Thursday, November 24, 2011

Crabapple Pecan Meringue Tart

The obvious thing to do when you are on tap for pies and dinner rolls at Thanksgiving, AND your brother is going to be staying with you for the holiday, AND you need to clean so that he has a place to sleep, is to make one of the pies more complicated.  Ordinarily crabapple pecan tart is topped with unsweetened coconut.  But I forgot to get unsweetened coconut.  So upon reflection I decided that meringue would be an interesting counterpoint to the tartness of the pie.

Sharing this recipe is sheer self-indulgence.  Most people don't make crabapple sauce, but they are one of the few fruit trees that fare well in Alaska, and Bird regularly mails me frozen bricks of it.  You should be so lucky.  If you are not on Bird's crabapple sauce mailing list, here is how you can make your own crabapple sauce.

Crabapple Sauce

1 or more plastic Safeway bags  of crabapples (the bigger kind that actually have some fruit, not the kind that are pretty pink skin wrapped around seeds) scavenged from the crab apple trees of friends
Sugar to taste (but not too much) (1/3 -1/2 cup usually)
1 food mill
brandy (optional)
1 cup size freezer containers

Wash your crab apples

With a sharp paring knife (you can use a dull one if you must, but it's kind of annoying), remove the stems and that weird woody nodule on the bottom of the crabapples.  This is best done with a friend, as this step can go on for kind of a long time, and if you have a friend there, then you have someone to talk to.  Ooo and aaa at the luminous pinkness of the little fruit. Toss the stemmed crabapples into a large stockpot.

When the pot is a third or so full, add enough water to come up about halfway up the crabapples.  Place over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, slosh in a little brandy if you feel like it.  Meanwhile stem more crabapples.

When the crabapples are mooshy and a bit exploded, run them through a food mill until the skins and seeds are all that is left in the mill basket, and you have a bowl of brilliantly pink crabapple sauce.  Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, and spoon into the freezer containers and allow to cool.  While you are doing this, your sidekick can prep the next batch.

Bricks of crabapple sauce keep brilliantly in the freezer.  With a bit more sugar and some pectin, it also makes rather nice freezer jam.

Crabapple Pecan Tart with Optional Meringue Topping

I made up this recipe for Bird sometime after our first venture into crabapple sauce making when we realized that Bird's freezer was full of crabapple sauce and we didn't know quite what to do with it.  I was reading my Gourmet Cookbook and found this recipe for a cranberry walnut tart.  A lightbulb went off and the rest, as they say, was history.

Piecrust sufficient for a single crust pie (homemade if you are ambitious, store bought if you are incompetent or feel that life is too short)
4 large egg yolks (or three eggs if you are not making meringue)
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) melted and cooled (apparently optional, as I forgot my melted butter in the microwave and people still raved about the tart)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup crabapple sauce (thawed if you are using a frozen brick)
1 cup chopped pecans
unsweetened shredded coconut if you don't feel like fussing with meringue
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup water
4 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar, preferably superfine

Place crust in a pie plate or tart pan.  Preheat ovn to 425. Lightly prick crust in several places with a fork.  Line crust with foil and place pie weights, raw rice, or dried beans inside.  Bake until edges are golden, about 15 minutes.  Carefully remove foil and weights ad bake crust until pale golden all over, 5-10 minutes more.  Cool.  Reduce oven temperatureto 350.

Whisk together eggs, brown sugar, butter, salt, vanilla, and crabapple saucein a medium bowl until smooth.  Stir in nuts.

Pour filling into crust.  Bake for 25 minutes.

While the tart is baking make the meringue.  I used a recipe that I got from Joy of Cooking, for a meringue stabilized with cornstarch, as it stands up well to refrigeration.

In a small saucepan thoroughly mix the corn starch and 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Gradually stir in the water, making a smooth runny paste.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring briskly all the while.  Boil for 15 seconds.  It will form a thick, viscid, translucent paste.  Remove from the heat, cover and set it aside.

In a clean, grease free bowl , beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.

Add the vanilla and cream of tartar and beat until soft but definite peaks form.  Very gradually beat in the 1/2 cup of sugar.

Beat at high speed until the peals are very stiff and glossy, but not dry.  Reduce the speed to very low and beat in the cornstarch paste one tablespoon at a time.  When all the paste is incorporated, increase the speed to medium and beat for ten seconds.  If you timed things right, the timer is about to go off.

Remove the tart from the oven and spoon the meringue over the top of the still hot pie, being sure to start by spooning a ring around the edge of the crust to anchor the meringue and keep it from shrinking away from the edges, then mound the remaining meringue in the middle.

Return the pie to the oven for another twenty-five minutes, or until the meringue is golden.

If you are not messing with meringue, at the twenty-five minute mark sprinkle the top of the pie liberally with the unsweetened coconut, and either employ a ring of foil or a pie shield to keep the crust from overbrowning. Cook for another twenty to twenty-five minutes.  The coconut should be nicely tanned.

Either way allow to cool before serving.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Behind again

In case anyone is wondering, 20 credits is a course load for lunatics.  My brain is like unto an orange after it has been juiced -- somewhat flattened and kind of oozy.  Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I have been cooking.  Cooking rather a lot. Other domestic tasks not so much.  My apartment has definitely assumed the mid-quarter chaos, that signals that it is the abode of a very tired person who does little more than cook, sleep, read, and sometimes water the plants.  But as I mention I have been cooking.  In order to get caught up on food based blogging I need to give the recipes for Black Forest cheesecake brownies, squash and bacon pasta al forno, the latest iteration of orange vegetable coconut soup -- NOW with extra legumes, as well as discussing the perils and delights of sour dough starter, venison meatballs, and the Greek place over in Queen Ann that is now my favorite Greek place.  I'll start with the brownies, widely acclaimed as the best brownies ever (okay, only Carolus Calvus described them thus) but they are pretty darn good.

The brownies in question were my solution to the problem of wanting a birthday cake, and being the only person around who would bake one (Okay, Jackie volunteered, but she doesn't actually like cake, and I didn't feel like a big party this year, so it seemed a bit unfair). Mom always makes me an Italian Cream Cake, which as far as I know has nothing to do with Italy but rather has a lot to do with pecans and coconut (the recipe seems to originate in the American South).  But in the absence of Mom, I opted for something that was nothing like what she makes me.

Black Forest Cheese Cake Brownies

Notes: The brownie layer is actually just a doubling of my favorite brownie recipe.  It's gooey.  Very gooey.  For reasons that I have yet to understand, if you bake these brownies in a glass dish, you will end up with a dish of delectable brownies that refuse to leave their pan neatly, no matter how you butter and flour the pan.  If you bake them in a greased metal pan, no problem. Unfortunately I was making a 9"x13" pan to share with my classmates, and the only pan that size I own is pyrex.  Fortunately taste made up for inelegant presentation.  If you just want a truly excellent fudgy brownie, halve the recipe and bake it in an 8"x8" baking pan, or a nine inch metal pie plate, if that's all that's clean.

Brownie Layer
2 sticks of butter (low fat is only one of the minor virtues, especially if you spend a lot of time walking around in Seattle's winter weather -- icy cold downpours, alternating with wind and icy cold sideways rain)
4 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate finely chopped
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cheese Cake Layer
16 ounces cream cheese, well softened and cut into chunks (I usually microwave it to goo, but other people choose to do things differently.)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, if you happen to have it on hand

1 or possibly 1 1/2 cans of cherry pie filling.

Grease and flour a 9"x13" pan. Preheat the oven to 325.

In a large heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt the chocolate and butter over medium low heat, stirring to make sure it doesn't burn.  When everything is nearly melted, turn off the stove and let it coast until all of the chocolate and butter is in fact melted.

Add everything else, stirring until well combined.  One of the reasons I like this brownie recipe? It's really easy, even if you're really tired.

Scrape the brownie batter into the pan, and bake for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile combine everything else except the cherry pie filling, and mix until smooth.

When the brownies come out of the oven, scrape the cheese cake layer on top of the brownie layer and bake in the oven for 35 minutes or so, or until the cheesecake layer is just tinged with brown and beginning to crack on top. and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean of cheesecake, but with a few brownie crumbs.

Allow the cheesecake to cool for twenty minutes then top with the cherry pie filling.  Pop everything in the fridge and serve the next day to general acclaim.