It's interesting how life comes at you full force, sometimes from people you don't even know.
A few weeks ago one member of the Daring Bakers, Inge, posted an event she was hosting to honor the women, be it moms or grandmothers (or any person special to us) who influenced us in the kitchen. The event, Apple and Thyme, was somewhat prompted by the fact that a blogging friend of hers, Jeni from the Passionate Palate, had just lost her mother to a long battle with cancer.
Losing is the right term when it comes to loved ones, especially mothers. You lose a bit of your essence, a small part of your flesh is ripped and your heart is taken away from away from you. The hurt and the pain diminish with time but never really go away. I am sorry that Jeni had to experience such a tragedy. I often think about the pain my own mother must feel day in day out after losing her own mother and it just breaks my heart. I can't think about a day without my mom, even though we do not talk on the phone everyday or even when sometimes we don't really like each other (hey, we all have our moods!). Jeni, I offer you my deepest condolences and thank you for reminding me to hug my mom, even if only in my dreams.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know how deeply my grandmother has influenced my baking. She had that magical touch...you would come to visit and within half an hour the table was set with a wonderful spread of foods. It seemed almost effortless to her to come up with the most delicious foods. I used to believe my grandmother was this goddess of the kitchen, even when she was too frail from battling cancer. It's not that I thought less of my mother's cooking and baking, don't get me wrong, but I felt like my mother was showing me the ropes, the behind the scenes, while grandma was giving me the picture perfect, no mise-en-place necessary final product.
My mother is more of a cook than a baker but when she tackles the dough, man! She is good! Just as good as her own mother and I hope I am up to par with their talent. Most French house cooks and bakers do not make elaborate 5 courses meal or produce 3 layer mousse cakes every day of the week. We make yogurt cakes, chocolate mousses, clafoutis, flans, and tarts....lots of tarts!! I think the first item I ever baked was a tart, maybe a quiche, something with a crust, something with a filling, something with cream....and I got hooked, hence the blog name "Tartelette".... There is always a tart of some sort in the fridge...no lie. Well, except tonight because I finished the last slice of this one. I love the contrast between crust and filling, the endless possibilities of ingredients combination. If a tart had a cousin, it would be a salad: both can be as rustic or elaborate as you wish, both can make a meal (savory tart) or a side, both make use of seasonal produce or what is overripe in the fruit basket and both adapt to a myriad of cultures and cuisines.
I remember my mother and grandmother teaching me the A,B,Cs of tart doughs, "pate sablee, pate brisee, pate feuilletee" (shortbread, basic, puff pastry), and I grew up making my doughs from scratch every time. Even when the times brought packages of ready made tart dough at the grocery store, they were still making them from scratch most of the time. It always seemed funny to me to buy them only to have them remain in the fridge drawer. "Juste au cas ou" ...just in case. But again, "just in case" never usually happens in France...because nobody drops in "just like that"...we are a nation of planners you see, so there is always plenty of time to make dough...but that aspect of French culture is for another post. I have one of those pre-made dough in my fridge actually...and you know what? I think I ought to throw it away...it's been there for a while and probably will never get used...why? In my mind, there is nothing like homemade: it is neither labor nor time consuming and if you are really lazy, you can turn a dough in your food processor in less than 5 minutes. A little resting time, a little rolling and "hop" you're there...
For this particular tart to pay tribute to both my mother and grandmother I have chosen one of our favorite combination: pears and almonds. I miss you grandma and mom, and hope I make you proud everytime I step in and out of the kitchen.
Pear And Almond Tart
Makes one 10 inch tart.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tbs sugar
1/2 cup chilled (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
2 Tbs ice water
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
Place flour and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and process for a few seconds. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the ice water then the egg yolk, processing just until the dough holds together. Do not process for more than 30 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten, and form into a disc. Wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour before using.
Preheat oven to 350F and blind bake the tart shells: roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, lay into tart shell, cover with parchment paper or foil, pour dry beans or pie weights on top and bake fro 15 minutes. Let cool before proceeding.
2 large pears, peeled and cored, thinly sliced (I chose Comice for this tart)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup slivered almonds
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar until pale. Whisk in the ground almonds, milk and cream. Pour into the cooled pie shell, leaving about a 1 inch border so that the batter does not overflow when you arrange the ears on top. Arrange the pear slices over the top and sprinkle with the slivered almonds. Bake at 350 until golden brown, do not worry if it still wiggles a bit in the middle, the custard will keep on setting once removed from the oven. Serve warm or at room temperature...oh heck! Eat it anyway you want, it is darn good even cold!!