Whether I fail or succeed, I've come to think of food blogging events as opportunities to experiment. Besides forcing me to try preparations and ingredients that I otherwise wouldn’t use, events like Sugar High Fridays and Is My Blog Burning? also give me an excuse to attempt recipes that are too complex and time-consuming for everyday cooking. Unlike dinner parties, the time constraints for blogging events are more flexible, and the pressure to present something that’s both perfect and impressive just isn’t there. That's not to say that I won't 'try' to make something that’s impressive and perfect, but I’d much rather fail at making something ambitious, than succeed at something that’s easy and uninspiring.
One of the things I like most about food blogs is that they’re driven more by process and content, than results and audience. If you want to read about someone’s triumphs and failures in hosting an elaborate dinner party, food blogs are the place to go. But if you want to read an article about throwing the 'Perfect Christmas Dinner Party' that’s aimed at middle-income North American households with standard kitchen equipment, who are most comfortable with ‘safe’ recipes that use easy-to-find ingredients, then food magazines would probably be a better fit.
By now if you’re thinking, “I bet he’s blabbering about all this better to try and fail stuff because he messed up this weekend,” then you're certainly on the right track! For this month’s Sugar High Fridays event, hosted by Jarrett of Food Porn Watch and Life in Flow, I attempted to make three tarts: Sherry Yard’s Halsey Tart, Maury Rubin’s Square Pear Peg Tart, and a Pear Frangipane tart which I recently had at a local bakery.
I wanted to experiment with tarts that involved something more than just pouring a filling into a shell so I scoured my cookbooks, looking for the least tart-like tarts I could find. The first tart I came across Sherry Yard’s Halsey Tart from her cookbook The Secrets of Baking. The Halsey Tart is named after a Mr. Halsey of Mars (the candy company) who taught Sherry Yard, the famed pastry chef of Spago, how to make the Twix bar. Essentially, it’s Ms. Yard’s version of the Twix bar in the form of a tart.
Depending on whether you follow the recipe or its picture, the Halsey Tart is either a chocolate tart shell filled with whipped caramel cream and caramel in the centre, covered with a chocolate ganache glaze; or a freestanding cylinder of caramels (with no tart shell), sandwiched with two chocolate covered chocolate biscuits.
I decided to follow the picture and was doomed to failure when I didn't freeze the caramel until it was stable. The result was something that looked much like a melted ice cream sandwich, and far from the pristine, perfect tart shown in the picture. Trying to save the day, I went back to the recipe and filled some leftover tart shells with the caramels. However, when I placed the chocolate biscuit to cover it, it looked ugly (maybe that’s why the picture is different from the recipe), so I fiddled around with it trying to present it as a tart with a sliding lid. Unfortunately I broke the biscuit… and then I took my frustration out on the tart with a fork (as shown in the picture). Can you blame me? I had been cooking non-stop since 11:30 pm Friday evening and at that point it was already 11:00 am on Saturday morning.
I should probably mention that the Halsey Tart did actually taste quite nice. Both caramels had a fair amount of crème fraîche in them, which gave them a tanginess that nicely balanced the sweetness of the caramel. The bitter chocolate biscuit also contrasted nicely with the caramels in both flavour and texture.
In any case, if you decide to make this someday, I’d recommend sticking with the recipe first. Or if you do choose to take the sandwich approach, consider using ice caramel ice cream or freezing the caramels overnight before plating.
The second tart I made was Maury Rubin’s Square Pear Peg Tart from his cookbook Book of Tarts. This was actually quite simple to make in that it just involved mixing pear purée with whipped cream before dusting the surface with sugar, and caramelizing it (similar to crème brulée). Personally I didn’t enjoy this very much, since I don’t find pears and cream to be a great combination.
Finally, I made a Pear Frangipane tart. A few weeks ago, I’d seen a similar tart at Toronto’s Alchemy Bakery, and being someone who regularly makes and loves to eat Dalloyau's Apple Frangipane tarts, I figured this wouldn’t be too difficult to make. The tart I made consisted of Maury Rubin’s pate sucrée (which is a wonderful tart dough), a layer of almond cream, and two layers of bosc pear slices that had been baked with sugar and butter. I then placed a small fornelle pear in the centre which I had cored and poached in pear juice. After baking, I brushed the pear with apple jelly, and garnished it with pistachios.
I probably put a few too many pear slices in the tart because the almond cream didn’t puff up as much as I had hoped. Or perhaps next time I’ll put the pear slices on the bottom and the almond cream on top. In any case, this tart was delicious. And I’ll include the recipe as soon as I can.