Boneless kidney lamb chop with celeriac puree and aerated Hollandaise sauce

January 10th, 2016
lamb chops_celery root

Boneless kidney lamb chop with celeriac puree and aerated Hollandaise sauce

As time goes by, and as more and more meals come out of the 2 GM kitchen, I find that sous vide has become the number one go to method of cooking protein and vegetables. Case in point is the deboned kidney lamb chop over celeriac puree veiled with aerated Hollandaise sauce from a whipper/siphon. And what’s great is that the hollandaise sauce was also sous vide prior to being poured into the whip.

So, here’s what’s going on. Although I’m not a huge fan of Hollandaise sauce anymore just because of all the butter, I made aerated Hollandaise sauce for some asparagus a couple of days ago. And yes, it had butter in it, but the aeration by the whip, made it light and extremely good. I had a lot leftover in the whip which went into the refrigerator until I was ready to use it again. I simply warmed up the metal canister which had the chilled Hollandaise in it (and it was still under pressure), and used it on my boneless lamb chops yesterday. Easy, right?


Crunchy asparagus with aerated Hollandaise sauce

Aerated Hollandaise Sauce:


1/3 cup good quality chicken stock
2 T rice vinegar
1 small finely chopped shallot
3 large egg yolks
8 T good quality unsalted butter melted
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Meyer lemon juice


Put the stock, vinegar and shallots in a small sauce pan, and reduce over medium heat until there’s 3 tablespoons of liquid. Off heat, and strain, reserving the reduced stock.

Using an immersion blender (or rigorous manual whisk action) blend the egg yolk and the reduced stock, then place it in a quart size plastic food storage bag. Use the water method of removing the air (put the plastic bag in a large bowl of water and work the air out), and seal the bag. Place the sealed bag in a sous vide bath at 149 degree F for 30 minutes.

When done, remove the the mixture from the bag, place in a bowl, and thoroughly blend the melted butter with the immersion blender (or whisk), add salt to taste and the lemon juice.

Pour the mixture into the whip, screw on the top, and charge with two NO2 cartridges, and you’re good to go. Keep the hollandaise warm by putting the whip back in the sous vide bath.

celery root

Celeriac bulb. How can something that looks like that taste so good?


Celeriac Puree:

1 medium size celeriac
1/2 cup heavy cream.
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg

Peel the celeriac, and chop into course pieces. Pace them into a vacuum bag with the cream, seal, and sous vide for 1 hour at 185 degrees F. When finished, pour the celeriac and cream into a Vitamix, and puree until smooth (use more cream if necessary). Add seasoning to taste. Keep the puree in the Vitamix until ready to serve. (Right before serving, run the Vitamix at high speeds for a minute or so, and it will heat up the puree.)

Boneless Kidney Lamb Chops:


6-10 kidney Lamb chops on the bone


1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T stone ground mustard
1 chopped shallot
4 chopped cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves

3 T Olive Oil
2 large sprigs of rosemary
salt and pepper

1 cup of good quality chicken stock
3 T unsalted butter


Put all the marinate ingredients in a gallon size plastic food bag along with lamb chops. Squeeze out as much air as possible, and refrigerate for 6 hours. Then remove from the refrigerator, discard the marinate, pat dry the chops and season them generously with salt and pepper, and place them in a vacuum bag with the olive oil and rosemary. Vacuum and seal, and place in a sous vide water bath for 2 hours at 139 degrees F.


Heat the chicken stock over medium heat, reduce to almost a glaze, and beat in the butter.

Remove the lamb chops from the vacuum bag, and debone them. Place them in a hot cast iron pan with a drizzle of oil, and sear both sides of the lamb chops. While that’s cooking, warm plates, fire up the Vitamix to warm the puree.

Place a small ladle of the puree on the plate surrounded by a table spoon of the chicken stock reduction/glaze.  Dust the celeriac puree with a pinch of nutmeg.  Take two boneless lamb chops, slice each in half, and position them on top of the puree. Using the whip with Hollandaise sauce, squirt a small amount to one side of the lamb chops.  Serve immediately.


Figs with Goat Cheese & Caramelized Pecans

September 27th, 2015

Figss, Goat Cheese & Pecans

How to turn early Autumn’s succulent figs into a scrumptious appetizer in just a few minutes?  First, choose the best looking medium-firm ripe figs, wash them, remove the stems and cut them in half from top to bottom.  Arrange them on a platter and top each one with a dollop of creamy goat cheese.

In a non-stick skillet, warm up as many pecans as necessary, and toast them over low-medium flame.  Add several tablespoons of your favorite raw honey and a heavy dusting of cayenne pepper.  Stir to blend well.  As the honey begins to melt, squeeze some balsamic glaze on the pecans and continue to stir (I used a berries-flavored glaze).  The mixture will quickly become gooey and fragrant; that’s when it’s ready to be poured or spooned over the figs.

Squirt some of the balsamic glaze on the platter and over the figs for decoration, and top with a handful of coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves.  Serve warm as an appetizer, although this could easily double as a dessert.


72-Hour, Slow Cooked Beef Short Ribs

April 7th, 2015

short ribs

The texture and taste of these short ribs rival medium rare ribeye. The secret is to sous-vide the short ribs at 139 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours. I got the concept from ChefSteps, but I marinated the short ribs for 12 hours prior to putting them in a sous-vide water oven. After the 72 hours and just before serving, either pan sear or quickly grill them over high heat to finish them.


6 or more beef short ribs (have the butcher leave the ribs uncut if possible)

For the marinade:

1 cup of red wine (more if you’re preparing more than 6 ribs)
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp coarse ground mustard
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup olive oil
large sprig each of thyme and tarragon
2-3 bay leaves

For the Sous Vide short ribs:

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large sprig each of thyme and tarragon
salt and pepper


Place all the marinade ingredients in a bowl, and whisk well. Put all the beef ribs in a gallon resealable plastic bag, then pour in the marinade. Squeeze the air out and seal the bag, and refrigerate for 12 hours. Flip the bag over occasionally to make sure all the ribs marinate evenly.

Warm up the water in the sous-vide oven to 139 degree Fahrenheit. Remove the ribs from the marinade, and wipe off any excess liquid. Salt and pepper to taste. Then put the ribs in a vacuum bag, add the 3 Tbsp olive oil and herbs, and vacuum seal the bag – or bags, depending on quantity of ribs. Place the bag(s) in the sous vide oven for 72 hours. If using a SousVide Supreme, make sure the water is circulating around all the ribs, or you might want to periodically rearrange the bag(s) in the water oven.

After 72 hours remove the bagged ribs from the sous vide oven. Let them cool and refrigerate if you’re not going to serve them within several hours, or proceed to finishing them. Whether to de-bone the ribs or not is a personal choice. I usually de-bone mine. Either way, finish the ribs in a hot cast iron pan with a couple of tablespoons of oil, or quickly sear them on a hot grill. When they’re ready, plate immediately. I served mine over slices of sauteed giant Shitake mushrooms. Trust me, they’re the best beef short ribs you’ve ever tasted.


Kimchi Mussels with Pork Belly

February 7th, 2015


BRRRRR…… It’s Siberian cold here; it has been that way for the past couple weeks ever since we got 2+ feet of snow. What better mid winter warm-me-up dinner than mussels steamed in kimchi and topped with braised pork belly?

Serves 4 as an entre:


5 lbs mussels
2 cups Kimchi (preferably home made)
-4 T flour
1/4 cup white wine
braised pork belly


The day before serving the mussels, place them in a large bowl filled with water that has 3-4 T of flour mixed in. This not only purges the mussels but feeds them. After 24 hours, drain and rinse them well.

Put 1  1/2  cups of Kimchi in a large stock pot with the white wine, and bring to a boil. Then add the mussels, cover and cook until the mussels shells open up (less than five minutes). In the meantime, slice the braised, deboned pork belly into narrow strips or slices. Warm them up in a saute pan with a T of olive oil for a couple of minutes, or micro wave them for 45 seconds.

When the mussel shells have opened, drain them in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the broth. Divide the mussels among the bowls, ladle the reserved kimchi broth into each bowl, and top with the warmed pork belly slices. Slice the remaining 1/2 cup (or more) of kimchi into strips and garnish each bowl. Serve immediately with big pieces of fresh rustic bread.


Big, Really BIG Sea Urchins

January 31st, 2015




Searching for Giant Sea Urchin that cost a Fortune:  

Last Saturday night, the 2GMs enjoyed dinner at Bouley in NYC. We opted for the 3 course prix fixe, but the couple next to us chose the chef’s 6 course taster. Their meal started off with a brace of the largest sea urchins I’ve seen east of the Mississippi, billed as Malibu Sea Urchins. I momentarily regretted not going with the chef’s taster. But later, I consoled myself with one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, a chocolate souffle (the other GM had a Mandarin Clementine tart that was truly unbelievable.)

But back to sea urchins. The following morning we stopped by Chelsea Market on the lower west side of Manhattan to purvey at the green grocer, Buon Italia, and the Lobster Place. Amazingly, while at The Lobster Place, we found endless quantities of whole giant California sea urchins, just like the ones I spied the night before at Bouley’s. They were larger than softballs, with a price tag to match. The 2GMs picked out a couple, and once home, back on Eastern Long Island, Rosaria snipped off their tops and plated them. The thing about uni is that no matter how many you have, or how large they are (each of the five lobes of uni roe inside the shell was as big as a person’s tongue!), you just never seem to have enough of that creamy, briny, sweet gold of the sea. After we inhaled them and washed them down with a well chilled muscadet, in addition to not having more sea urchins, I lamented not having another couple of the Mandarin Clementine tarts from the night before to enjoy after our uni.

Incredible Gingerbread Houses

December 24th, 2014

My sister’s gingerbread houses are certainly some of the most beautiful ones you will ever find anywhere.  Francesca has been creating these masterpieces for over 15 years, starting when my nieces were little girls.  These lovely holiday productions have been featured in many homes every Christmas, including ours.  They are too beautiful to eat (take some pictures first!), but when you do finally cave in, there’s no stopping!  Enjoy the images of the process and the final product, below, as well as the story behind them.  Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!



Thank you so much to my friend, Francesca Sammaritano, for sharing this lovely Christmas tradition with us. These images are a compilation of the last three years of creating these amazing Gingerbread houses! Francesca is Assistant Professor of Fashion Design, Parsons The New School for Design, and we blogged about “Inside the Parsons Studio” here!


Gingerbread House Tradition

Family traditions make the Holidays special and magical. Growing up in Sicily one of my fondest memory was that of making “cuddureddi” (traditional Christmas cookies filled with fig jam-all homemade and locally grown) with my mother and my aunts.  We made so many cookies to last us through the season and enjoyed them at every gathering during the Holidays.

When my daughters were in preschool, I began my family tradition of making gingerbread houses and cookies.  The cookies would double as tree ornaments and make great gifts.  We have been making houses and cookies for the last 15 years; creating new designs, testing the template in cardboard first and then making it in the gingerbread dough.  Through the years we have made all sorts of houses: French Chateaus, Medieval Castles, Log Cabins, Victorian, New England even Gaudi style houses!  We make a variety of houses and keep one for our family and we give the rest out as Christmas gifts to our friends, as well as the cookies.  I save one house to raffle off and give proceeds to charity or donate to a local needy family or organization.

As my daughters grew and went off to college, we still kept this tradition; I would leave part of the house for them to decorate when they would come home for winter break.

It is a wonderful sensation that from all the baking, our house smells like gingerbread through the season, and that to us feels like Christmas and a time to celebrate with our very own tradition.













And see some of the “in process” shots below…



Lobster A l’Americaine

October 19th, 2014



Back in the day, especially when I lived in coastal Massachusetts, I made Lobster a l’Americaine regularly.  It was probably the first complicated Julia Child recipe that I mastered.  Now, living on the Eastern End of Long Island, I still have excellent access to great, fresh lobster.  For the past decade or so, I’ve prepared lobster in myriad ways; but my go-to method has been lobster either butter poached or sous vide in butter. Hungry for lobster the other day, I proposed to the other gourmaniac that we go old school and that I’d make Lobster Americaine. Dishes prepared à l’américaine consist of a luscious tomato-wine sauce.

I pretty much relied upon Julia Child here: although, instead of her suggestion for an accompaniment of risotto, I made fresh linguine .

Ingredients (Serves 4 people):

3  1-½ to 2 lb lobsters (hard shell, not shedders that are found during the late summer)
4-5 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 medium stalk of celery, peeled and finely diced
1 medium white onion, finely sliced
4 Tbsp finely minced shallots
4 cloves of finely minced garlic
1/3 cup of cognac
5 medium fresh tomatoes on the vine, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 cup fish stock (preferably home-made)
1-½ cup white wine
2 Tbsp tomato paste
4 Tbsp chopped parsley
4 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
6 Tbsp soften unsalted butter
Basil florets for garnish
The reserved coral (the red and / or green stuff  inside the lobsters)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Kill the lobsters. Separate the claws and knuckles, and the tails from the lobster bodies, reserve the coral and/or the green stuff inside the lobster bodies. With a heavy a kitchen knife or poultry shears, cut the tails into three pieces, detached the claws from the knuckles and crack each claw.

Coat a large Dutch oven (or casserole) with the canola oil and place on high heat on the stove top. When it’s hot, but not smoking, throw in the lobster pieces. Move them around with a wooden spatula, turning them. Cover with a lid and continue to heat, checking on the lobster pieces until the shells are red. (The lobster meat inside the shells shoul not be cooked by this point.) Transfer the lobster from the Dutch oven to a bowl. Immediately place the carrot, celery and onion in the Dutch oven, lower the heat and cook until tender, about five minutes.

When the aromatics are cooked, season the lobster pieces with salt and pepper, then return them to the Dutch oven, and increase the heat to high. Add the garlic and shallots and cover to build up the heat: don’t let the aromatics or the garlic and shallots burn. After a minute or so, remove the lid, pour in the cognac, and ignite with a long neck igniter. (Careful here!)

After the flames subside, pour in the wine and fish stock, and incorporate the tomato paste. Add the chopped tarragon. Reduce the heat and cook on the stovetop for several minutes until everything is simmering. (The aroma is intoxicating.)  Remove from the stovetop; cover the Dutch oven with a lid and place in the 350 degree oven for about 18-20 minutes.

In the meantime, bring a simmering stockpot of salted water to a boil, and just as the lobster comes out of the oven, cook the linguine or fettuccine until al dente.

In a small bowl, blend the coral/green lobster stuff with the softened butter. It will look like a paste. Remove the lobster pieces from the Dutch oven and transfer to a bowl. Take ½ cup of the cooking liquid from the casserole, and add it to the bowl of the butter-coral mixture, whisk quickly, and immediately return to the Dutch oven. Whisk until combined; you’ll notice the cooking liquid begin to thicken. Add the lobster back in and coat with the thickened sauce.

Drain the pasta, plate with the lobster pieces on top of the linguine. Ladle some of the scrumptious sauce into each dish, and garnish with chopped parsley and basil florets.




Onion Soup

May 3rd, 2014

onion soup

Perhaps my all time favorite comfort food is onion soup gratinee, or Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée . I have what you might call a passion and devotion for the stuff; I’ve been making it for over three decades.  If you’re thinking about making incredibly delicious onion soup, let me first say that unless you’re willing to put the time, love and patience into it, I’d sincerely recommend going out to a good restaurant that serves it. Having said that, and if you’re still reading this instead of looking for the car keys, let’s talk onions first.

Unequivocally, my first choice for onion soup is Vidalia onions. They come into season during the spring; traditionally they were harvested in the southeast of the USA. During the season I buy 30-40 pounds of Vidalias at a time, caramelize them in 10-pound batches, put them in vacuum bags and freeze them. (Caramelized Vidalia onions are great for any number of things, including pizza toppings, and my onion-tomato-olive tartin). The first time you caramelize ten pounds of onions you’ll be shocked by the reduced volume of the rendered onions.

Even more critical than the onions is the liquid for the soup; that is, the stock. Volumes have been written about stocks used in cooking, and I know I’ve stuck my two cents’ worth in at various times in this blog. Suffice it to say, without at least a good stock (we’re talking homemade), stop right here and go get the car keys.

Over the years I’ve used chicken, beef, veal, and duck stocks for onion soup. Julia Child advocates chicken stock; Thomas Keller is a proponent of beef stock. In the 80s I read a Thanksgiving dinner recipe in Gourmet from the Essex Inn, in Connecticut which profiled War of 1812 onion soup (British version) which called for copious amounts of duck backs. For the past five years or so I’ve migrated to a 50% chicken and 50% duck stock blend. I keep a lot of both stocks in a chest freezer. Regardless of your choice of stocks, the key is a degreased, rich, and flavorful one; without that, you’re wasting your time.

The last two key ingredients are cheese and bread for a large crouton. Again, it becomes a matter of personal choice for the cheese. Keller strongly suggests an aged Comte. I like a good Gruyere or Fontina. When I photographed the onion soup for this post I had neither, so I went with the Jarlsberg in the refrigerator.

Finally, for the toasted crouton I’d avoid store bought white loaf bread, if possible. I bake, so there’s usually something interesting lying around to slice up, toast and whittle down to fit the soup bowl. Baguette size slices are ideal. Just remember, the bread is going to absorb some of the soup, and it will become an integral part of the overall culinary experience.

So let’s put this all together:

To make 1 gallon Onion Soup:


10 lbs. sweet onions, preferably Vidalia
1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter
¼ cup unbleached white flour
2 Tbsp unsalted flour
2 qt. good homemade chicken stock (I’ve been using Julia Child’s for years)
2 qt. duck stock (I like Keller’s duck stock from French Laundry cook book)
½ inch slice of bread for each bowl served
¼-½ cup Gruyere cheese, sliced thin or shredded


Peel the onions, slicing off the stem and the opposite end. Cut each onion in half from stem to top, not cross-sectionally. Place the onions cut side down and, using a sharp knife, slice along the veins. This will help cook evenly and ultimately caramelize the onions. By the time you slice up ten pounds of onions, you’ll be a pro. (Figure out in advance how to deal with tearing eyes from onions: I do this close to my range’s overhead vent; my daughter wears ski goggles).

Once all the onions are sliced, place the stick of butter in a large pot, preferably a cast iron casserole. If you don’t have one large enough to hold all the onions, start out with two pans (half the butter in each one), and cook down until you can combine all the onions in one pot. Start off with medium heat, stir and coat the onions with the melting butter. Keep stirring intermittently and keep an eye on the onions for the first 10-15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to almost low, cover the casserole with a lid that is propped open a bit. Check on the onions regularly to make sure they’re not sticking. After a half-hour or so, the onions will begin to release their water. Remove the cover, stir the onions, and reduce the heat to lowest setting on a gas range. Cook the onions about three-and-a half hours, occasionally stirring with a wooden spatula. The onions will render their water and begin turning a darker color. Standing by, increase the heat a little and stir; as I said, you’ll be amazed at the reduced volume of ten pounds of onions. When all the water is rendered, and the onions are a gorgeous, caramelized brown color, off heat and allow them to cool. Take a taste: how sweet is that?

In a large stock pot melt the 2 Tbsp butter over medium heat, add the flour and stir, cooking for several minutes to make a thick blonde roux (a thickener).  Add the caramelized onions, either using all of the rendered onions or a portion, depending on how thick you like your onion soup. Combine the roux and the onions, add the two stocks and combine well. Bring everything to an active simmer, and let it cook for 45 minutes or so. Taste and season it.

Just before serving, toast the croutons. There are two schools of thoughts on the croutons. Jacques Pepin likes to put them in before he adds the soup: I’m of the school that ladles in the soup first, using the crouton as raft for the cheese. Up to you. However, once the cheese is added on top, run the soup bowls under a broiler, or place in a very hot oven until the cheese melts and slightly browns.

Either I’m a glutton for punishment, or I really like making onion soup. For me, the trouble is well worth it. And I’ve never had anyone at my table disagree with me. Of course it’s infinitely easier to consume the soup than it is to make it.


Pennoni and Cheese with Kale, Peas, and Mint

April 14th, 2014

Some time ago I glanced through a recipe for paccheri, the giant round tubes pasta, with fresh peas and mint. I don’t recall the source, but I remember that it wasn’t fresh pea season. So I waited until I could get some fresh peas and by the time I was ready for the recipe, I had changed it considerably. The pasta I used was a bag of pennoni I had in the pantry; I substituted kale for spinach, and since I could hardly recall which cheeses were used with the paccheri, I came up with my own combination below. Apparently I simply cannot resist tampering with a good pasta dish. You will not be disappointed.

Ingredients (Yield: 6 to 8 servings):

  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano for dusting pan
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano
  • ½ cup grated Primo Sale cheese (or Fontina)
  • ½ cup grated Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk (lowfat is fine)
  • 1 large egg
  • Fresh ground salt and black pepper
  • 1 pound pennoni or your favorite large rigatoni (or paccheri)
  • 1 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped kale, blanched, hard stems removed (spinach or arugula works well too)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • A dusting of nutmeg powder
  • A dusting of red pepper flakes


Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 12” springform pan; dust bottom and sides with 1/3 cup Parmigiano cheese. Melt the remaining butter stick in a large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add flour, whisking it in for several minutes. Slowly add in the milk, whisking often. When sauce begins to simmer, lower heat to medium. Continue whisking for 15 minutes, until sauce is thickened. Remove sauce from heat and add Primo Sale (or Fontina) cheese, 1 cup Parmigiano  and half cup Asiago.  Add egg and whisk to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Cover sauce and keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until crunchy al dente; it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain pasta and transfer to a bowl. Add peas, kale, parsley and mint; stir in cheese sauce, mixing well to incorporate.

Transfer half of pasta mixture to prepared springform pan; add a layer of ricotta and half the lemon zest. Layer the remaining pasta mixture, filling the pan, and top with the rest of the ricotta and lemon zest. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Asiago cheese on top.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake pasta for 30 minutes. Top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano and bake uncovered for about 10 more minutes, until surface is golden brown. Let rest for 20 minutes; remove springform pan sides to “unmold” the baked pasta. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons each of chopped parsley and mint, cut into wedges and serve.


Plum Tart

October 1st, 2013

On the East End of Long Island, September is the season of mild temperatures and low humidity, bountiful harvests at local farms, and the greatly anticipated exodus of summer’s tourists. It’s also the season for prune plums; that wonderful small, purple-black fruit which begs to be eaten by the handful, or to be used in a number of different desserts. One of my favorites is a plum tart. Our friend Ilse had just returned from a family visit to Germany. In addition to bringing us food goodies from Europe, she whipped up a plum tart to share with us before she came over to our kitchen to catch up on what she had missed here at summer’s end. I had almost forgotten that it was plum time, and inspired by a tip she gave me for cutting the plums, I made a couple of plum tarts over the following few days.

My go-to pie or tart crust is, invariably a pâte brisée. For my plum tart, however, I chose to use a pâte à sucre crust instead. My feeling was that a “cookie dough” crust would be more impervious to the plum juice released during baking, and it would remain more crunchy. And that’s certainly true, especially if you enjoy the tart the day it’s baked.

Over my baking career, I’ve tried many pâte à sucre formulas. My first was one from Julia Child; since then I’ve settled on Rose Beranbaum’s formula from The Pie and Pastry Bible. It’s easy, it’s forgiving if you have trouble transferring it from rolling it out and moving it into the tart form or pie plate, and it’s deliciously crisp and crunchy with just a hint of sweetness.

Pâte à sucre:

Unsalted butter            113 g  (8 Tbsp)
sugar                                50 g  (¼ cup)
salt                                              1/8 tsp
egg yolk                           18 g   (1 large)
heavy cream                   28 g   (2 Tbsp)

Although you can make this by hand, I always use a food processor for making pastry dough. So, with a food processor fitted with its metal blade, blitz the butter and sugar between 15 and 20 times until the two are well combined. Add the salt and flour and blitz it again 15 to 20 times, until the mixture resembles small peas. In a small bowl beat the egg yolk and the cream together until well blended, and add it to the food processor work bowl containing butter and sugar. Pulse until amalgamated.

Transfer the dough into a gallon size zip lock bag. Squeeze out the air and knead the dough with your fingers, working it into a 5 or 6 inch disc. Once you form the doughy disk, remove it from the plastic bag and wrap it tightly in a piece of plastic wrap. Refrigerate it for about 30 minutes.

For the Plums:

Cornstarch                           1 tsp
Prune Plums                        2 ¼ lbs
Sugar                                    50 g (¼ cup)
Ground cinnamon                         ½ tsp
Nutmeg                                           ¼ tsp
Apricot preserves                          ½ cup
Cointreau                                        1 ½ oz

While the dough was chilling in the fridge, I washed and de-stemmed the plums. Employing my friend Ilse’s prep tip, I took a sharp pairing knife and sliced each plum, starting from the stem end, continuing down to the bottom portion of the plum and around to the opposite side. The trick is not to cut all the way through but rather stop at around a quarter of the way up the back side. Then I went back to the stem end and cut the unsliced end a quarter of the way down. The idea is to open the plum like a book, leaving a scant “hinge” of flesh and skin on one side of the pit.

Remove the pit and carefully cut each of the to halves into two slices, again leaving a hinge on the back side of each half. You now have four plum slices that are still connected. Continue slicing and pitting the rest of the plums. After three or four plums, you’ll be an expert and the entire process will take you less than ten minutes. The key to this is a sharp knife. When you’re finished set the bowl of plums aside.

After thirty minutes, remove the pastry dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Here’s where a little experience with pâte à sucre helps. You’re looking for a dough that is cold yet still malleable. There are several schools of thought on how to roll out a pâte à sucre. Interestingly, one is not to refrigerate the dough but to put it in the freezer, and then grate it into the form and shape it into a crust with your fingers, basically shaping the shavings into a crust shape. Another is to roll it out between two pieces of plastic wrap, then remove the top layer, position the tart form over it upside down, and quickly invert it. My method is to flour a pastry cloth and a rolling pin. Place the chilled dough on the pastry cloth, and roll it out about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will crack and separate around the edges. Push it together with your fingers, and gently persuade it together with your pin. Don’t be shy about using additional flour on the dough and your pin. When you have it rolled out the size that will exceed the size of your form, take a pot, pan or whatever is handy that is slightly larger than the size of the tart form, and slip it under the pastry cloth that still has the expanded dough on it.  Place the form upside down over the dough and gently lay it on top. Then carefully and quickly invert the pan, the pastry cloth and dough, and the form. Voilà!

Well, hopefully. If the dough cracked over the edges or the form cut the dough, no worries. Here’s the cool thing about pâte à sucre: it’s easy to fix and repair cracks and tears because once it’s baked, it’s going to look perfect.

Now take the dough in the form, and blind bake it in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. To blind bake, place a piece of parchment paper to line the dough in the form and weight it down with dried beans or ceramic pie weights. After ten minutes, or when the exposed edge crust starts to turn golden, remove from the oven.

First sprinkle with the cornstarch; I put the cornstarch in a small hand held sieve and coat the dough. Now get those plums that you so carefully cut and start leaning the first course standing up on one end, around the inside edge of the crust. Continue in concentric circles until you reach the center. If you have gaps along the way, don’t hesitate to use a single or two plum sections. Sprinkle the cinnamon (preferably fresh), follow with the nutmeg (preferably freshly grated), and finally the sugar and the Cointreau. Place the tart back in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. After 35 minutes, take a peek; the crust edge should be nicely golden brown and the tips of the plums should be just slightly singed. If not, let it bake for the full 45 minutes.