Rendez-Vous Bars

12 03 2009

(Let’s just see what kind of search engine terms that one gets me!)

I can't help but think they look a little like cockroaches.

I’ve told you of my love of dates and date bars before, I know.  Well, there have been a few happy coincidences in recent weeks that made some appear in my very own kitchen.  While trolling the market on my lunch break, I saw a guy selling plump, shiny dates for a euro a kilo!  How could I resist?  I briefly considered just getting half a kilo, but then I tasted one and I threw caution to the wind.  Later, I was faced with a linzer dough that refused to behave – possibly because I tweaked the recipe a little too much – instead of making cute little tartlet shells, I ended up with tartlet-shaped cookies.  They were tasty, but hard to fill with ganache.  I decided to let the dough rest overnight, in hopes that it would settle down.

In the morning, I was telling Nick my plans for the dough.  “If it doesn’t work this time, I’m turning it into date bars.  Slam it in a pan, cover it with puréed dates, make some crumble topping… I almost hope it doesn’t work!”  So of course the next batch of tartlet shells came out perfectly, but the date bar idea had taken hold.  I used way more dates than I thought I needed, but I was pleased with the result: a firm hazelnut crust on which to spread a thick layer of sticky purée, with a crumbly, hazelnutty topping.  This goes a step beyond bar cookie into dessert territory, although I keep telling myself that all the fruit, fiber, and nuts make it a perfectly virtuous breakfast.

Needs no accompaniment

(Click through for the recipe.)

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Nectarine Crumble

30 06 2008

One of my absolute favorite fruits

This one was a no-brainer.  I found some sweet-smelling nectarines on sale the other day, and immediately remembered that I had a plastic baggie of crumble topping in the fridge, just waiting for a surplus of fruit to appear in the kitchen.  The topping was left over from the Rhubarb-Apricot crumble of a few weeks ago, when I accidentally made twice as much as I needed.  The good news is that crumble topping will keep for quite a while in an airtight container in the fridge.

I also found this cool sugar on the same shopping trip.

Less refined means healthier, right?

It’s the texture of granulated sugar, but has a very light brown color.  I mainly bought it because I prefer to use cane sugar when I bake – the flavor is superior and it takes less processing to get sugar from cane than to get it from a beet, which is where most of the white sugar in Europe comes from.  (Of course, when you factor in the distance the sugar has to travel to get here, I’m sure it increases my personal carbon footprint.)  Environmental issues aside, this sugar has a fuller flavor than regular white sugar, but not so much that it can’t be substituted freely.

For my crumble filling, I took 7 or 8 nectarines, pitted and sliced them, and tossed them with about 1/3 cup sugar and 2 Tablespoons of flour, which turned out to be just a little too much.  A teaspoon or two less would have been ideal.  Still, the finished crumble was rather tasty, if I do say so myself.  (Like I can take credit for the nectarines.)

Nectarine Crumble

We ate it topped with hazelnut ice cream for dessert, and with scoops of plain yogurt for breakfast.  (In case you can’t tell, I have a habit of finishing off fruit desserts the next morning – gotta love dishes that pull double duty!)

You may be wondering why on Earth I feel compelled to bake dessert after working in a pâtisserie all day.  Here’s the thing: I don’t actually do any baking there.  I whip up pastry cream or anglaise on the stove, fold meringues into mousses, pipe out pâte à choux, and build entremets, but the actual baking happens downstairs and across the courtyard from where I am.  As it turns out, the things I’m making at work are things I probably wouldn’t make at home anyway.  So I can keep making crumbles and galettes chez moi, and leave the fancy stuff to the professionals (me included).





Trendy Rhubarb-Apricot Crumble

4 06 2008

Maybe it’s just the season, but it seems like everyone is cooking with rhubarb these days.  Not that I am complaining.  I love the distinct tartness it brings to desserts, making them feel suitable for breakfast, somehow.  It is great in combination with berries or stone fruits, but also makes a refreshing foil to fish dishes.  I bet it would make a decent tamarind substitute, and would add a seasonal zing to barbecue sauce.  Foie gras with caramelized rhubarb?  Camembert with rhubarb compote?  It is one of the ingredients that inspires me the most right now, and I expect to see more of it on restaurant menus in sweet, savory, and palate-cleansing applications.

At any rate, the increasing proliferation of rhubarb at the market has been tempting me, and I’ve been trying to wait until the stalks were good and rosy before buying a bunch to play around with.  When I mentioned to Nick to be on the lookout for good rhubarb, his first reaction was, “So you can make me a crumble?”  How could I let him down?  Besides, I love a good crumble myself.

Top golden, filling bubbly

Searching the internet in an attempt to figure out the approximate proportion of rhubarb to sugar to flour or cornstarch was ultimately an exercise in frustration.  Trying to reconcile grams (my scale) and cups (the recipes) can be, well, trying.  I ended up just winging it, as I so often do these days.  But I think it’s making me a better cook in the long run. 

The apricots were a last-minute addition, as I noticed that the ones I had bought a few days before were ripening swiftly, so into the mix they went.  It turned out to be a good flavor combination – less expected than strawberries with rhubarb, the apricots gave the filling a subtle, musky sweetness which married nicely with the bright tartness of the rhubarb.  If I’d had any cream in the house, I might have done something wacky like infusing it with the apricot kernels to make crème anglaise, but then I just would have been frustrated that I don’t have an ice cream maker here.

Recipe after the jump.  (Yes, it’s done by weight.)

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