Monday, January 19, 2009

More ‘light’ recipes from Paris…(as in fat filled and blinding!)

Tarte Passion-Framboise was our second practical and delivered a striking layered combination of passion fruit mousse and jellified raspberry coulis in a crisp tart shell. Upon serving, the stratified appearance of each slice was very appealing, showing varying shades of yellow and bright red,along with the fresh fruit garnishes. Still there were a couple of points where ‘striking’ bordered a bit more on ‘shocking’.

The first point was in the area of butter quantity for a fruit based recipe. I rarely spend time worrying about this when I am making patisserie. After all, butter is an essential and rarely substitutable ingredient in almost every creation. My motto is: If you want fat free/cholesterol free, then go eat a piece of fruit or just skip dessert…but don’t torture the recipe.

Still, I must acknowledge that this recipe is mega rich & buttery despite being fruit-based. A fellow student during the post-demonstration tasting described it comically: “well now…that was like gnawing on a stick of butter!”

I chuckled at her comments at the time, but she wasn’t far off…at least technically speaking. Of course the pastry recipe contains about 100g of butter, but the passion fruit filling was the real surprise…containing about 160g of butter plus the fat from the eggs. (Now before you have a heart attack or start avoiding my baking, keep in mind these are the quantities for the total recipe and there was plenty of leftover crust & filling that did not get made into the tart. Still, it was a lot more than I would have imagined.)

This buttery taste & texture becomes even more apparent after the tart sits a couple days in the refrigerator, with the passion fruit mousse losing some of its aerated volume and the butter solidifying a bit more. Still, the texture was very pleasing atop the crisp crust and the mousse layers were thin enough so it was not an overpowering experience by the mouthful. With a hot cup of tea, the flavor meltdown and lingering effect on the palette was quite delightful actually.

A few tasters asked if it contained cream cheese, and it did resemble a cheesecake layer quite a bit. While I am not a fat-free fanatic, the comments about cream cheese got me thinking and I wonder if this could substitute this for some of the butter in the filling. The tang of the cream cheese would not overpower the passion fruit or raspberry. And I suppose it is dense enough to still achieve the correct beaten volume. Plus, gram for gram, cream cheese has a bit less fat vs butter, even further reduced if using lighter versions. It is a possibility I’ll consider and explore sometime in my own kitchen.

The second shocking point was in the use of colorings. The decoration of this tart involves topping the passion fruit cream with a layer of tinted neutral glaze (neutral glaze consisting essentially of glucose and pectin, so does not have any color of its own). Prior to watching the demonstration, I had naively assumed this shiny top on the tart (which is infused with passion fruit pulp) was just passion fruit…however, I suppose this would be rather limiting to shelf life and commercially unviable for patisseries.

The neutral glaze does have some other advantages as well: namely, it provides much more impressive shine and helps seal the moisture in the tart. On the less positive side, I found it to be a dreadfully messy ingredient to work with…like some kind of edible plasma gook that just seems to slide EVERYWHERE except where your palette knife intends it to be! (It reminded me vaguely of that Mogador practical when even the soles of my feet were sticky from jam glaze by the end of the class...eew!)

So following the instruction of our chef, a few drops of food coloring (and passion fruit seeds) were added to our glaze mixtures to help enrich the appearance of the passion fruit cream (from a quite pale to a rather nuclear yellow in some cases). The jury of my classmates was undecided whether adding coloring actually helped improve or impede the visual appeal of the tart. I was very light-handed in adding coloring, so I suffered no corneal impairment in finalizing my tart, but a couple people achieved rather blinding tones of yellow when the squirt bottle leaked just a tad too much! Nonetheless, the resulting jokes and alien-inspired commentary heard round the workbench was memorable and made the evening really fun. If we at all failed in attracting anyone to eat it, some of us could probably still land an Airbus at CDG, just by flashing the glazed surface at the pilot! :-)

Despite all the new adventures in mousse and working with potentially blinding fruit glazes, the best part of this practical was learning to achieve a crisp, blind-baked tart shell. The technique involves brushing beaten egg onto the half-baked, empty crust and then completing the baking process. The technique delivers incredible shine and seals the crust surface, preventing the sogginess which typically sets in after the shell is filled. A worthwhile tip that can be applied to a thousand other recipes requiring this step.

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