Thursday, June 14, 2012

Baking Bliss

This week has been rather exciting in the Gourmet Goddess kitchen, as we took delivery of a new fan forced oven to replace the evil, contankerous old beast that I have been cooking with since we moved into our house almost two years ago. I have to admit I was pretty happy to see the demise of the old one, which had a penchant for cremating the bottom of whatever you put in it, whilst leaving the top of everything unpalatably raw. I don't really bake much at the best of times, but the crappy oven really didn't make me want to change that situation!

Well, I am very happy to report that the new oven is a whole other world - one where things cook as they are meant to and your pastry ends up golden and puffed (and cooked evenly!) just like it should. Hell, I may even be tempted to bake a cake - or Goddess forbid - a meringue! Watch this space.

So, my first oven baking experiment was a couple of simple apple, almond and nashi pear tarts. The golden tarts are given a lovely sweetness and glossy finish by an easy maple syrup glaze.

You could actually use any kind of fruit for these - apricots, peaches or nectarines when in season would be gorgeous - cherries, berries or quinces would work a treat too. I used apples and nashi pears because they happened to be in the fruit bowl at the time. Whatever fruit you decide to use,  the result is a delicious, easy to make tart that looks lovely too. This style of tart reminded me a lot of the apple galettes that you would always see in the patisseries around Paris. I confess I enjoyed a slice of mine with a nice big milky Cafe au Lait, and a generous serve of nostaligia -  imagining I was back, sitting in a cafe in St Germain on my honeymoon watching the world go by. Food is always so evocative of past memories and this one really did that for me.

Maple Glazed Apple and Nashi Pear Tarts

You will need: 2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, 2-3 apples or nashi pears (I used some of both), 1 1/2 cups almond meal, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons warm water, 30g melted salted butter, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1 beaten egg.

Method: Preheat the oven to 200C.

Peel and core the apples/nashi pears, cut them in half and slice them thinly. In a bowl, combine the almond meal, vanilla, brown sugar, melted butter and warm water. Mix well to make an easily spreadable paste. Add a little more warm water if the mixture is a little too firm.

Take the two sheets of pastry and cut them in half, lengthways. You should now have four lengths of pastry of equal size. Take two of the pastry sheets and cut a border into them, about 2 cm wide, removing the pastry in the middle. You will be left with two "frames"made of pastry.

Brush the other two peices of whole pastry with a little of the egg. Carefully lay one of the "frames" onto each of the pastry peices. Press the edges down gently. Now evenly spread half of the almond mixture onto each of the tarts, smoothing it up to the edge of the border you have created.

Take the sliced apple/nashi pears and carefully arrange the slices, so that they slightly overlap, until you have covered the tarts. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little bit of the egg wash.

Bake the tarts for 15-20 minutes until they are lightly golden. Remove them from the oven and using half of the mixture, brush the top of the tarts with the maple syrup. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until they turn a deeper golden colour.

Remove the tarts from the oven, and while they are still warm, brush the remaining maple syrup over them.
Serve warm or cold. Makes two medium sized tarts.


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