Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Perfect Match

My father had a rhubarb plant in his garden and I always wondered what for? Maybe rhubarb has entered the Italian cooking realm nowadays, but when I was growing up this vegetable was normally used in the making of liquors, notably Rabarbaro Zucca, which is made with the rhubarb root. My first encounter with rhubarb in the States was a weird concoction that a friend of ours brought to a party. She had approximated the ingredients since she didn't have half of them, so needless to say her creation didn't knock our socks off, it actually put rhubarb into a remote part of my brain. Luckily, I had the great fortune of spending four months as a pastry intern at the restaurant Chez Panisse and got re-acquainted with this fabulous vegetable. I learned many thing working under the watchful and very talented Pastry Chef Mia Ponce, but there is one thing I keep making all the time, their galette dough, known among them as "crunch dough". A fruit tart is always on the menu at Chez Panisse, made with whatever fruit is in season, and it is their best seller I believe. The tart/galette can be made with lots of different fruits, and it is one of the best thing I have ever tasted. I have used various fruits, sometimes in combination, but four are at the top of the list: figs, cherries, plums (especially Santa Rosa), and rhubarb (technically a vegetable).

The dough's recipe came to them via Jacques Pépin, and it has been published in three of their cookbooks, including the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook. I make enough dough so I always have few disks in the freezer to defrost on a whim (you can too by quadrupling the recipe and make 8 portions). Yesterday I made two apple and two strawberry tarts for a friend of mine who ordered them for her baby shower. This dough is a little tricky to master but the results are spectacular, and wait until people start tasting it, you will have many friends all of a sudden. The crusts results in a super flaky delicious treat and the fruit speaks for itself, unencumbered by too much fuss. I just found a great photo collection taken by Anita during a class that the talented Shuna of eggbeater taught, click here to get a better visual lesson on how to make a gallette.

The fruit combinations are infinite, so experiment with different pairing (bing cherries mixed with rainier cherries add color interest for example). The trick with some of the more watery fruit, like berries or cherries, is to toss them in a tablespoon or more of flour before adding them to the crust. Because of the sugar and water contents of each fruit varies you have to go with instinct on both the flour and the sugar, but once you have made few of these tarts you will know. I add sugar on the fruit to taste, figs don't need either sugar or flour because they are very sweet already, apples only need some sugar. Plums need some sugar but I like to make a nice glaze with the pits, some water, and sugar that I brush on the finished tart for shine and extra sweetness. Cherries and berries both need sugar and flour. You can always sprinkle more sugar and/or flour half way the baking if you think the fruit needs it.

The rhubarb is cut in 4-6" chunks which are then cut in half length-wise and then cut into thin strips. I never peel the rhubarb since fibers are not an issue with the rhubarb I am able to find in the Bay Area markets.

And here is the final product in all its glory.

Crunch Dough
adapted from Chez Panisse

2 cups bread flour
3/4 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
6 oz unsalted butter
1/2 cup ice water

Cut the butter in 1 inch cubes and let soften at room temperature to the consistency of marsh mallow.
Add butter to pre-sifted dry ingredients and mix just enough to coat the butter pieces with flour (this can be done in a mixer or by hand).
Press all the butter pieces with your fingers to flatten them like coins.
Drizzle cold water over the dough while mixing until it comes together. It is very important to not over mix. If the dough is too dry sprinkle more water. The last mixing of the dry parts with the wetter parts is better done by hands. Do not over mix the dough, you want to still see some small pieces of butter and the dough should look like pieces of rugs. Divide the dough in two, wrap each half in plastic, flatten into disks, and refrigerate overnight or freeze.

Let the dough defrost completely and roll as thin as you can and then refrigerate or freeze to harden the butter again.

Spread a layer of frangipane on the dough, leaving an inch border. Spread the fruit on top in one layer overlapping the pieces since they will shrink. Fold the edges of the crust over the fruit, making pleats. Lightly brush melted butter on the crust and then sprinkle with some granulated sugar. Bake at 375F until the crust is brown and the fruit is cooked. I make a 4X recipe that yields 8 crusts so I always have some in the freezer. For this tart I sprinkled the rhubarb with some sugar, the zest of one orange and some orange juice. Half way the baking the rhubarb needs to be pushed down into the juices so it won't dry out and burn. You will need about 11 ounces of rhubarb per tart.

(enough for 2 tarts)

4 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
4 oz. ground almonds

Cream the butter with the sugar, add the egg, and mix until is it incorporated well. Add the nut flour until well combined. The unused frangipane freezes very well too.


natalia said...

Ciao Laura ! Che meraviglia ! Ho un'invidia per te che hai lavorato lì deve essere stato bello !! Ho letto sul sito di Tuesdays with dorie che coloro che si sono iscritti per san patrizio entrano forse puoi controllare !!

Laura said...

Grazie per la dritta, controllo ora.

Lien said...

Oh that looks good. Love that crispy crust, have to print that recipe out. My father had a small vegetable garden when I was young and rubarb was definitely in it.... but I was the only one in the family that didn't like it... and (sorry) still don't. So I'll wait for the other fruits to fill this wonderful pastry!

Laura said...

Try thinly sliced apples sprinkled with little sugar. Check chezpin for a picture of an apple tart.

Sweet Charity said...

I love making galettes and crostada... basically any kind of unfussy fruit tart! And I'm really excited for all the rhubarb and strawberries that spring will bring!!

Y said...

Fantastic tart - great colour with that rhubarb. I've never tried rhubarb liquor before - sounds intriguing! Adore rhubarb in desserts though. Lucky you to have worked in the Chez Panisse kitchen!

Anonymous said...

laura! you are too sweet, i love your blog, the photos are so impressive.

i've been trying to find where you work? i have such a poor memory. please come by the restaurant sometime soon, would love to see you again soon!


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