off any harmful bacteria while the vegetables themselves begin to ferment. So I set down a recipe and made a one-quart batch to try out. I let it ferment for about 6 weeks. 

The result? This Fermented Curtido is now my top of the list most favorite of ferments! I was concerned about the use of oregano in it. I don't mind some, but this was a little heavier than I generally go with the amount. But it was really delicious. While I have no pupusas to use it with, I sort of make a quickie quesadilla with two corn tortillas and some cheese melted in between. It is marvelous.
Fermenting Curtido
Fermenting Curtido

Fermented Curtido

makes about 1 quart

1 small cabbage, about 1 pound
1 onion, quartered
2 - 3 carrots, peeled and coarse shredded 
2 Serrano chilies, minced or sliced
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup starter from a previous ferment, or whey 
water, if needed

Shred cabbage and place in a large bowl. Slice the onion quarters into thin quarter rings and add to the bowl with the Serranos, carrots oregano, cilantro and sugar. Sprinkle on the salt and toss the vegetables. Let stand for an hour. 

Add in the lime juice and starter liquid (mine was from a batch of fermented salsa) and begin squeezing the vegetables to break them down as much as possible. Alternately, use a meat tenderizer with a flat side to pound the vegetables. Either way, this reduces the volume to about half what was started. The vegetables should have created a lot of juice by this time.

Pack this mixture into one or two jars, preferably the bail and wire latch sort, and pack it down very tightly int he jar. Press very hard to get the vegetables very compact and submerged in their liquid. Leave at least 1/3 of the jar as headspace, because as the vegetables ferment they tend to lift and create an amazing amount of liquid. Cover the vegetables with a cabbage leaf, or even the bottom core end of the cabbage (cut off flat) to press down the vegetables. Use weights is needed to keep everything under the brine. Add water only if the vegetables do not have enough liquid to cover by a minimum of 1 inch. Stick on a piece of masking tape and mark what the ferment is, and what date it started, and what date to check it. 

Set on a counter and cover it with a towel to keep out light. Gently burp the jar daily, opening it only minimally to allow any gases to escape.

Check it in three weeks for flavor. I left mine for 6 weeks and it is absolutely perfect. So perfect that I now have another batch, doubled this time, fermenting away on the counter. I can hardly wait!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

An Old Cake Recipe to Love

I have a recipe from a long time ago, more than 25 years ago in fact. I cannot say where it came from. Back then I copied down a recipe if it sounded good, with no concern for where it came from. This cake called my attention because it used pureed prunes in the recipe. I love prunes. It is a spice cake, which is also something I love, so this was a pure match made in heaven. 
Prune Spice Cake
Prune Spice Cake

It had been a really long time since last I made this cake. I was working on a cookbook for my daughter in law and this recipe was one going into the book for her. I now much prefer to take my own photos of foods I make, but back long ago that was the farthest from my mind. In fact, the recipe had no photo with it when I found it so long ago. I felt it might just be time to remedy these things: making the cake again, and getting photos for the first time.

The cake is a marvel of moistness, from the pureed prunes and ground nuts (a sure bet right there) to the extra sour cream I added in to the recipe. It is rich and dark and moist and spicy. I stopped right where I was with working on the cookbook and went downstairs to make the cake.  

When I thought about what kind of icing to use on this cake, I was just not in the mood for the traditional confectioners' sugar kind. I opted instead for the remake I made of my Grandma's icing recipe, which uses a cooked cornstarch & milk pudding as the base. For the cake I was making when I reworked Grandma's recipe, I called it Honey Butter Icing, and it can be found by clicking on that title. It was the perfect icing for a perfect spice cake. Creamy and smooth, it doesn't seem so sweet as some, though it has plenty of sweetness.

Prune Spice Cake
Prune Spice Cake

Prune Spice Cake

makes one (2-layer) 8 or 9-inch cake,
or one 9 x 13-inch cake

1 cup melted butter
1½ cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking Powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup cooked prunes, pureed
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup sour cream

Prepare pan(s): use either a 9 x 13-inch, sprayed with cooking spray, or two 8 or 9-inch round pans, sprayed with cooking spray, then lined with parchment and sprayed again. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat together melted butter and sugar in bowl of electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the prune puree.

Sift together flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition. Stir in pecans and the sour cream. Pour into prepared pan(s).

Bake for about 35 minutes or until cake tests done

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Delicious Channa Masala or Chickpeas at Their Best

I just love Indian food. I might have mentioned this in past blogs. Once or twice. Maybe 20 times? Anyway, I make Indian food now and again and sometimes I get on a roll.Lucky for me, my husband also loves Indian food. Granted, I do not make it fiery hot. I love spices, in the sense of Masalas and all the great spice flavors that make Indian food so wonderful. I just leave out the majority of the chili pepper part. Otherwise my husband would not eat it at all. 
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas

So a few days back, I had been surfing the web, looking for something, when I came upon the recipe for the Chicken Seekh Kebabs I wrote about a few days back. And then I came upon some new spices I hadn't heard of before. And then one thing led to another and I was printing off recipes faster than I could keep track of. As for how I end up making a recipe, that is another story. I generally look up other people's ideas on a particular dish and then cull from that what I want to do. So it was with a Pork Curry, which I will write about later. Today I want to celebrate Chickpeas. Garbanzo Beans. 

One recipe for Channa Masala has been in my recipe collection for over 15 years. I made it once and my husband decided he didn't like it. I never made it again.
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas

Until a few days ago, as I was wading through a slew of delicious-sounding recipes and recognized the name of this dish. As anyone knows, each person who makes a dish, no matter how authentic, puts their own spin on it. So it is with me. I happen to have a pretty well stocked spice cabinet. I have an entire drawer full of only spices that go into Indian dishes. And then there are crossover ones, like green cardamom, for example, or mustard seeds. I have those elsewhere. But when it comes to exotic flavors, I just hunger for them, so with this dish, I ended up adding things to it that I had not before. I cannot even recall what the dish tasted like 15 years ago. All I know is that how it came out a few days ago was over the top. Mmmmmm.

Channa Masala is a wonderfully savory chickpea (garbanzo) dish that can be a vegetarian meal or a side dish, as one chooses. For me, I can do either. For the last two evenings I had only the Channa Masala with saffron rice for my dinner and I was more than happy. This is my version of Channa Masala. I used some spices that many people will not own, or possibly even have heard of. I used amchur (dried green mango powder), for a sour note instead of lemon juice. I added dried methi (dried fenugreek herb), because I saw it used in one of the many recipes I perused, and because I like the flavor. I also added Ajwain (Carom seed, which has a strong thymol component). These items can be left out, if not available. If so, do use a squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking.

Channa Masala

Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons cooking oil or ghee
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced 
1 jalapeno, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon amchur powder
1 teaspoon kasoori methi (dried fenugreek herb) 
1/4 teaspoon ajwain / carom seed
2 cups water
2 cans chickpeas, well rinsed
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1 - 2 Indian bay leaves (tej patta)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
salt, to taste

 Heat the oil or ghee in a large skillet. Add the onions and slowly saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until nicely golden. Add in the garlic, ginger and jalapeno for another 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, Garam Masala, amchur, methi and ajwain. Cook, stirring to bring out the flavors of the spices. Add in the tomatoes, water and chickpeas and stir. Stir in the Indian Bay leaves and cilantro. Cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, to meld flavors. Serve with fresh cilantro sprigs to garnish. Wonderful along with saffron rice.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Indian Chicken Kebabs are a Real Hit

As a caveat, before I even begin, I just want to say that I tend to go to extremes in my quest for making things from scratch. Because of this, though our dinner last evening was simple, in the sense of a kebab in the shape of a hot dog, a chutney to go along with these, a bread to hold it, and a side dish, making these 4 things took me all the day long. 
Chicken Seekh Kebabs
Chicken Seekh Kebabs

That said, if I hadn't just suddenly gotten the yen to make an Indian meal that morning, but instead had planned ahead, things could have been far easier. The chutney could have been made a week ahead of time. The Dhal could have been made a day or two in advance and not suffered for it. Even the kebab mixture itself could have been made a day before. So making all this in the same day was probably not the very best thing, but I want it understood that bringing all this together can be accomplished in steps, over a period of days, making it a much easier proposition. 
Chicken Seekh Kebab served on Paratha with lettuce
Chicken Seekh Kebab served on Paratha

I will say that as we ate dinner last evening, my husband and I uttered a long series of "mmmmm, this is so good!" as we ate, so it was really all worth it. These kebabs are called Chicken Seekh Kebabs, and in some places I have seen it spelled Chicken Sheek Kebabs. Whatever the spelling, there are a lot of ingredients and the chicken is well spiced. Not your average hot dog by any stretch. I felt that these would be nice wrapped in some kind of Indian bread. I know Parathas are slightly thicker than Rotis, but less hefty than Naan, so I went for making the Parathas. Parathas are made from "atta" flour, which roughly translates to part all purpose flour and part sifted whole wheat flour. Since I have my own grain mill, I ground wheat berries, passed this through a very fine sieve (amazing how much bran is left behind this way, leaving a lighter version of whole wheat) and used that flour in equal parts with all-purpose flour to make the Parathas. A Paratha can be made stuffed with things like potatoes or herbs, or made plain. Since my Kebabs were highly spiced, I wanted a plain bread. 



Makes 6 to 8

1 cup all-purpose white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour passed through a sieve
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons melted ghee or vegetable oil
3/4 cup water, approximately

more oil or ghee for cooking the Parathas

Place both flours and salt in a bowl. Add in the water to make a soft dough. Turn out on a surface and knead the mass for 2 minutes. This kneading is to build gluten so the Parathas hold together later. Let the dough rest, covered for at least 30 minutes. If longer, refrigerate until ready to use.

When ready to make the Parathas, turn dough out onto a surface and cut into 6 or 8 equal portions. Have the ghee or oil ready. Heat a skillet to medium or slightly lower. 
Making Parathas
Fold, brush with ghee                   |         fold again; press to seal        |                    roll again                   |               cook

Roll out one portion of the dough to a relatively round shape about 6 to 8-inches in diameter. If you are making 8 Parathas, the amount of dough will be smaller, so the size will be smaller. Brush the ghee or oil over the surface. Fold the circle in half. Brush with more ghee or oil. Fold again to a quarter. Now press firmly all around the edges to make the folded dough adhere, then once more roll out to a relative circle. Brush oil in the hot pan. Set the Paratha in the pan to cook until the bottom is browned. Brush oil over the top and flip the Paratha, to brown the other side. Remove to paper toweling. Repeat these steps for all the remaining pieces of dough. Serve warm.

To make the chicken mixture, remember this can be made earlier in the day or even the day before. The flavors will meld well over this time. If you have a meat grinding attachment and want to grind your own chicken, that's great. I used my food processor and pulsed until the chicken was fine. Pre-ground chicken may also be used. If desired, these can be made with hamburger meat or even ground lamb.

As with making a meatloaf, I absolutely hate raw onions, so I always fry the onion until golden before adding to the ground meat. I did the same with these kebabs, using a good sized onion, finely minced and sauteed slowly in ghee until golden before adding to the ground meat. If you are new to Indian spices, you may not have heard of white poppy seeds, but these are used in many Indian dishes. The small amount used is easily left out, if they are not on hand. This will not truly affect flavor.

Chaat Masala is another spice mixture, similar in concept to Garam Masala, but with slightly different flavors. This mix is often used to sprinkle on foods just before eating. It is in the meat mixture in this recipe, but can be left out and used when serving if preferred. On the other hand, Chaat Masala ingredients (such as asafoetida, dried mango powder, tartaric acid) might be a bit more difficult to get hold of, so if this is not available, simply leave it out.

The cooking method for these kebabs can be a Tandoor oven, or your own oven, set at very hot (Tandoor ovens use flame and get exceedingly hot), or they can be fried; either deep or shallow-fried. I chose to shallow fry them and they took about 5 minutes per batch in a very wide skillet. 

Chicken Seekh Kebabs

Chicken Seekh Kebabs
Chicken Seekh Kebabs
Makes about 12 kebabs or 6 portions

14 cashew nuts
10 raw almonds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 pound ground chicken meat (thigh, breast or a mix)
1 large onion, minced and sauteed golden
1 - 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
4 -6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon white poppy seeds, optional
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, optional
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground

1 tablespoon Garam Masala
ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 cup bread crumbs
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Chaat Masala, optional
Oil for frying
Bamboo skewers about 9-inches long

Grind the cashews, almonds and sesame seeds in a food processor, until fine. 

Place ground chicken in a large bowl. Add in the remaining ingredients through the Chaat Masala, if using, along with the finely ground nut mixture. Mix well with hands, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to a day.

Soak the bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Divide the chicken mixture into 12 equal portions. Form each portion around one of the soaked skewers, forming a long, hot-dog shape. If frying these, it is important to keep the diameter consistent along the length of the kebab for even cooking. 

Heat a wide, shallow skillet and add in a little oil. Fry the kebabs, about 4 at a time (or whatever fits easily in your skillet), turning often to brown evenly for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Remove the skewers and serve on a bed of lettuce and with bread of choice alongside. Even a hamburger bun will do. Chutney of your choosing would be wonderful on top.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

What an Amazing Dessert

Okay, first off, I made this recipe straight from the Donna Hay site. It is called Classic Chocolate Caramel Slice. Click on that link to go there. The site is from Australia, and they use lots of terms that for the regular old USA kind of cook, can leave one a bit at a loss. 

Long ago, in Guatemala, I made a friend who is an Australian, believe it or not! She was married to a friend of my (at the time) Guatemalan husband. I got to know a little about Australians, their slang and lingo, and most importantly, I looked through her cookbooks, becoming familiar with the terms. One thing that jumped out right away was the use of "aubergine" instead of eggplant. Another was the use of grams instead of ounces or cups. 
Chocolate Caramel Bars
Chocolate Caramel Bars

So when I found this recipe while perusing Facebook yesterday, it just looked so good. And I was feeling stressed. You know what they say: ""Stressed is dessert spelled backwards!" So I went to the kitchen. 

I will not begin to say this is a quickie dessert to be whipped up and eaten within the hour. No, it does require more effort than that. There are three distinct steps to the recipe. The first is making the crust. Which uses 9 tablespoons of butter. And then the caramel filling, using 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, PLUS what they call "golden syrup", PLUS 9 tablespoons of butter. This recipe is nothing if not decadent! And then, probably the most innocuous part of the whole recipe: dark chocolate with 1 tablespoon of oil added. 

The recipe calls for a 20 x 30 centimeter pan. I got out my trusty ruler and found this to be a 9 x 13-inch pan. I went further and used my Wilton, very straight sided 9 x 13-inch pan, so the sides would be very squared, rather than a regular 9 x 13 baking dish with rounded edges. This squared edge resulted in a much wider base, and a thinner bar. Mine were just a little over a quarter inch thick. 

Chocolate Caramel Bars
Chocolate Caramel Bars
While the flour and sugar were given alternatively in cups and in grams, other measurements were in grams alone. Luckily I have a kitchen scale to measure with, so I found that 125 grams of butter equaled 9 tablespoons.  The sweetened condensed milk does have both ounces and grams, so that was a no-brainer. When confronted with 200 grams of dark chocolate, I had to use the scale. I had bars of Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate baking bars. Each one is 4 ounces, or 113.5 grams. The bars are sectioned into 8 squares apiece. By weight, 200 grams turned out to be all but one of the little square sections of two whole bars, or 15 small square sections.

Okay, once I had all the calculations, all I had to do is decide what to do about the golden syrup, which I do not have. I recall another recipe from Donna Hay that called for golden syrup, and my sister said something about approximating with honey mixed with corn syrup. This is what I did, with no more exactitude than pouring in an eyeballed half of the 1/3 cup measure, of honey, and then filling to the top with corn syrup. I used dark corn syrup, but I am pretty sure light would make no perceptible difference. 

I hesitated with the idea of using the exact recipe here, as it comes from the Donna Hay website, but it is changed enough to almost count. Still, I would encourage anyone looking for a really decadent dessert that can be cut pretty tiny, if desired - do check out that website, because you will just drool all over your computer while perusing! I guarantee!

Chocolate Caramel Bars, a la Donna Hay

Chocolate Caramel Bars
Chocolate Caramel Bars
Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan, about 64 small squares

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, in cubes
2 cans (14 ounce / 396 grams each) 
   sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup honey & corn syrup mixed

7 1/2 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate 
1 tablespoon oil (I used hazelnut oil)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the long edges to allow for lifting out later. Cut corners to fit. Spray the parchment lightly with cooking spray. Set pan aside.

Make the crust by combining the flour, brown sugar and coconut in a mixing bowl, then adding the melted butter. Stir until well-combined and turn into the prepared pan. Press gently and firmly to make the crust mixture fit to all the edges and covering the pan bottom with no holes or gaps. This can take a little time. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven. 

While the crust is baking, make the caramel. Mix together the three caramel ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir the mixture with a whisk or a silicone spatula until butter is melted. Continue stirring vigorously, scraping bottom and sides of pan for about 7 to 9 minutes. Once crust is out of the oven, pour this mixture over the crust. Return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking. The top of the caramel should be a deep golden color and bubbling.

Remove the pan to a rack to cool, and once tepid, move to the refrigerator until cooled through. Once cooled, make the chocolate topping. Combine the chocolate and oil in a medium saucepan over the lowest heat possible, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Alternatively, melt the chocolate in 1 minute bursts in the microwave. Pour the chocolate over the cooled bars and spread evenly to edges. Return the pan to the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour. Use the parchment to help lift the bars out of the pan for easier slicing. Cut into narrow strips, about 1 1/2-inch wide, then across into approximately 1 1/2 inch squares. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Peaches and Mascarpone Spelled Dessert

Last week I had planned to make a cake and ice it with (what I thought was) a recipe using mascarpone cheese. I bought two containers of mascarpone just for this. Until I went to the recipe to see what else was in it - only to find it had no mascarpone at all. What?!?

Totally confused, I searched the magazine and found zero uses for mascarpone cheese in an icing. How I misled myself into this belief is beyond me, but hey, I am chalking it up to fate. It is a great excuse to use mascarpone in other applications. Yesterday was the first one, and I came up with an idea for a tart. 

Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust

On Mascarpone

Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
If anyone in the blogging world does not yet know what mascarpone cheese is, the simple explanation is that it is an Italian version of cream cheese. While I have absolutely nothing against good old Philly cream cheese, mascarpone just has a better flavor, a better feel, just more depth of character. If Philly is your everyday face, then mascarpone is your totally dressed-up face. This is my own feeling on the matter. Still, maybe you get the picture.

Unlike Philly, one thing to caution about macarpone: it is best not to over beat it, as it becomes grainy very easily. That said, mascarpone can strengthen and stabilize whipped cream so that it will stand up to refrigeration for days without weeping or losing its shape and texture. This makes any pie with a whipped cream topping (Key Lime, anyone) a total breeze to make slightly in advance rather than having to do things last minute. Pipe rosettes of this stable whipped cream onto a cheesecake for decoration. Use it between cake layers. It has been the most wonderful discovery I've made in years.To make this wonderful stable whipped cream, here is what I do:

Mascarpone Whipped Cream

Mascarpone Whipped CreamMakes about 3 cups

1 cup heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, AT ROOM TEMPERATURE

With a mixer, beat the one cup of whipping cream until it holds very soft peaks. Add in the confectioners' sugar and beat until it holds stiff peaks. Stop the mixer and add in the mascarpone cream. Beat again just until combined. Beating too long will cause the mascarpone to look curdled.

Okay, I so totally lost my train of thought there, but my goal is to tell you about the wonderful dessert tart I came up with yesterday. It was one of those experiments that went totally right. While rich, it was not terribly sweet, and totally full of flavor. I called it Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust. A mouthful to say, but wait till you taste it. 

I used a 9-inch tart pan with a removable rim, so I could set the finished tart onto a fancy plate for serving. The only aspect of this dessert that I would do any differently is to ensure that the crust is pressed all the way up the sides of the tart pan's rim. The reason for this is that when I filled the shell with the mascarpone filling, it reached higher than the crust. The filling is just the slightest bit runny, and with the peaches set on after the filling, it reached much higher. It did not overflow or leak when baking, however I did have to go all around the pan, loosening the filling and crust from the fluted rim of the tart pan. Not horrible, but it was a bit time consuming. Some of the crust still stuck a bit, which you can see on the photo at top of page. Made absolutely no difference to the flavor though!

If you use a tart pan that does not have a removable rim, also be sure to press the crust mixture high, which ensures the slices can be cut and removed for serving with ease. The tart is not terribly thick / deep, so the portions are easy to handle, even after a large meal.  

For the St. Germain liqueur, if not using, sprinkle a little water into the crust, if needed, and for the filling just substitute a teaspoon of vanilla and a little water, if needed.

Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust

Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
Makes one 9 or 10-inch tart

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced fresh tarragon
5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon St. Germain elderflower liqueur, optional

1 cup (8-ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons St. Germain elderflower liqueur, optional

1 1/2 cups sliced peaches, fresh or frozen

Make crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a tart pan.

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch and tarragon in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, Cream together the butter and confectioners' sugar. Stir in the flour mixture and mix lightly to combine. Add in the elderflower liqueur and toss lightly. Pour into the tart pan and using fingers, press into bottom and sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool.

While crust cools, make the filling:  In a smaller mixing bowl combine the mascarpone, egg yolks, sugar. Mix together with a fork, or extremely briefly with a hand mixer, to just combine. Add in the liqueur, if using. If not, just add a little vanilla. 

If using fresh peaches, peel and slice the peach(es) into thin wedges, as the filling is not deep. Have them ready.

Pour the filling mixture into the cooled crust and set the peach wedges on top. The peaches might be substituted with berries, if preferred. Bake the tart until the filling is just set, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely before serving. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.