Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Prayer and Farming in the Kitchen

Another week has passed without any particularly extraordinary or significant personal contribution to the various causes of the world. I realize that a certain patience is required; that I cannot individually change the present condition of humanity. Instead, I must do what I can, when I can. By starting small and starting local, I can offer personal aid and assistance, little by little, to those around me. And so, today's prayer is for serenity, courage, and wisdom:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." ~Reinhold Niebuhr

Still, in a place far, far away from Illinois, somewhere close to the equator, there is a small family-owned cocoa farm, where the harvest remains shade grown and its crop is used to make rich, delicious chocolate bars. Shade grown farms promote a harmonious balance within the sustainable forest environment, where plants and animals indigenous to this natural habitat remain supported and protected. Despite the trend toward mass production of cocoa beans in larger, open sun grown farms, there are some smaller farms that still practice shade grown cocoa harvesting. Endangered Species Chocolate concerns itself with organic, fair traded products, supporting global efforts to ensure environmental protection, enable sustainable natural habitats, and empower the farming populations of these habitats. And somewhere else far, far away, on another small self-sufficient farm, fair wages are being paid for a modest coffee bean harvest, because of the efforts of Seattle's Best Coffee.

Having chocolate and coffee, I decided to bake. To bake and offer help globally, in a very, very, very small way, by incorporating ingredients which support the labors of small, self-reliant family owned farms and promote fair wages paid, in places far, far away from Illinois. And so I baked a batch of mocha tartlets, using an Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Bar with Espresso Beans. This chocolate is especially rich and creamy, making the tartlets that much more delicious than ordinary baking chocolate. And instead of using the liqueur included in the recipe ingredients, I chose to use Seattle's Best Fair-Trade Certified Organic French Roast. Since the chocolate bar already contained espresso beans, this rich coffee was the perfect complement and worked beautifully for these tartlets.

More small steps...

(recipe courtesy

For mocha custard:
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup whole milk
2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon Tía Maria or other coffee liqueur
(I used brewed Seattle's Best Fair Trade Organic French Roast Coffee, instead of a liqueur)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder
(omitted since chocolate bar was heavy with espresso beans)

For butter cookie dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Make custard: Beat together yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until thick and pale, about 1 minute. Heat milk in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not boiling. Add one third of hot milk to yolk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour remainder of milk into yolk mixture, whisking, then transfer to saucepan. Simmer, whisking constantly, until very thick, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add chocolate, liqueur, butter, and espresso powder. Let stand until chocolate is melted, about 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Force custard through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover surface of custard with wax paper and chill until cold, at least 4 hours.
Make tartlet shells while custard chills: Pulse together flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg, and vanilla in a food processor until dough is smooth and begins to form a ball (it will be soft, like cookie dough). Turn out dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and gather into a ball. Flatten dough into a disk and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours (overnight).
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Break off 1-teaspoon pieces of dough and press evenly into molds with floured fingers to form shells about 1/16 inch thick, pinching off excess from rim and making bottoms slightly thinner than sides. Arrange molds 1 inch apart in a shallow baking pan and chill until dough is firm again, about 30 minutes.
Bake in middle of oven, rotating pan halfway through baking, until pale golden, 12 to 15 minutes total. Transfer molds to a rack to cool, then carefully remove shells from molds. Make more tartlet shells in same manner if desired.
Assemble tartlets: Fill pastry bag with custard and pipe decoratively into shells. Makes 24 tartlets.

Until we meet for coffee,

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." ~Lao-tzu

In the previous post, I wrote about offering assistance to others in need. "To simply help." Somewhat overwhelmed by so much need, I wasn't quite sure where or even how to begin offering my particular personal assistance. And so, I've continued doing volunteer service work for my local church and its academy library. My physical contributions of service have not yet progressed to broader aid, as I've not yet swung a hammer forHabitat for Humanity or ladled soup at a Salvation Army shelter. Still, in the spirit of simply helping, I stopped and bought some apples at a local farmer's market this weekend. Although it wasn't an extraordinarily significant step in culinary activism, it was my first step. First small steps on a personal culinary journey toward a greater social responsibility. And while national and global agencies remain farther along the journey, at least my single farmer's market purchase helped, however minimally, to support a local farmer and strengthen the economy of local agriculture.

So I bought some apples. And using a simple recipe from Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets (Deborah Madison), I chose to bake a Caramelized Apple Tart with Cinnamon Custard. Rustic comfort food for these first days of early Fall, as I take first steps on a more purposeful journey.
Caramelized Apple Tart with Cinnamon Custard
(recipe courtesy Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets, from Deborah Madison)


For the Apples:
3 apples (mine were smaller, so I used 4)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

For the Batter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus extra
1/2 cup sugar
3 medium eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the cream:
1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
Confectioners' sugar (for dusting)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9-inch tart pan. Peel and core the apples, then slice them into 1/2-inch wedges. Melt the butter in a wide nonstick skillet, add the apples, and sprinkle them with the sugar. Cook over high heat, occasionally flipping the apples, until they start to caramelize, then reduce the heat to medium. Keep a close eye on the apples, turning them frequently so they don't burn. This will take about 15 minutes in all. Turn off the heat.

To make the batter, cream the butter and sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla and salt, then stir in the flour. Smooth the batter into the tart pan with an offset spatula, pushing it up the sides to make a rim. Lay the apples over the batter.

Mix the ingredients for the cream together, then pour it over the apples. Set the tart on a sheet pan and bake until the crust is golden and starting to pull away from the sides, about 35 minutes. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Remove the tart from the rim, place it on a serving plate, and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. (When making this tart, my fresh-from-the-farm-small-apples seemed too fragile for pan caramelization, so instead, I simply coated them first with the custard mixture and second with a layer of sugar before baking.)

Until we meet for coffee,