Monday, 12 September 2011

Alice B Toklas’s Tender Tart

Amid all the recipes in the Alice B Toklas Cookbook for chicken in a gallon of cream and 12 egg yolks, here’s a tart made by ‘sweet weak Kasper’, one of a vast progression of servants from whom Alice B Toklas drew most of her recipes. (Different times, that’s all I can say – though I seem to be increasingly on my own in not employing a house-cleaner still, given Gertrude Stein had to be waited on hand and foot and disliked seeing work being done, perhaps it was one way of keeping things slightly fairer for the devoted Alice B Toklas.) Unlike Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas uses commas, thank God, but no quote marks, and the meaning of a lot of her writing is difficult to untangle.

The recipe is also to be found in Gourmet Traveller, in which the top is latticed instead of solid, and a fluted tart tin is used – both of which I went with. But the quantities are quite different, higher ratio of butter and less sugar, and for the sake of the exercise I went with Alice B Toklas’s version, test-kitchenless though it probably was. It was delicious, but very sweet, which I imagine is why GT recommended serving it with goats milk yoghurt.

(p61 in my beautiful Folio Society edition with slipcase, velvety silver-topped pages and a line drawing of a painstakingly decorated carp on the cover and endpapers)

130g butter, 140g flour,* 1 egg yolk, blend with knives or pastry blender,** add only enough water to hold together, knead lightly, put aside in refrigerator.
Stir 2 eggs and 225g sugar for 20 minutes**** – do not beat. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 cup finely chopped hazel-nuts.

Roll out a little more than half the dough, place in deep pie plate, with detachable bottom, fill with egg-sugar-nut mixture. Roll out remaining dough and cover tart, press edges together so that the bottom and top crusts adhere.***** Bake for ½ hour in 180C oven. Exquisite.
*Quantities were all, like, ‘½ cup plus 1 tablespoon’ – thank you for conversions,, saving us all from trying to measure solid butter in a cup.
** Ha! Not likely. Hello, food processor.
***Paragraph breaks mine.
**** Ha! Not likely. Hello, KitchenAid on the slowest setting with dough hook. Though what on earth all this stirring-not-beating is supposed to do to the sugar and eggs is quite beyond me – a tedious chore devised to occupy the servants, perhaps.
***** I do not possess what might be known as a light hand with the pastry, but in my defence, and as frequently documented, I do not have a marble work surface, with which I remain convinced every obstacle to perfect pastry would be surmounted. In brief, I didn’t have much fun with this pastry – very breaky. I quickly gave up on the floured wooden board and went for the baking paper, which skidded around but was better – although the rolling pin kept picking up bits and ripping great holes in the rest, no matter how liberally floured it was. I patched up the base, but the 1/3 reserved for the top and scored with the lattice cutter fell to bits on contact with the tart filling and was generally a disaster. By way of apology to the tart, I went the extra mile uninstructed by Alice B Toklas and brushed it with a yolk* beaten with milk.
*On yolks, I have lots of them thanks to the macaron-making. Some sources say leftover yolks can’t be frozen; others say they can, with a drop of glucose syrup added to them. So I froze them accordingly in an iceblock-tray – and I find they’re not bad depending on what they’re being used for. They thaw fairly quickly, but remain much thicker than a fresh yolk, so are best suited for situations where they’re being beaten into other things. Great for when working from a cookbook such as Alice B Toklas’s where a full henhouse is assumed and something seems to be held against the use of the whole egg.

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