Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

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Last week our temperatures soared to 78 degrees here in Ann Arbor. It was a welcome surprise after the snow we had the week before. Although winter is one of my favorite seasons, nothing beats those first warm days of spring when you begin to see daffodils peeping through the soil and buds appearing on the trees. Most noticeably, some of my favorite spring fruits are making an appearance in the grocery store. It might be a while before we see fresh fruits at the farmers market, but for now I can settle with buying them from Kroger. Last week, I stocked up on some strawberries and rhubarb—two of my favorite springtime fruits.

Last week in the Sweet Precision kitchen I made one of my well known desserts—a fruit crisp. When I was younger, my favorite dish to make was apple crisp. I made it so many times that it was the first dessert I was able to make without a recipe! The wonderful thing about this dessert is that it has infinite variations based on what fruit is available or in season. It’s so versatile you can simply throw in whatever fruits you have laying around the kitchen.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Recipe
Makes approximately 16 servings

Ingredients
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups sliced fresh straw berries
3 cups diced rhubarb
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup rolled oats

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and place a rack in the middle of the oven.

In a large bowl, mix white sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, strawberries, and rhubarb. Place the mixture in a 9×13 inch baking dish.

Mix 1 1/2 cups flour, brown sugar, butter, and oats until crumbly. You may want to use a pastry blender for this. Crumble on top of the rhubarb and strawberry mixture. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until crisp and lightly browned.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If you don’t have a pastry blender, simply use your hands to mix the butter, flour, and sugar together. As a time saver, you can even mix the topping in advance and then store it in the freezer in an airtight container until you’re ready to use it. This way you can have the crumbly topping on standby for when you get home from work and want to make something sweet and comforting quickly.

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Tarte Tatin

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Tarte Tatin is the French name for a famous dessert invented years ago by the Tatin sisters, in their restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron on the Loire River. It consists of caramelized sliced apples oven-baked in a skillet with the pastry on top. When done, it is turned upside-down so the crust is on the bottom and the apple slices – wonderfully brown, buttery, and glazed with caramel—remain in a design on top. The amazing thing about Tarte Tatin is how the caramelized apples are somehow transformed into something entirely new while still retaining their distinct apple taste. It’s one of the easiest desserts I’ve attempted it make, but also the most challenging. It’s easy because it’s baked upside down, which means there is no need for special decorations or even beautiful rolling of the dough. The real challenge is finding the right balance when caramelizing the apples. Julia Child captures the essence of the dessert in this quote.

“To be sure, a Tarte Tatin should be brown and sweet, but it needs to be more. The apples need to be cooked in sugar and butter long enough that they are not only coated in buttery caramel but also permeated with sweetness. Like what happens in jam-making, where some of the water in the fruit is replaced by sugar.”

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Perhaps the most special part of this post is the pan that I used to cook the tart. On a trip to Paris last fall, my parents visited E. Dehellerin. Tucked away on rue Coquillière not too far from the Louvre, this store has been selling cookware for professionals and serious home chefs since 1820. According to my parents, it’s a store that definitely favors function over form, boasting aisles packed with pots and pans reaching as high as the ceiling. Julia Child was a regular here purchasing kitchenware while she attended school at Le Cordon Bleu. Knowing that E. Dehellerin is famous for their copper, my dad purchased a Tarte Tatin pan which was made specifically for this recipe. I was pleased to learn that not only does copper conduct heat faster, but it also does so much more evenly. This combination is perfect for temperature control when working with the sugar at a high temperature. Thanks dad!

The following recipe is courtesy of Julia Child’s book The Way to Cook, published in 1994. A Christmas gift from my dad several years ago, this is a magnificent cookbook in which Julia distills her knowledge from a lifetime of cooking into one book. In the book, she states that this recipe is her fourth and definitive recipe for Tarte Tatin.

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Tarte Tatin Recipe

Ingredients for Pastry Dough
3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons chilled butter, diced
2 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
1/4 cup ice water, or as needed

Ingredients for Tart Tatin
6 Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled and halved
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, as accompaniment

Directions
Preparing the dough. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the flours, sugar and butter. Pulse 5 or 6 times in 1/2-second bursts to break up the butter. Add the shortening, turn on the machine and immediately add the ice water, pulsing 2 or 3 times. The dough should look like a mass of smallish lumps and should just hold together in a mass when a handful is pressed together. If the mixture is too dry, pulse in more water by droplets. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and with the heel of your hand, rapidly and roughly push egg-size blobs into a 6-inch smear. Gather the dough into a relatively smooth cake, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days).

Preparing the apples. Quarter, core, and peel the apples; cut the quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon and 1/2 cup of sugar, and let steep 20 minutes so they will exude their juices. Drain them.

The caramel. Set the frying pan over moderately high heat with the butter, and when melted blend in the remaining 1 cup sugar. Stir about with a wooden spoon for several minutes, until the syrup turns a bubbly caramel brown – it will smooth out later, when the apples juices dissolve the sugar.

Arranging the apples in the pan. Remove from heat and arrange a layer of apple slices nicely in the bottom of the pan to make an attractive design. Arrange the rest of the apples on top, close packed and only reasonably neat. Add enough so that they heap up 1 inch higher than the rim of the pan – they sink down as they cook.

Preliminary stove-top cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F for the next step, placing the rack in the lower middle level. Set the pan again over moderately high heat, pressing the apples down as they soften, and drawing the accumulated juices up over them with the bulb baster – basting gives the apples a deliciously buttery caramel flavor. In several minutes, when the apples begin to soften, cover the pan and continue cooking 10 to 15 minutes, checking and basting frequently until the juices are thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly while you roll out the dough.

The dough cover. Roll the chilled dough into a circle 3/16 inch thick and 1 inch larger than the top of your pan. Cut 4 steam holes, 1/4-inch size, 1 1/2 inches from around the center of the dough. Working rapidly, fold the dough in half, then in quarters; center the point over the apples. Unfold the dough over the apples. Press the edges of the dough down between the apples and the inside of the pan.

Bake and serve. Bake about 20 minutes at 425 degrees F. Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped. Being careful of the red-hot pan handle, remove from the oven. Still remembering that the pan is red-hot, turn the serving dish upside down over the apples and reverse the two to unmold the tart. Serve hot, warm, or cold, with the optional whipped cream or ice cream.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
After you take your tart out of the oven, you can test to see whether it’s ready be unmolded. Simply tilt the pan, and if the juices are runny rather than a thick syrup, boil down rapidly on top on the stove. However, be sure not to evaporate them completely or the apples will stick to the pan. If a few apples stick to the pan—which does happen—rearrange the slices as necessary.

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake

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The first thing a lot of people learn about making anything with batter is to not over mix it. Unfortunately, that’s all a lot of folks ever learn and there’s certainly more to know when making a great cake. Last weekend, I took an excellent class on cake baking at Zingerman’s Bake House. In the class, I learned how to make (and take home) three complete cakes each requiring a different mixing technique—Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Angel Food Cake, and Flourless Chocolate Truffle Cake.

For those who aren’t familiar, Zingermans is a gourmet food business headquartered right here in Ann Arbor. Their slogan is: “You really can taste the difference,” and they offer baking classes to educate consumers about the products they sell. I left my four hour class with three cakes in tow, armed with tons of new knowledge about baking cakes. Today, I want to share the recipe for pineapple upside down cake.

Pineapple upside down cake is a classic American dessert that was very popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s. An upside down cake, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, is “a cake baked with a bottom layer of fruit and turned upside down before serving.” Today, this cake is still going strong—and boldly taking on new, adventurous flavors such as chocolate fudge and maple syrup. I would be remiss not to note that cooking a cake or tart with a fruit layer on the bottom and afterwards inverting it is neither new nor indigenous to America. Among the most famous of these treats is the French tarte tatin, an early 20th century upside-down apple tart. Stay tuned later this month for a recipe on this classic French dessert!

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Original Recipe from Zingerman’s Delicatessen

Pineapple Topping Ingredients
1/4 cup butter (melted)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup pineapple (cut into 1/4 thick rings)
1/2 cup pitted cherries

Cake Ingredients
1/2 cup + 1/3 cup cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup buttermilk (room temperature)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 20 minutes before baking the cake.

Spray a 9” round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray, and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Melt the butter and pour into the prepared cake pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar onto the melted butter. Top with pineapple rings and place cherries between the pineapple pieces. Set aside, while working on your cake batter.

Onto a parchment paper, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Once all of the egg yolks are incorporated, add the vanilla extract and mix in.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Start with 1/3 of the dry, mix well, and then add 1/3 of the buttermilk, and repeat two more times with remaining ingredients. Once everything is incorporated, beat well with a rubber spatula to make sure your batter is fully mixed and fluffy.

Pour batter into prepared pan with topping, and smooth with the spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Check the cake after 20 minutes. When it is done, the top of the cake should be golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed in the center. A cake tester should come out clean. It should have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Let rest 5 minutes. Run a small knife or metal spatula around the sides of the pan and invert the cake onto a cooling rack or cardboard cake round. Serve warm or and room temperature.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Fat plays a very important role in baking. It tenderizes the product by coating and weakening the gluten bonds within the structure. In fact, the name shortening was coined as such because it shortens the gluten strands when baking. The point behind all of this is to provide a word of caution when substituting other ingredients for fat in recipes. Often the structure and texture of a cake will be significantly different when you begin to substitute for fat. Definitely don’t try it in this recipe!

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