Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 26 - Soft Cheese Omelet and Panna Cotta Tart

Today is really about a tart, but first a short detour to Eggland.

Soft Cheese Omelet (p. 89)

I made myself a new omelet variation today, and I altered things a little from Martha's original instructions, so I thought I should report.

This was a one whole egg, two egg whites omelet vs. Martha's three whole eggs, and instead of whisking them, I took the easy road and mixed them with a fork. The good news is, there was nothing sacrificed in the final product. Of course, the eggs were less rich, but all in all, it was a delicious, goat cheese omelet. (What's interesting is that I'm starting to prefer my omelets just-cooked-through, as opposed to how I always used to eat them: well-done.)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Now on to the main attraction!

Panna Cotta Tart (p. 447)

So - the dough for the crust (yesterday's Pâte Sucrée) was cooling overnight in the refrigerator. (Only later did I understand why that is so important.)

The search for the 4"x14" fluted-edge, removable-bottom tart pan was going very badly. Saturday night involved several panicked calls to Paula, and fruitless searches at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Macy's. And Sunday morning's call to Zabar's turned up nothing. However, I did a Google search for the pan to see what I might find, and lo and behold, Williams-Sonoma sells one, so I called over to the Columbus Circle location, and my savior, Jenna, had one and promised to throw her body on top of it until I could get there to purchase it. Which she did and I did. Phew!

Back home to roll out the dough and get it into the tart pan. Here's why dough needs to cool: because it's all butter and if you don't do what you need to do with it in about ten seconds, it starts getting warm, i.e. really droopy.

I've floured my counter and I'm rolling out the dough, but I don't have a lot of experience with rolling dough, so it's taking me a while. Eventually I get it to the right-ish dimensions, and when I try to pick it up to mold it in the pan, it's not cooperating at all! Completely stuck to the counter. So I had to get a spatula and unstick it (time-consuming but effective) and I eventually got it in the pan. (n.b. Paula says that if you flip the dough to get some flour onto both sides of it as you're rolling it out, this is less likely to happen.)

The nice thing about Pâte Sucrée is that it's forgiving enough that you can do a little patchwork with it, and no one's the wiser. So I mushed a little here, I mushed a little there, and ultimately I had a cute little crust going. (See picture below.) Martha recommends something called "docking," which involves piercing the bottom of the crust all over with a fork, to keep the dough from puffing during baking.

Then, into the fridge to get cold again. (Maybe it browns too fast if it's not cold when it goes in the oven...)

I took this opportunity to run out and get some dried beans, which I needed for the next step.

Blind-baking is something I'd never experienced before, probably because I've never made anything as adorable and labor-intensive as Panna Cotta Tart. It involves baking the crust by itself, lined with parchment and filled with pie weights (or dried beans) to preserve the shape of the finished crust. (No wonder these kinds of pastries are expensive to buy! So many steps!)

About 2/3 of the way through the blind-baking, you remove the parchment and the beans and let the crust brown. Then you take it out and let it cool. Normally, you'd remove it from the tart pan at this point, but I left mine in the pan so it could travel the 8 blocks to Felix and Eric's groovy apartment, unscathed. (FNBF is friends with Paula, who is friends with Laura, who went to college with Felix, whose partner is Eric.) By the way, if you're making this tart, you should know that my crust shrunk a bit while baking, so I think it's normal for it to end up a little smaller than the pan.

Now to make the panna cotta... What IS panna cotta anyway? It translates as cooked cream, but in this case, it's a little misleading. The majority of this cream is whole milk yogurt. (I wonder if this would work with that fat-free Greek yogurt? Hmmm...) And instead of butter as a thickener, which I guess is typical, Martha uses gelatin here. The other ingredients are heavy cream, a vanilla bean, sugar, and salt. With very easy-to-follow directions, the filling comes together quickly. Then you pour it in the pastry shell and refrigerate. I'm very aware of the vanilla seeds in the cream. Is this going to taste too vanilla-y, I wonder?

When I went to put it in the fridge, I got a crash course in how not level those shelves are... the cream was rolling all over the crust, and I thought I might have ruined the look of the tart, but it recovered. I finally found a level shelf (the top one), and by the time we were ready to leave for dinner, it was completely set and quite cute.

I brought some berries along to macerate "on site." Martha's recipe suggests cherries, but those aren't in season, so I substituted blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries.

Meanwhile, we feast on Paula's masterworks, from a wide range of cookbooks and inspirations, none of them Martha. But all of it amazing! Get this: Puff Pastries topped with Duck Liver Paté and Fig wrapped in Prosciutto, Salad of Leeks with Candied Walnuts and some kind of Bleu-ish Cheese, Rack of Lamb with fancy crust, Sautéed Swiss Chard, and Potatoes au Gratin. Every course was outrageously great, and Paula is very inspiring in how laid-back and confident she is as a cook, trouble-shooting with ease, nothing ruffles her feathers... unlike me, jittery, obsessive, stressed! I could learn from her....

After eating the main course, I excused myself to macerate (i.e. toss berries with lime juice and sugar to break them down a little bit). I had suggested to Paula that she bring a dessert, just in case I had a Panna Cotta Tart Melt-Down, and she made a killer flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream. Which was wonderful served next to...

Panna Cotta Tart!!

It actually came out! I have to say, I LOVED this dessert. And that's saying a lot, because I never like cream-filled anything. The crust was great (it seemed so thin when I was making it, but on the plate, seemed much thicker), and the cream filling tasted almost like cheesecake, in the best possible way. :-) Not too vanilla-y at all. And the berries on top were a perfect complement. Wow! That was somewhat of a chore to make, but completely worth it!! Martha, you came through big-time!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again...

Here's my uncooked crust with lots of docking holes.

Here's my blind baked crust, with the "pie weight" beans alongside.

Here's my beautiful little baby, covered with berries!

From left, clockwise, that's Eric, FNBF, Laura, Felix, and Iron Chef Paula Curtz.


  1. Very nice, Jeff! I saw you on Martha last week and have been reading your blog from the beginning for the past few days--I have to say: I LOVE it! I was given MSCS for Christmas by my mom (I am a total Martha fan and knew I had to have it) and am gaining more and more excitement for delving into it by reading about your experiences--thanks for sharing!
    The tart really did come out beautifully and I was delighted to learn about macerating!
    I am very much looking forward to reading the rest if your entries, I hope you don't mind if I comment on more of them even though I am pretty far behind :)

  2. Mind?? I love it! Thanks for writing and reading! I hope you'll add comments about your own MSCS experiences, if you have any!