Sunday, November 1, 2009
Travel has its privileges, as a credit card company suggests. One of them is the opportunity to learn a new language.
This evening I was working with Samuel, our brilliant pastry chef. We were making apple tarts ... rather large apple tarts (don’t worry, the recipe will follow) and, at the end of the assembly process, before firing them into the oven, he dusted them with a light go of icing sugar. I joked with him that this might be overkill. Samuel didn’t get it.
The word just does not translate into Italian, or the local (Brescia) dialect. I presented the idea in Italian, but it just seemed to make no sense to him.
We wound up with a group of young cooks around the table where we were, trying to develop the concept so we could understand it and have it make sense in the other language. Everyone chipped in a little bit, and we all had fun. Chef finally ended the discussion with an end-of-the-month celebration bottle of very fine Berlucchi sparkling wine. Cheers all around (see photograph).
(Chef is an excellent leader in the kitchen, by the way. He is skilled in every area, invents dishes, and teaches everyone new concepts and techniques. Then he steps aside to let everyone do their best. That, to me, is outstanding leadership. In my professional life I have been privileged to work with a few outstanding school administrators ... Bob Garneau, Norm Majeski, Ron Mann, June Gooding, Rob Mackinnon ... each encouraged everyone to give their best.)
Samuel had made the ‘pasta’ (meaning pastry base) for the tarts, and I had prepared some of the apples. I’d got the baking pans ready, and set the commercial ElectroLux convection / steam oven. We were, I thought, ready to go.
Alas! No! We were NOT ready to go. First, each tart had to be treated with a heavy shot of rock sugar, to add surface texture. I thought to myself “That’s a good idea.” I loaded the dishes onto a cart to wheel them over to the oven. At the last minute Samuel came around to my station again, brandishing a strainer full of confectioner’s icing sugar. Everything was given a thorough dusting ... and that is what inspired the ‘overkill’ comment, the discussion and the chance for us all to get to know each other a little bit in a new way.
So, by now most of you are just rarin’ to get into the kitchen and DO something. Well, Samuel has shared his outstanding recipe for apple tarts with us all. Here goes. (Amounts are given by weight, always, in Italy ... it is much more efficient than the antique customary systems used in Canada and the US and Australia. I encourage everyone to go out and buy an inexpensive kitchen scale and learn to use it in metric units. You will not be sorry!)
Samuel’s Apple Tarts, as made only for the Relais Franciacorta (near Rovato, Italy)
Planetaria (KitchenAid or similar)
A couple of 9” springform pans (metal bottom, not glass)
Latex gloves (optional ... this gets VERY messy)
Flour 300 gm
Sugar (regular) 300 gm
Lemon half, zest
Orange half, zest
Eggs 2 whole PLUS two yolks
Baking powder 14 grams
Milk 55 grams
Butter at room temperature 100 gm
Grand Marnier (or liqueur of your choice) about 20 gm (don’t go overboard!)
Vanilla extract (good stuff) (optional) a small amount (no weight given)
5 or 6 apples (more is usually better)
Get all the equipment on the counter and fire up the oven to 165 degrees C. Set for low convection, if you can. (A still oven is OK.) Get out a cutting board and several prep bowls and a couple of towels.
Heavily oil and flour your baking pans.
Peel and core the apples. Take all but 1 of them and slice quite thin (about 3-4 mm each slice) horizontally (lines of latitude), then the whole set of slices for each apple should be cut into 6 pieces vertically (lines of longitude). Reserve, and gently preserve with a light mist of lemon juice or orange juice. The last apple should be cut horizontally but only twice vertically (so you have a set of half-moon shapes). Reserve and preserve.
In the planetaria bowl put the sugar and the eggs and yolks and cream together. Add the flour, baking powder and salt that have been sifted together, slowly. At the half way point, add the milk slowly, then the rest of the dry ingredients. Toss in the zest. Then add the Grand Marnier (or your choice) and the vanilla, last. You should end up with a pretty gooey paste.
Take the planetaria bowl off the stand, and put on the counter. Dump the small slices of apple into the paste and gently stir together, or just use your hands (this is what Samuel does). Do NOT try to break up the apple slices!
Let this stand for 2 minutes.
Pour the lumpy mixture into the baking dishes and whack them onto the counter a few times to get the top surfaces as flat as possible.
Garnish the tops with a decorative design of apples using the reserved halves (we use a pinwheel design).
Drop several dots of butter onto the tops of the tarts.
Garnish with more rock sugar than you think is healthy. Then add a little more. Remember, you are making a dessert, not a sandwich to eat on the streetcar. Finally, overkill (I dare you not to!) by dusting lightly with confectioner’s sugar in a sifter or fine sieve.
Sniff the Grand Marnier. You’ve worked hard for it ... the place is a mess ... enjoy! You can clean up later.
And before any pang of guilt sinks in, pop these babies into the oven for about an hour ... when they are golden brown, remove them to the counter on a rack to cool.
Bar the door.
You’re going to try these out on yourself first.
Maybe get out some vanilla frozen yoghurt? (I mean, full-fat ice cream WOULD be overkill at this point. You might enjoy some Grand Marnier to wash down this main course, so why not have two food groups well represented? Fruit and Dairy?