Tag Archives: meringue

The Lemon Meringue Tart from Hell

We interrupt your regularly scheduled chocolate programming to bring you this story from my early days in culinary school. For the most part, I really enjoyed culinary school. However, there were a few points when I felt like throwing my hands up, chucking a copper bowl across the kitchen and leaving. This was, quite possibly, the worst of those times.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

The Lemon Meringue Tart From Hell

Lemon tart

This is not the Lemon Meringue Tart from Hell. This is what the lemon tart was supposed to look like. Mine (the one from Hell) did not look like this.

French lemon tart is, naturally, more complicated than your average lemon tart. It’s a four-component dessert: sweet dough, almond cream, lemon custard, Italian meringue. It happened to be the focus of the fourth lesson in culinary school, and my first opportunity to show that I could put the pieces together to make something lovely.

Well, as you might have guessed, it was anything but.

First. Sweet dough.

Oh, sweet dough. There’s something lovely and methodical about making pastry: the need for cold hands, the reverence for butter, the balance of structure and tenderness. I think it’s therapeutic; others think it’s terrifying. In any case, this part of the class went fine. I had visions of the beautiful pastry shop that I would open. People would come from miles to visit and lie prostrate at my feet when they tasted my creations.

Second. Almond cream.

Sometimes called frangipane cream, almond cream is a fluffy, butter-based almond filling. It’s sort of airy and melty and is really delicious with pears and apples. The lemon tart called for a delicate spiral of almond cream to be piped on top of the sweet dough, the two layers baked until they were golden brown.

Piping? Erm, okay. Despite my hours of practice at home (covering the kitchen table with tinfoil and piping rosettes out of cheap margarine does not make you popular with roommates), I was still pretty sketchy with a piping bag. The spiral, if it had a face, would have had a face that only its mother could love. No matter, I thought. There will be a layer of lemon custard to cover this up, and I’m sure that everything will taste great.

The sweet dough and almond cream went into the oven, and I turned my attention to the lemon custard.

Third. Lemon custard.

I love lemon custard. If it’s lemony with a pudding-like consistency, I’m all over it.

I made my lemon custard and it turned out well. I checked on the oven, only to find that my already sad-looking tart had turned into a volcanic pimple. Suddenly, Chef’s voice sounded in my head: “If you do not fill ze pan wit ze pastry prop-air-ly, you will ‘ave hair underzneeth it and it will expand.” Shoot. I took it out, pressed it down with a large spatula, and popped it back in. Whew.

When the now-deflated tart was done, I took it out and put it in the freezer to cool it down. I was running out of time, and I still had to make Italian meringue.

Fourth. Italian meringue.

Italian meringue is a mixture of egg whites and sugar syrup. To make Italian meringue, whisk egg whites to a soft peak. A little bit of cream of tartar will help keep the egg whites from separating. Meanwhile, prepare a mixture of sugar and water and heat it until it’s 120°C. Then, stream the sugar syrup into the egg whites and whisk until they’re shiny, glossy and hold their shape.

It all sounds so simple, except that we weren’t allowed to use any machines. Suddenly, this very simple procedure is the world’s best workout. And how to figure out that the sugar syrup was at the correct temperature? Oh, that’s simple. You put your fingers in a bowl of ice water, pop them into the bubbling sugar mixture to get a little bit, and then put your fingers back in the ice water. Uh huh.

Several burnt fingers later, red-faced and exhausted, I felt as lame as my Italian meringue looked. It was gloopy and gloppy and certainly did not hold its shape. However, I didn’t have the time or the strength to start again, so I went with it. Visions of the cute pastry shop were getting dim.

Putting it all together (or, where it goes horribly wrong)

I took the almond cream base out of the freezer, but it clearly hadn’t been in there long enough. It was still slightly warm, but I didn’t have time to wait. I filled it with lemon custard and felt a wave of horror sweep over me. “If ze cream is too ‘ot, you will melt ze lemon custard,” I heard in the back of my head. Yup. Ze lemon custard was turning to liquid at the edges where it met the still-warm tart shell and almond cream. I put it back in the freezer for a harrowing five minutes, and pulled it back out. It looked okay. I pushed ahead.

I was supposed to pipe the Italian meringue on top of the lemon custard, creating a pattern of delicate petals. One look at my gloopy, gloppy meringue and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I spread it onto the custard and tried to make it look pretty. It did not look pretty.

Finally, I put it back in the oven to caramelize the meringue. Suddenly, I heard another tidbit in my brain: “If you do not cover ze custard wiz ze meringue compl-ait-lay, ze ‘eat of ze oven will melt it. And you will FAIL.”

I watched in horror as the lemon custard began to bubble out from beneath the meringue, threatening to escape the tart and tarnish my academic record. I pulled it out of the oven in a panic. Just then, Chef walked by. “Chef, what do I do?” I wailed. He shrugged and said “Ah, you are done. Iz nussing you can do.”

Presentation

I unmolded my sad, lame, un-caramelized tart and presented it to Chef. He looked at me, confused. “Why you present zis? Zis is not fin-aished.” I sputtered something about him telling me that it was done, and he shook his head. “You cannot serve zis. Zis is not fin-aished. You use ze torch.”

He handed me a blowtorch and proceeded to grade someone else’s pristine, gorgeous, artfully presented tart. In the time it took him to do that, I lit my meringue on fire.

Adding insult to injury

I passed, but just barely. The last one out of the classroom, I packed up my things, put my sad, burnt tart into a Tupperware container and trudged down every single step from the second-floor classroom to the basement locker room.

On the last step, I tripped. And, just like in the movies, my life went into slow motion as the Tupperware container slipped from my hands and tumbled, ever-so-slowly, to the ground. There was a distinct ka-chunk as the container hit the floor, followed by a softer, squishier psshhhhhhh as the momentum of the fall propelled the tart into one corner of the container.

I stopped. I stared. And, just before I burst into tears, two raucous friends from the cuisine program came running down the stairs. I told them my story, presented them with the tart and then sat with them in the student lounge as we dug into the decrepit tart with plastic spoons.

It tasted just fine.

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The Kitchen Cafe doesn’t disappoint

Before the name Chef Hugh Matheson mean anything to me (he won the 2009 IACP award for community service), I met several people who spoke reverently and enthusiastically about The Kitchen Cafe in Boulder. Well before it was trendy to do so, The Kitchen Cafe supported local farmers and producers, serving organic and seasonal food wherever possible.

There’s a proper restaurant downstairs, and a more casual, loungey atmosphere at The Kitchen [Upstairs]. Well, I headed [Upstairs] in search of tasty food and the promise of happy hour. From 5:30-6:30 pm each day, they feature a three-course prix fixe for $26 ($34 with wine pairings). Now, that’s not a cheap dinner, but it’s incredible value for amazing food and wine in a beautiful room.

First course was a rustic bruschetta with basil pesto (thick, rich and unctuous), mozzarella (clean, fresh and delicate), red onion (sweated and sweet), and radishes (crisp, without their customary bite) on top of toasty bread. Garnished with olive oil and parsley, this appetizer was really well-composed. All the flavours worked well together, and – more importantly – complemented each other. This was paired with a 2007 Ochoa Viura-Chardonnay from Spain (nice and light, with notes of roasted pineapple and mango).

Next up was a dish of seared scallops, sauteed romaine, roasted potatoes, and anchovy dressing. The dressing was to die for: rich, creamy and salty. The scallops were sweet and seared, the romaine kept its texture and sweetness, and the potatoes were perfectly cooked. It was an exercise in the perfect bite: the acidity and tartness of the dressing, met by the sweetness and crunch of romaine, mellowing to the sweetness and texture of the scallop, all on top of a solid foundation of potato that actually tasted like potato. It was paired with a 2001 Tempranillo from Ramirez de la Piscina that was a bit too tannic on its own, but mellowed out nicely with the food.

Dessert was a Knickerbocker Glory, which was so insanely delicious but simple. In fact, I’m going to steal it and say I invented it. You can too: here’s how. Start with a large, bulbous glass – a Chimay glass, if you want to be exact about things. Put in a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, creamy and fragrant with real vanilla. Top it with softly whipped chantilly cream and crumbled meringue bits. Add a few sliced strawberries, some berry syrup, and a drizzle of Chambord. Serve with a spoon and watch people swoon with delight as they eat a very grown-up ice cream sundae.

Even better, serve it with R&R Naughty Sticky dessert wine, all coy with its honey and toasted almond flavours. Naughty and sticky, indeed.

And because no meal is complete without chocolate, Rick the bartender let me try a homemade chocolate bar: 72% dark chocolate with walnuts and sea salt. This was not a demure salted chocolate. The salt was front and centre. But then it stepped aside to let the walnuts – all nutty, tender and crumbly – shine. And then the 72% dark chocolate brought its bittersweetness to the table.

I have my doubts as to whether Rick really wanted my “professional opinion,” because he knew that it was delicious. But hey, I’m happy to oblige.

The Kitchen Cafe and The Kitchen [Upstairs]
1039 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO
303-544-5973
The Kitchen on Urbanspoon

NYC: the legendary Ferrara Cafe

Ferrara Cafe
(Little Italy)

While in New York, I spent many evenings at Ferrara Cafe. There were so many things to try, and just too little time. Tragic.

They make a mean affogato: ice cream doused with searing hot espresso. You have to be careful on busy nights, though – the affogato can sit on the counter too long before it arrives at your table, which just ruins the entire point. Specify that you want the ice cream super cold, and the espresso super hot. I tried it once with vanilla gelato (too sweet) and once with coffee gelato (just right). It would also be pretty tasty with chocolate gelato, methinks.

There are tons of tasty things in the bakery case. Just pick one. You really can’t go wrong. You can do take out, or have a seat in the cafe.

And I dare you not to be tempted by the mountain of torrone that greets you as you walk in the door. Nuts and candied fruit, all wrapped in a sticky sweet honey meringue? How can you possibly resist?

Ferrara Cafe
195 Grand Street
New York, NY
212-226-6150

Dine Out Vancouver: YEW’s desserts don’t disappoint

I’m thoroughly impressed by YEW. They thought of all the details, and it really makes all the difference. Our server had exceptional product knowledge, the plates (the actual, physical plates) were interesting, and the plating (how the food was presented) was thoughtful and beautiful.

But best of all? Dessert. Was. Great.

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Dine Out Vancouver: db Bistro Moderne, take two.

Yesterday’s post was about my first, and rather disappointing, visit to db Bistro Moderne. Today’s post is about my second, and rather enjoyable, visit to the same restaurant.

Right off the bat, I noticed that the service was better. This is probably because we had a late table on a Wednesday night, and the restaurant wasn’t nearly as busy as it had been on Saturday. We were seated in an alcove away from the rest of the restaurant, which afforded a little bit of privacy.

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