This is a post about redemption, and the four long years it took to achieve it. To understand this story, you must first know that my mother-in-law, like myself loves to cook, and is never found far from her trusty Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. It is from these cookbooks that some of her favorite dishes have been made; Quiche Lorraine, Sage Walnut Bread, Yogurt with Orange Zest and Almonds…and all of these have been accomplished with ease and skill. So it only made sense that, four years ago, during a Thanksgiving planning meeting, my mother-in-law volunteered to make a fresh fruit tart a la Barefoot Contessa. As she described the flaky shortbread crust, filled with velvety pastry cream and topped with fresh berries, kiwi, and mandarin oranges, my mouth began to water and I could hardly wait for the weeks to pass so that I would be able to try this delectable dessert.
Well, Thanksgiving finally arrived, and so did my mother-in-law, with the tart in tow. I can still remember all of the ooh’s and ah’s of the family members as they admired this beautiful work of art. The anticipation reached critical height as she prepared to slice individual pieces for our family. The mood became tense as she exchanged the pie cutter for a serrated knife, and became more somber still as she began chipping away at the crust, much like a mountain climber attacking a frozen cliff with an ice pick. Facing defeat, with the only other option of breaking out the power tools, she sadly scraped the pastry cream out of its concrete shell and served it in bowls, a mournful mess, a shadow of the glory that could have been. It was then than she vowed to make a tart again, a beautiful, edible tart far superior to the pitiful specimen of that ill-fated Thanksgiving day.
Fast forward four years, and redemption was within her grasp. Once more, she flipped through the pages of her favorite cookbook, carefully measuring and re-measuring ingredients, reading and re-reading the directions, mixing, baking, stirring and pouring, all with bated breath and a hopeful heart. Every step was followed to the smallest degree, and the result was….Glorious! The tart shell, was tender, crumbly, buttery, everything we wished for. And the pastry cream, rich, silky, with hints of vanilla and brandy, which, when combined with the fresh fruit made each bite more enjoyable than the one before. Redemption was hers!
We still aren’t exactly sure what happened to the “Great Disappointment of 2011”, but we have a few ideas, things that we changed slightly, which may have allowed for the success this time around. First, the flour she may have used the first time may have had a higher protein content, which means there was more gluten, and more gluten can equal a tougher crust. This time, we used Bob’s Red Mill Organic White Flour, which worked magnificently. The other change was that, the first time, she had used a glazed, ceramic tart pan, rather than a fluted French tart tin (the kind with the removable bottom).