June 27, 2009

Tart? Pudding? What’s in a name?

When they announced the Bakewell Tart as June's Daring Baker challenge, Jasmine and Annemarie shared some of the old world dessert's history including the controversy behind its name. There's apparently a whole lot of conflict over whether it's a tart or a pudding.

I know my mind works in mysterious ways, but the tart versus pudding debate struck me as Shakespearean in nature. Bill said it best through Juliet: Oh, what's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet; so Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection to which he owes without that title. Translation: Tart? Pudding? Let's quit arguing and enjoy dessert!

And in retrospect, the Bakewell Tart…er… Pudding is the perfect Shakespearean confection.

Think about it…

The hero: An almost sinful shortcrust pastry base.

The leading lady: An unctuous layer of vine ripened fruit at the peak of perfection.

The comic relief: All topped off with a fluffy frangipane that doesn't feel like it will fit in with the rest of the cast. But it does.

A whole lot of history, a bit of comedy… and the tragedy arrives when the plate is empty. The Bard would have LOVED it. We sure did!

But I digress. The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England. Required elements included the pastry and the frangipane, but our hostesses left us to our own devices when choosing the fruit filling. For me there WAS no question – I'd stashed away a jar of our Blenheim Jam for precisely this purpose. The tart (pudding) came together without much fuss, and the apricots paired beautifully with the almonds in the finished product.

For those of you who want to try your hand at the tart, Jasmine's posted the recipe here and Annemarie has it here. And the ongoing escapades of the Daring Bakers can now be found in the Daring Kitchen.

June 24, 2009

Before the Apple revolution…

Long before the Steves - Jobs and Wozniak -revolutionized the world of personal computing by reconfiguring the forbidden fruit, produce of a different type dominated the Silicon Valley. At the turn of the twentieth century the hottest commodity in Santa Clara Valley was the apricot, not the apple. And the Royal Blenheim - a probably hybrid of France's Royal and England's Blenheim apricots - was considered the king of pre-Silicon Valley crops from World War II until the tech invasion converted orchards into office parks in the 1970's and 80's.

Despite their regal status, these days the finicky Blenheim is often more of a wall flower than a homecoming queen. By today's standards they're smaller than your average apricot and they often retain a pale green tinge around the edge, even at the peak of flavor. Their delicate flesh bruises easily, making them difficult to market to a consumer who equates blemish-free with beauty and perfection. But if you're willing to peak beneath the surface, the Blenheim packs quite a reward. So when John learned that this summer's harvest from the folks at Peter Wolfe Ranch in Brentwood was available for pick-up we cleared the calendar for the weekend.

We made the trek to Brentwood on Saturday morning, hoping to beat the heat. Vera – the voice of our trusty Verizon-provided GPS navigation system – served us well, only whining a couple of times about "recalculating route…" as she guided us through the rapidly expanding suburban sprawl of strip malls and cookie-cutter houses toward our destination. When we emerged from the car we were pleasantly surprised NOT to be overwhelmed by the heat and we made our way to the shed to pick up our stash. And one taste of the elusive apricot made it clear to us that "progress" is a matter of perspective. I'll take a green-tinged blemished Blenheim over the softball-sized firm-fleshed apricots lining the aisles at the mega mart any day. These little guys are liquid sunshine, and at least in my head they are the taste equivalent of the color apricot.

We spent Sunday deploying 24 pounds of apricots. Sadly I spent most of the day scouring the marts of trade for canning supplies since Amazon's shipping department failed to expedite my order. It frightened me that the guy managing the kitchenware department at Bed Bath and Beyond had no idea what a canning funnel or canning tongs were, and was only vaguely more familiar with ball jars, lids, pectin and paraffin. In the end I found the lids and seals on an abandoned aisle at Andronico's, and we made do with my existing inventory of tongs and funnels. Like his great aunt before him, John held hot jars carefully and "offered it up" when they singed his fingertips.

While I was traipsing around the Tri-Valley in search of supplies, John was making my kitchen smell like summer. He started with two preserve recipes: Blenheim Apricot Jam and Apricot Butter. When I got home we pulled out the ice cream bowl attachment for the Kitchen Aid and made David Lebovitz' Apricot Sorbet. And I pitted the last of a pound of farmer's market cherries and set to work on a custardy Apricot Cherry Clafouti.

All in all, a weekend well spent.

For a little more history on the beautiful Blenheim, see this article from the Chronicle in 2004.