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Posts Tagged ‘custard’

mandarin custard tarts with poached rhubarb

In baking, desserts, early spring, winter on 21 September, 2011 at 11:10 pm

There’s no doubt that spring is here, with asparagus and strawberries having made their (pricey but triumphant) debut, sudden downpours and that crazy spring wind kicking up again and sprouting rocket and lettuces taking over the pots on my balcony. And I can’t quite get my head around the fact that daylight savings time is starting again this weekend.

But strawberries are still madly expensive and it’s not quite time yet for other, more exciting fruits. Luckily there’s still plenty of citrus to fall back on, and I’ve been furiously eating all the oranges, grapefruits and mandarins I can get my hands on.

These are the fruits that see me through winter. When I lived in Japan, mandarins (known there as mikan) were my constant companion all winter long; I saw countless evenings turn into nights just sitting in the living room, legs tucked into kotatsu*, drinking hot green tea and peeling mikan after mikan, watching TV or writing letters to friends back home.**

On Sunday, at the market, after breakfasting on cheesecake and so many oysters, I ventured out looking for something fresh and exciting and ended up with the same things I’ve been eating for the last couple months: citrus and rhubarb. But what glorious Gisborne mandarins they were: bright and orange and bursting with cheer. And the rhubarb –  those stalks so robust and fresh-looking with their almost-fluorescent-pink ends – couldn’t pass it up either.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them for ages after I got home until I got to thinking about spring, and summer, and that got me thinking about the custard tarts my friend Rob used to make for summertime picnics and flat dinners and so on.***

His were filled with a thick, creamy vanilla-seed-studded custard, and topped with berries or cherries or whatever summer fruit was available. They were beautiful: cool, creamy, bursting with fruit juices, perfect for an evening dinner outdoors. But I wanted something a little bit more grounded, a little less fleeting than the bursting berries and cold-creamy custard of summer.

So in a tribute to winter fruits, and with a nod towards the chilled fruit-and-custard desserts of the warmer months, I settled on making these baked mandarin custard tarts, topped with poached rhubarb and bits of mandarin.

I couldn’t quite find the recipe I was imagining in my head, so the custard recipe is sort of cobbled together from a couple recipes in past issues of Cuisine (one of them, for scented custard tarts, is here, and the other, for a grapefruit tart, is here) and from tinkering around in the kitchen until I got the custard filling right.

The recipe might seem complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward. There are just several steps involved, and some assembly. The way I go about it is as follows:

1. Making the pastry.
2. Making the custard filling.
3. Putting (1) and (2) together and baking.
4. Poaching rhubarb with which to top the cooled, finished product of (3).
5. Eating.

See? So much simpler when you look at it that way. And it’s beautiful: sunny-yellow custard filling all mellow and sweet from the addition of mandarin juice, just a tad aromatic and grown-up from cardamom and orange blossom water. The rhubarb and mandarin on top, though not as intensely dramatic as bright-red, burstingly juicy cherries or berries, are sweet and demure and just juicy enough to provide a lovely contrast to the creamy custard.

*Kotatsu. So traditionally, in Japanese homes, you sit on the floor on a low table when you eat. And in the winter, people sandwich a futon (not the fold-out sofa known to English-speakers as a futon, but a proper Japanese one, basically a thick, heavy duvet) in between the table top and the frame. And underneath? A heater. Yes. So amazing. Kotatsu are, in my opinion, quite possibly one of the best inventions mankind has ever come up with, and I’m perplexed as to why this hasn’t caught on in Western countries, especially New Zealand, what with our general lack of central heating or insulation and all.

**Almost as hard to believe as the fact that daylight savings time is nearly here: the fact that in 2002 I was still writing letters. Yes, I was also using email at the time, but it was still a time when letter-writing was, I dunno, somewhat common?!  It was pre-Facebook, that’s for sure. Now? I write letters to my grandma…

***Apparently I think about those tarts a lot… this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned them in a blog post.

MANDARIN CUSTARD TARTS WITH POACHED RHUBARB

First, make the shortcrust pastry. You’ll need about 400 grams. You can use your own favourite sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, or the following, which I’ve slightly from A Cook’s Bible:

200g flour sifted with 1/4 tsp salt
125 g butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg
zest of 1 or 2 mandarins 

Sift the flour and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into little pieces and rub into the flour using your fingers. Beat the egg, sugar and zest together and add to the flour mixture: it should be nice and firm like cookie dough.* If it’s too wet or soft, add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry, add a little milk. Form into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

*A nice, firm cookie dough, like for sugar cookies or other cookies you roll out, not the kind you glop onto baking sheets.

While the pastry is resting in the fridge, prepare the mandarin custard filling:

1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cream*
a few (5 or so) cardamom pods
a decent-sized piece of mandarin peel
1 cup mandarin juice
(from about 5-6 mandarins)
zest of about 2-3 mandarins
2 eggs, plus an egg yolk
(white reserved for brushing the inside of the pastry)
100g sugar

orange blossom water 
(optional)

Heat the milk and cream along with the cardamom pods and mandarin peel just until boiling. Cover and let steep for at least 10 minutes, maybe more, while you get everything else ready.

Squeeze about a cupful of mandarin juice and pour into a little saucepan. Boil vigorously until it reduces to about 1/4 cup. Let cool.

In a smallish bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk along with the sugar and mandarin zest until the sugar dissolves a bit and it’s well-combined. Add the reduced juice (ha! that’s fun to say) and whisk some more, then, using a sieve, strain out the cardamom pods and mandarin peel from the cream/milk mixture and pour that in. Give everything a good whisk to combine. If you have orange blossom water, add a couple drops of that – not to overpower it, but enough to give it that alluring hint of something seductively floral.

*I used a milk-cream mixture because I was almost out of cream. You could also just go ahead and use all cream.

Next, assembly! (The fun part, of course.)

Heat the oven to 170C. 

Roll out the pastry so it’s reasonably thin and use it to line a 12-cup muffin tin.* Line with baking paper, weigh the paper down with dry beans (or ceramic blind-baking beans or whatever you have), and blind bake at 170C for about 10-15 minutes until they’re just starting to get a golden hue and hold their shape.

Take them out of the oven, remove the baking paper liners and beans, and brush the inside with the reserved egg white. Pop back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 150C.

Let them cool down a bit before you put the custard filling in. You don’t have to go crazy and wait ages, I lasted about 5 minutes.

Using a small ladle, carefully pour the custard filling into each tart shell so that it comes almost all the way up to the top. Carefully (I tend to slosh these things around and make a huge mess, so be steady) place these in the oven.  Bake at 150C for about 20 minutes or until just set (no longer liquidy, though they may still have a teensy bit of wobble). Remove from the oven and cool completely.

* Or, 2 6-cup muffin tins, or individual tart tins, or whatever takes your fancy really – .

Next, poach the rhubarb for the topping:

2 stalks rhubarb, cut into little pieces that’ll fit in each tart
bits of mandarin peel
a couple tablespoons sugar

Heat the sugar and mandarin peel in about 1/2 cup water until the sugar is all dissolved and the mixture comes to a nice simmer. Add the rhubarb pieces and simmer gently for 2 or so minutes, so that they’re just cooked and tender but not totally falling apart. Remove from the liquid and let cool.

When everything is completely cool, top each tart with a bit of rhubarb and a mandarin segment (pith removed). Chill in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Wow! And congratulations and thank you for making it to the end of this extremely long post! Thank you also to all the people who have visited the Facebook page for this blog already, and hit ‘like’ – if you haven’t yet, it’s at www.facebook.com/milliemirepoix and I have unashamedly talked it up here. Feel free to check it out.

baked vanilla custard with peaches

In desserts, gluten free, late summer, puddings on 15 March, 2011 at 1:49 am

I keep coming back to write this blog post I started on Friday afternoon, then finding myself immobilised in front of the computer screen by the incomprehensibly-scaled disaster unfolding in Japan.

Although I’m fortunate not to know anyone living in the worst-affected areas in northern Japan, this past weekend was another one of jitters, of waiting to hear news of friends and family (luckily I haven’t had any bad news), of watching NHK* and flicking through news sites until my eyes were so sore they were about to pop out of my head. Sleeping poorly. Checking Twitter constantly on my phone (so rude! sorry everyone) for updates.**

I keep thinking of the destruction in Christchurch, and how I can’t even comprehend that, let alone what has happened to the Tohoku region. I keep remembering a family holiday in Iwate Prefecture, in particular a side trip we took to Miyako***, a sleepy little coastal town west of Morioka. The 2-hour winding train ride on this clackety 2-car train that took us through steep hills, high above a winding gorge that widened into a majestic, flat river flowing to sea. The hills blanketed in green, and then, later, the stunning limestone cliffs and rock formations rising out of the clear blue.

It’s funny because I can’t remember much about the town itself, and now it’s too late to go back and remember what it was. And other place-names that keep coming up in the news carry with them faint hues of sitting on trains with my brothers, and I can’t remember much else. I find myself mourning the irretrievability of faded memories. Insignificant, selfish really, in the face of everything else.

The good things have come in waves this weekend, too. First in the form of confirmation from friends and family in Japan (mostly in the Kanto/Tokyo region), that they were safe, even if they did have to walk several hours to reach their homes. Then in the form of a very delicious brunch**** I had at Monterey in Newtown. Later, in a couple hours spent following a pod of orcas around the Miramar Peninsula, one of the most joyous experiences of my life. And throughout the weekend, in this bowl of blackboy peaches (the name! but hey) that ripened one by one.

The first time I heard of these peaches was actually not until last year, when I stayed at a little backpacker’s hostel in Picton on the way to a couple days out in the Marlborough Sounds. Part of the appeal of this place was its gorgeous old-house feel, the other part the freshly baked bread and assorted homemade jams that were set out for breakfast each morning. I ended up buying a jar of blackboy peach jam to take home, enthralled by the somewhat-un-PC name and because, well, I was so excited to discover this as-yet-unheard of (by me) variety of fruit. I had no clue what they actually looked like, though, until Vanille blogged about them the other week, and I was dying to find some.

Then, on Wednesday, success. Spotted a couple of boxes at Moore Wilson’s (there were some at New World as well). Picked up a bagful. And on Thursday, this custard.

I wanted to keep things relatively simple to keep the spotlight (rightly) on the peach. What sprung to mind were the to-die-for cherry custard tarts my friend Rob made for a picnic earlier this summer: a sturdy pastry crust, a vanilla-bean-flecked custard filling, macerated cherries on top. But then I ate a big lunch and was a bit too full for pastry (or maybe just not in the mood), and I started thinking about this baked vanilla custard I’d had at Logan Brown some time ago. And then I saw the perfect recipe in one of my old Cuisine magazines.

The peaches need no explanation; they’re exquisite in themselves. Adding a bit of sugar and leaving them to macerate gives them a bit more sweetness and juice if yours are still pretty tart, as mine were at that stage, and the peachy syrup that forms is wonderful spooned over the custard.

This is one of those custards that makes you want to gasp with joy when you put a spoonful in your mouth, except you’d probably choke. It has the most beautiful wobbly texture, at once delicate and luxurious. When baked custard, whether it’s unadorned or served as crème brulee or flan, reaches that just-set stage (and no more) it’s one of my favourite things in the world.

Now that I think of it, this love of custard probably stems from that trip to Japan, when we spent hours on northward trains and we’d go to convenience stores beforehand to stock up with onigiri and other snacks for lunch, and the thing I ate probably more than anything else on that trip? Prepackaged purin (Japanese crème caramel). Highly processed? Probably. But so good, with that wobbly-creamy texture I adore. And because I was a kid and had the metabolism of a horse, I devoured them, train ride after train ride. There. My memories aren’t lost, after all. Though there’s so much else that is, I’m hopeful that Japan can recover some slices of normal life in the coming days.

*Japan’s public broadcast station, which people have been streaming live through various Ustream channels.

**Maki of the fantastic blog Just Hungry (Japanese food and recipes) has been tirelessly translating and tweeting Japanese news broadcasts for days now. Her Twitter username is @makiwi.

***I’m not posting the video of the tsunami hitting Miyako, but it’s out there, and as heart-crushing as the rest of it all.

****and a to-die-for peach iced tea!

BAKED VANILLA CUSTARD WITH PEACHES (serves 6):
(just barely adapted from Cuisine 127, July 2008. Recipe here)

You will need:
2-3 peaches
caster sugar
vanilla bean
600ml cream
6 egg yolks

Thinly slice 2-3 peaches and set aside in a bowl. If your peaches are still quite firm and tart, you may want to macerate them by spooning over a couple tablespoons of sugar and giving it a stir before letting the bowl sit while you prepare the custard.

Meanwhile, split and scrape out seeds of 1 vanilla bean (alternatively you could use a teaspoon or 2 of vanilla paste but there’s something special about this dessert that deserves a vanilla bean, if you have one). Add the scraped-out bean and the seeds to a smallish saucepan with 600ml cream*, bring this to the boil, remove from heat and let it sit for about 20 minutes.

While you’re waiting for the vanilla to infuse the cream with the most vanilla-y vanilla-ness (oh boy, it’s late, I’m tired), preheat the oven to 160C and separate 6 eggs. Keep only the yolks** and whisk them gently with 2 tablespoons caster sugar. Slowly pour in the vanilla-infused cream while continuing to whisk gently. Pour into a jug through a sieve to catch any eggy bits that may have curdled/cooked (and the vanilla bean if you haven’t already plucked it out). Try not to drink too much of this mixture directly as you’ll need it if you plan on serving the finished product. Then pour into 6 individual 125-ml ramekins.***

Place the ramekins in a baking dish lined with a tea towel and fill halfway up the sides of the ramekins with boiling water. Carefully (do not spill boiling water on yourself!) transfer to oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes; you’ll want them slightly jiggly. Remove the dish from the oven and then the ramekins from the dish; cool a little and top with peach slices. Add some of the syrup/juices from the bottom of the peach bowl if you like. It’s extra good!

*I used a combination of 450ml cream and made up the rest with milk because I failed to check how much cream I had before starting to make this. It still tasted fine.

**Don’t throw out the whites – you can use them for meringues, or angel food cake, or macarons, to fold into waffle batter, etc. They will keep in the freezer.

***As you can see, I used a variety of receptacles because most of my ramekins are greater in volume than 125ml.

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