Nusstorte is a pie very typical for where I come from and my grandmother, whom we all called Nani, used to make this for coffee or as a dessert. It’s a mixture of walnuts, sugar, honey, eggs and cream baked in velvety buttercrust pastry. The secret is to take your time, stir well and let the pastry sit before processing. This tarte is baked the old farmer’s wife way, which is at rather a low temperature and for a long time, a tribute to good old stovepipe cooking.
For the dough: Take 250g spelt flour (T80), 50g of sugar, 100g of fresh butter, a pinch of salt, half a teaspoon of baking powder and a drizzle of milk and prepare a silky dough. Take care to work as swiftly as possible as the butter should not melt but rather amalgamate with the flour. Let the dough sit in a cool spot for an hour.
For the filling: Take 150g of sugar, 50g of honey and 2 eggs and stir well until creamy. Add 75ml of whole cream and a dash of grated lemon zest, keep on stirring and add 250g of broken walnuts.
Butter a flat tarte mould and roll out 2/3 of the dough to about 3mm. Carefully lay out the mould and add the walnut filling. Roll out the remaining dough, again to about 3mm and cover the mixture. Be sure to press the rim, so that the filling won’t spill while baking.
Heat two large spoons of honey until it’s well liquid and carefully coat the tarte with it. Punch a couple of holes into the cover so that the tarte won’t produce any volcanic eruptions while baking.
Bake at 160°C no fan for about an hour and let cool in the mould. Enjoy with a dollop of double cream and a little glass of pear liqueur.
Oysters Make Good Brackets
I like brackets. Both in light of their orthographical purpose, and of the corresponding implications on real life. Brackets are a way of delineating an entity on its own that remains embedded in and in a way dependent on a larger context. A very good concept. So, to give you an example of kitchen alchemy, you may start a luncheon with oysters and finish it with oysters (the brackets), having a number of separate courses in between (the entity), with the simple aim of enjoying yourself (the larger context). How is that!
The famous R-months are back, the oyster months. It’s an old rule of thumb to have oysters only during months that contain an R. In French. I’ve often wondered why this is. One reason seems to have to do with protecting the oyster banks from overexploitation. But far more likely, in my opinion, is the conditions under which oysters had been transported outside the colder seasons. Which is, after all, the months without an R in French. Big chunks of ice were brought in from ice caves, remnants of the glacial period, methuselah ice spared under peculiar geographic conditions. We once visited one in the Jura, in high summer, it felt like a journey to the arctic, a descent to another world.
Nowadays nothing really speaks against having oysters in summer, except perhaps that they’re too thick. But you just might get them a size smaller, this is what we usually do.
Now, my friends, while oysters as a starter just sound the very thing, you may wonder a little how possibly one could suffer oysters for dessert. Ha. I’ll tell you: it’s meringue oysters! Filled with sweet whipped cream and sip of mirabelle eau de vie. And this is how it goes:
For the meringue:
One egg yields about two oysters, say size three. Separate the yolk from the egg white. Take about 30 grams of sugar per egg. Add the sugar to the egg white and let it soak at (a cool) room temperature for a couple of hours. Then whip until you get a very firm mass, Marie Antoinette hairstyle texture etc (for those of you who are not (yet) familiar with my blog, egg whites are whipped to satisfaction whenever they are suited to be towered up on your head like Marie Antoinette’s hair).
Throw an egg shaped dollop on a baking sheet. With a spoon, pull through the mass thus creating an uneven void in the middle, making it look like the bottom of an oyster. For the tops, throw half the quantity and shape them like oyster lids using a spoon.
Bake them, oven door slightly ajar, at about 80°C for at least 2 hours. The meringue is done as soon as they won’t stick to the baking paper. Keep them in a well sealed box when they’ve cooled out to avoid the meringue drawing moisture from the air.
For the filling:
Add a teaspoonful of sugar per decilitre of cream, whip until firm and take care not to make butter. Add a sip of eau de vie de mirabelle (you might as well take kirsch, or armagnac liquor) and stir well.
Serve with a glass of macvin du Jura.
Poires au Vin. And Garlic. Dessert.
Peel four nice Williams pears and place them in a not too wide pan. Cover them in a light red wine, a pinot noir for example, and add a generous spoon of honey. Peel two cloves of garlic and add them to the soup. I’ve been very surprised about the latter step, and more so of the outcome! You may or may not add a little cardamon to enhance the flavour.
Let the pears simmer, turning them from time to time so that they are well coloured on all sides. Cook until the red wine-honey is reduced to a thick soup.
Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche. Bon appétit!
About that Chocolate Tarte
About that Chocolate Tarte, façon Poissonchat. What gets into it and how and when. I’ve done it countless times, in countless variations. The last tweak I gave it is the one with the damsons or plums. Initially to keep it moist. But then our village vet fell heads over ears for my plum tarte, so I thought it would be worthwhile to repeat the experiment. Damsons dried in their juice, glistening sirupy black toads. I usually dry them in the oven of our wood fired stove. Slowly, at a low temperature, and for a long time. With their hearts left inside. Sometimes I put them in brandy or armagnac to soak. Sometimes not. And then into that tarte. How does it work, that tarte? Well, here is what gets into it, very simple:
4-6 eggs (depending on their size. I get mine from my neighbour who has hens who in all seriousness lay giant eggs. I once asked him whether he’s sure that he didn’t mistake his hens for geese.)
170g of sugar (my baking sugar has a faint perfume of vanilla, as I put the used stems into the sugar pot. You may as well add a little grated vanilla to the sugar but do try that continuous vanilla sugar production, it reduces waste and tastes delicious.)
200g of butter (sweet butter!)
200g of very dark chocolate, the darker the better (you may wish to adjust your sugar quantity based on the sweetness of the dark chocolate you choose)
A few spoonfuls of cocoa powder, the unsweetened one
Even less spoonfuls of flour
The tiniest pinch of salt (I usually use fleur de sel as it’s saltiness is tender, like the balmy air of the sea)
A sip of cointreau or brandy or armagnac (which would be the portion you’d serve your grandfather after dinner. Continental European, not Mexican, perhaps.)
8-10 splendid dried damsons. Heart in or out, depending on your eaters capacity to pay attention to your instructions not to bite on that stone (or the temper of their teeth).
Another couple spoonfuls of cocoa powder, for the final tweak
Now that is all very well, but how is it getting into the pot? Well, if I were you, I’d start with melting that dangerously dark chocolat . Melt it in the bain marie, which is in a pot which is in a pot of water. At a very low temperature, the water should not boil but steam graciously. Put the butter with the chocolate to melt, stir from time to time, benignly.
Take your time. Never ever rush. Be friendly and a little mischievous and have a light heart that leaps with glee when you see the dark oily chocolate melt into the golden yellow butter. You may as well do a little fortune telling now. Or Rorschach test. Smell. While the chocolate butter amalgamation advances, start separating the yolks from the egg whites. Carefully slitting the white thread that holds the yolk to the egg white. Then whip the yolks with 3/4 of the sugar. Whip and whip and whip until it is a creamy white. Or let your kitchen robot do it (which is what I do, there is, after all, glory in progress).
Depending on your oven, perhaps this is the time to start heating it up (mine is very slow, you know). Temperature 7-8 (corresponds to 210°-240°C) and fan. Butter the baking mould, butter it well and powder it with flour. I usually take a 25cm spring clip tin but you may also take a smaller, higher one. That would be a cake then instead of a tarte, works well as well.
And then my favourite part: slowly stir the chocolate butter into the white egg yolks. This I do myself, pot in one hand and wooden ladle in the other. Always stir in the same direction. Look at that colour, the lustruous shiny mass. If you haven’t already, please get yourself a nice little spoon and try. Taste, watch it rolling down your spoon. Relish. If you have seen something spooky in that pot earlier, rest assured that now everything will be alright.
I’m sure your kitchen robot meanwhile would be happy to whip up the rest of the sugar with the egg whites. And that tiny pinch of fleur de sel. Whip it white until the mass could be used to be towered up on your head, you know, like poor late Marie Antoinette’s hair. With sugar flowers sticking out of it. Brilliant.
Pour that sip of cointreau or brandy or armagnac into the black mass. It will give the dough a lift, put it into excellent spirits. Stir. Then slowly add the spoonfuls. Soup spoons, generous ones. I think I’ve given it three of the white flour and six of the black cocoa. In fact, the mass should have the texture of, well, of fresh mortar before you trow it at the wall perhaps. Or of sand the moment when waves recede to the sea, gurgling and bobbling. Heavy and sloggish but moist through and through. You might want to try again now, just in case.
Check that oven. As soon as the temperature is up:
Slowly stir that Marie Antoinette egg whites into this mass. I say really slowly. Carefully. Them white bubbles are very skittish. They hate coarseness, like to be caressed at any rate. No worry if your mass looks a little marbré, like marble. It will amalgamate later in the oven. Pour into the baking mould, put the damsons in, push them a little into the dough, gently. And quick into the oven, don’t waste the heat.
Clean the pot, I do this with a rubber spoon to ensure I get at all the residue. About this time usually, when the bitter sweet chocolate perfume is filling the kitchen, I start thinking about roquefort. Or hammock. After 7 minutes, take away the fan and bake for another 13 to 15 mins. Try whether it is done by sticking a knitting needle into the tin. If the dough sticks, it needs another couple of minutes. If it gets out greasy but tidy, the tarte is cuite, cooked. I usually leave it in the open oven for a while, given that the short time of baking leaves its heart still pulpy and soft. If you take it out too quickly, you risk a volcano crater in your tarte. Let it cool down gently, so that it may gain firmness.
Taking it out of the mould is most probably the most difficult thing about that tarte. Matters a lot when you do it. Because it should be cooled enough to get out easily but warm enough still to make the cocoa powder snow storm topping stay without taking grease. I usually remove the rim first. Then put the tarte on the cooling grid, upside down. Trying, from time to time, whether the bottom is coming off alright.
Put it into a nice plate and then the messy, exuberant bit, letting the black cocoa snow over the tarte. Until it looks like sumptuous velvet. Perhaps put two or three damsons in the middle. Put it in a dry and cool place, for it should be eaten cold.
Serve with lavender tea or port.