The other day I was at the grocery store, minding my own business in the Latin-American food aisle, when I spied a can of pre-made dulce de leche! I was unreasonably excited about this, but you’ve got to understand that it was the first time I’d ever actually seen it in real life– I’d always been told it was available, but I’d never seen it for myself.
Rather, I’d been reduced to making it from sweetened condensed milk, either using the highly dangerous boiling-the-can method, or the slow oven method. In any event, I was thrilled to find it ready-made, and even more thrilled that I’d finally be able to make my very favorite dulce de leche flan, which I first made about fifteen years ago and have pined after ever since.
This flan is amazingly creamy and smooth, with a nice caramelly flavor from the dulce de leche. Don’t overcook or you’ll lose the texture– the center should be jiggly when you shake the pan in the oven, and it’ll cook the rest of the way after you take it out.
Going out for dim sum as a kid, we would always get egg tarts for dessert. They were my dad’s favorite, and since they came three to a plate I would sometimes split one just for the sake of having something sweet to finish off the meal. Back then I leaned more towards chocolate desserts, but as I’ve grown up my tastes have gotten more diverse, and I’ve learned to appreciate a flaky crust filled with smooth, silken custard– and I’m betting that if my dad ever gets to taste these, he’ll like them even better than the ones in the restaurant.
I admit that making a fully-laminated dough for the crust is a bit labor-intensive– certainly more so than simply making a flaky pie crust or a melted-butter tart crust– but the crust is one of the distinctive elements that makes these tarts a classic.
I actually made two different crust recipes, just to see which one I liked better, and while I’m only 95% sure that I noted the correct recipe to use here (oops!) they were both pretty tasty, so I’m comfortable giving you this one. It was a little tough to roll out but the flaky layers were perfectly crispy.
I used foil tart pans (these were perfectly sized), but you could probably use a regular muffin pan if you were so inclined. There’s enough butter in the dough that I wouldn’t worry too much about sticking.
The other day, my husband (by way of gloating) mentioned an amazing treat he’d had at a lunch out that he had– so sad– failed to save any of for me. It was apparently a fresh croissant, split and filled with Nutella and chocolate pastry cream. He gleefully described how he’d tried to save half, but then couldn’t resist eating just one more bite, and then another, and then another… until it was gone. I think he enjoys torturing me like this.
Not one to admit defeat, I promptly decided that I would make my own– so there! Croissants, of course, are easy to come by, and our pantry always has Nutella in it, but pastry cream isn’t something I generally just whip up. It’s so fussy, what with using only egg yolks, whisking constantly, etc., that I rarely make it.
Then it occurred to me that I had already solved this problem with regard to lemon curd– and my whole-egg microwaved lemon curd recipe is one of my favorites. Why not try the same thing with pastry cream? I found a basic whole-egg recipe online and used the same technique I’d applied to the lemon curd (though going to a higher heat due to ingredients), stirring in melted semisweet chocolate at the end. And what do you know? It was reasonably good. The texture was just a bit grainy– I think I overcooked the eggs just a tiny bit– and it wasn’t quite as rich as I’d hoped. Next time I might add an extra yolk to the eggs, or use half-and-half instead of milk. Or I guess I could just cook it on the stovetop where I’d have more control over the heat distribution.
But in any case, it’s a perfectly serviceable chocolate pastry cream if you’re short on time and want to make a point about sharing desserts. 😉
So I mentioned the post-Christmas brunch we hosted earlier– along with sweets we also had several savory items, including a trio of delicious savory tarts. I was originally only going to make two– cauliflower and onion, and apple and fennel– but ended up having extra cauliflower, onions, and pie crust, and didn’t want to let it go to waste. The tarts didn’t turn out perfectly (cracks in the crusts allowed egg to leak through, making the bottoms soggy), but they were pretty tasty and provided inspiration for future recipes!
Emily’s Runaway Imagination is one of Beverly Cleary’s lesser-known works, and it takes place on a farm in the 1920s or thereabouts. One of the scenes I remember best is where Emily (a little girl with a big imagination) bakes custard pie for a church potluck. She’d previously overheard someone say that the secret to a light and flaky pie crust was adding “a generous pinch of baking powder” to it, and she’s eager to demonstrate her newfound pie crust prowess.
“Two and a half cups of flour,” directed Mama. “Some salt — not quite a teaspoonful. Let’s see, some lard. You’d better let me measure that.” Mama came into the pantry and deftly measured the lard out of the lard bucket. “Now Emily, take two knives and slash through the flour and lard until it is as fine as corn meal.” Emily started to slash. […] Quickly Emily added a generous pinch of baking powder and then, not certain how big a generous pinch should be, added another generous pinch to make sure. Then she slashed and slashed and according to Mama’s directions, added water, just a little bit. “There are two secrets to making good pie crust,” said Mama. “Use very little water and handle the dough lightly.” Emily smiled to herself because she knew a third secret.
Unfortunately for Emily, once the pies come out of the oven, instead of the custard surface being “golden yellow and flecked with nutmeg,” the crust has risen to the top with the custard at the bottom. Her mother concludes that the custard filling was too liquidy to weigh the crust down (apples or raisins would apparently have worked better). No one wants to eat her “funny-looking” pie, until one of her neighbors remarks that the inversion will keep the crust from getting soggy… and then everyone digs in.
I always wondered as a kid if this would really happen if you added baking powder to a custard pie crust. Thinking about it now it doesn’t really make sense, since the custard would have no way of getting down through the bottom of the crust unless the crust had holes in it to let the custard flow through– without the holes even the puffiest crust would just end up pushing the extra custard over the top of the pan to spill on the oven floor. I could dock the crust, of course, but no one would dock a crust with big enough holes to let custard get through in any quantity– that’s just asking for the custard to leak and stick the crust to the pan.
I decided to give this food myth (if one can really call it that) the best possible chance of success by cutting a few 1″ circles out of the pie crust, allowing the custard plenty of space to run through and let the crust rise up to the top. I figured that if that didn’t work, nothing would.
When I was young I read several books featuring Pippi Longstocking, a redheaded Swedish girl who lived by herself (well, with a horse and a monkey) and had amazing adventures with her neighbors, Tommy and Annika. The series was lighthearted, more than a little silly, and featured several descriptions of tasty-sounding Swedish food. Case in point:
“Now shut your eyes while I set the table,” said Pippi. Tommy and Annika squeezed their eyes as tightly shut as possible. They heard Pippi opening the basket and rattling paper.
“One, two, nineteen, now you may look,” said Pippi at last. They looked, and they squealed with delight when they saw all the good things Pippi had spread on the bare rock. There were good sandwiches with meatballs and ham, a whole pile of sugared pancakes, several little brown sausages, and three pineapple puddings. For, you see, Pippi had learned cooking from the cook on her father’s ship.
When I was trying to come up with ideas for a new fictional dish to try out, pineapple puddings came to mind. It took some thinking to figure out how I wanted to approach the dish– clearly these were individual puddings, rather than one big bowl of pudding, and the fact that they were served as picnic food (and in Sweden, where “pudding” doesn’t necessarily mean a thickened dairy dessert) made me think that they weren’t the standard pudding you get in the U.S. When I’d thought about it at all, I’d pictured the puddings as baked in individual ramekins and being somewhat firm, kind of like a particularly dense flan. Since they were transportable, though, they probably didn’t need refrigeration, or at least weren’t served chilled.