Celeriac Bois Boudran

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If you wanted to keep only one light sauce in your repertoire, which you would enjoy so much and make so often you’d have the recipe memorized, I’d recommend Bois Boudran.  It has a tomato-y base, a generous amount of fresh herbs, and a light touch of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco.  Wonderful with celeriac, divine on fish, worth trying on nearly anything except dessert.

It’s also an example of how a recipe is not carved in stone, and as its creator’s tastes change, the recipe changes too.

Bois Boudran is the creation of Chef Michel Roux who, along with his brother Chef Albert Roux, has had more influence on English food in the late 20th century than anyone I can think of, besides Elizabeth David.  Mrs. David gave us the foundation, and the Roux brothers demonstrated and taught the art.

Brief background on the Roux brothers:  they were born in France, and after early stints as private chefs for the English and French aristocracy, came to London in 1967 to open their restaurant, Le Gavroche.  From there, they built their businesses:  restaurants, an executive dining division, a scholarship, books, and consultancies, all of which taught and influenced thousands of chefs who are now spread worldwide – a diaspora of Roux-trained culinary professionals.

Bois Boudran recipes are numerous online, and nearly all are identical to the recipe I have now, which I received from my executive chef – himself a protégé of Chef Albert – during my first job in London.  I’m guessing that this recipe was used at the Roux restaurants and at Roux Executive Dining, was learned and passed along by any number of chefs who worked there, and so found its way through the industry to be posted online – no bad thing.

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But Chef Michel is not one for idleness, and the original recipe is no longer the definitive version!  Chef Michel developed the sauce in the early 1960s while working for the Baroness Cécile de Rothschild in Paris, but he has re-worked it, and his new and improved Bois Boudran appeared a couple of years ago.  There are several significant changes to his original sauce:  tomato sauce instead of ketchup, fewer herbs and shallots, less Tabasco, peanut oil in place of olive oil.

He serves his sauce with poached salmon, and when I made his updated recipe this week, it was wonderful — elegant and subtle.

But . . . I confess that I prefer the cheekiness of the earlier Bois Boudran.  I like the extra spice and sweetness from just the right ketchup, and the fistful of fresh herbs.  A few tweaks of my own have crept in: using less than half the original amount of olive oil, and reducing the shallots even further than Chef Michel has done.  Chervil is hard to find around here, so I use dill instead.  Red wine vinegar, to my palate, is a fruitier support to the sauce than white, and in some uses a bit of salt doesn’t go amiss.

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(Please let me digress regarding ketchup.  I hadn’t wanted to reveal the secret ingredient prematurely, because I worried that it would take away the sauce’s credibility.  But one of my culinary school instructors – a Frenchman – told us that French chefs in general loved ketchup, and at that time, it was a standard ingredient in French kitchens.  Such widespread use is plausible when you learn that France drastically reduced the use of ketchup in school cafeterias in the autumn of 2011 — the kids were slinging it on everything.  Sound familiar?)

At the restaurant, I made Bois Boudran nearly every week for our version of satay – strips of grilled chicken, threaded on bamboo skewers, were marinated in bowls of the sauce and served buffet-style.  At home, I’ve used it as a sauce for grilled tuna, as a dip for hunks of roasted potatoes, and as a dressing for celeriac julienne, as in today’s recipe – an alternative to celeri rémoulade.

Bois Boudran sauce is sassy, not aggressive, and that’s why it works with celeriac.  Celeri rémoulade, thin twigs of raw celeriac with a dressing of crème fraîche, vinegar, Dijon mustard, capers, and cornichons, is a French bistro classic but sometimes there’s an uneasiness about it, as though all the flavors are close to falling off a tightrope.  The sharpness of the rémoulade dressing can be too aggressive for the vegetable.  Bois Boudran comes into it’s own here, as it does not overwhelm the celeriac, but complements it – the flavors of celeriac and tarragon are not dissimilar, and they are brilliant with the ketchup.

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These ways with Bois Boudran – with celeriac, potatoes, chicken, tuna, salmon – are only suggestions.  You can top eggs with it, or daub it onto soft goat cheese on a biscuit.  Try both recipes, the older one here, or the updated version.  Either way, it’s the creation of a master and while you’re enjoying Bois Boudran in any form, don’t forget to raise a glass to Chef Michel Roux.

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I’m pleased to enter this recipe into Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking with Herbs Mediterranean Challenge for September!  Check out the other great herb-rich recipes there by clicking on the icon above.

 

Celeriac Bois Boudran

Serves four as a side dish; makes about 200ml / 7/8 cup of sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Chef Michel Roux

60ml / ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

85g / ¼ cup + 1 teaspoon ketchup (see note below)

30ml / 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

5 drops Tabasco sauce

14g / leaves from one 18g box of tarragon

6g / 2 tablespoons snipped chives

5g / 1/3 cup dill weed

25g / ¼ cup finely diced shallot (see note below)

kosher or sea salt (optional)

1 head of celeriac, approximately 500g / 18 ounces

1) Combine oil, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire, and Tabasco in the bowl of a mini-processor and whizz until very well mixed, about 30 seconds.  Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

2) Strip the tarragon leaves from their stalks; one 18g supermarket box of tarragon will give you the right amount of leaves.  Pick the dill weed from the stalks, pile up with the tarragon, and mince the herbs finely with a very sharp knife.  Snip the chives with kitchen scissors, and combine the herbs.

3)  Mince the shallot in a mini processor, or cut it by hand into a fine dice, also called brunoise.

4)  Combine the diced shallot, the minced herbs, and the liquid mixture and stir well.  Cover and set aside.

5) Skin the celeriac with a serrated knife by cutting a slice from the bottom to steady it on the cutting board.  Slice the peel off by following the curve of the celeriac.  Take your time with this step!

DSCN2881You may need to use a smaller knife to trim any little bits of peel or any nooks and crannies that the larger knife missed.

6) Cut the celeriac in half, and run it through the julienne blade of your food processor, if you have one.  If not, run it through the 1/8″ slicing blade (or use a mandoline, if you’d rather), and then cut the slices into julienne by hand.  It should take no more than 10 – 15 minutes.  DSCN2888

7) Taste the Bois Boudran sauce for salt; usually, it does not need salt at all because of the salt in the ketchup.  In a large bowl, toss the celeriac julienne with about 120ml / ½ cup of the sauce.  Taste and add more sauce if you wish.  The salad is now ready to serve.

8) Both the sauce and the celeriac are best on the day they’re prepared; while the taste doesn’t suffer the next day, the herbs do lose their color and the celeriac droops.  If looks don’t matter, all will be well.

 Notes:
  • Please use the highest quality ketchup you can find; the lower the sugar and the more piquant the spicing, the better.  My choice here is Trader Joe’s Organic Ketchup; you may have a better one still.
  • If shallots are not to be had, scallions will work.
  • To cut a shallot into brunoise, slice the shallot in half lengthwise, but do not cut off the root end — just trim the little roots off.  Take one half of the shallot and, with a small knife, slice it horizontally from the stem end almost to the root; there will be room for three cuts, maybe four.  Then make five or six vertical cuts, again along the length of the shallot, so the shallot now looks a bit like a brush. DSCN2952Holding onto the root end, now slice the shallot at right angles to your vertical cuts; it will fall into reasonably tidy small dice.  Do the same with the other half.  It takes longer to explain than to accomplish; and this is not a recipe for which the dice needs to be perfect!

Cajun Onion Gumbo

We went to New Orleans for two things: live music and live food.  Finding the music took all of ten minutes — the walk from our hotel to Bourbon Street.  As for the food, our plan was to try as many classic New Orleans dishes as possible.  We ate beignets and chicory coffee for breakfast, munched on oyster po’ boys and shrimp rémoulade midday, and dined on rabbit jambalaya, turtle soup, three versions of seafood etouffée, and four versions of gumbo.  The immediate “let’s try this at home” winner was gumbo.  Ah, the naïveté of the first-timer . . .

Our two favorite gumbos were what Chef Paul Prudhomme might call “down-and-dirty Cajun”:  based on a dark chocolate-brown roux, they were nutty, toasty, smoky, and packed with goodies.  Another was a classic Creole gumbo, combining peanut butter-brown roux, seafood, okra, and tomato.  More refined than the Cajun, perhaps more suitable for a Sunday lunch than a Saturday night knees-up, it was still delectable and we scarfed it down.  The fourth gumbo was shocking.  It was Creole, but made for a taste opposite mine:  it formed gummy strings when I pulled the spoon up from the surface, and had a sticky, gooey mouth-feel.  For me, it was a truly unappetizing style of gumbo — and showed that this was a more complex dish than it first seemed to be.

To design a gumbo, there are three decisions to make — style, thickener, and main ingredients.  Since the thickener appeared to be the crux of a good gumbo, I started there.  Back home and researching gumbo technique, I found three options for thickeners.  They (and their secondary options) are:  roux (what color?), okra (with or without tomatoes?), or filé powder (alone or with a roux?).  There are also three ground rules:

  • Never use okra and filé together.  Roux and filé is fine, as is roux and okra.  (Filé is powdered sassafras leaves, used as a thickener by the Choctaw Indians and adopted by the Louisiana Cajuns; filé can also mean “string” in French.)
  • Never boil filé.  Add it only when the pan is off the heat, or sprinkle it into the gumbo at the table.
  • Sauté the sliced okra before adding it to the pot, or it will make the gumbo slimy.

Did the gooey gumbo break one or all three of these rules, I wonder?

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But there was also a bevy of rule-breaker recipes, so there must be cooks who aim for that texture:  recipes that boiled the filé, others that didn’t fry the okra, and one cook whose recipe used all three thickeners — roux, okra, and filé.  So what’s right?  Who’s right?  What’s a Northerner newbie to do?

This newbie started with the Southern Foodways Alliance online — by all means, check it out.  Stanley Dry’s article there, A Short History of Gumbo, is an excellent resource that clarified several gumbo-making points that had confused me.  It reassured me that there is plenty of room for variety, without compromising authenticity.  And the epigraph by jazz musician Kermit Ruffins led to onion gumbo.

DSCN2755DSCN2767 Onion gumbo!  Well, there’s French onion soup, so why not onion gumbo?  Dark, filling, savory gumbo with succulent onions and fluffy rice, accented with parsley, scallions, and celery leaves — yes, onions and Cajun roux are made for each other.  Now that style, thickener, and main ingredient are all settled, the next question is, how dark do you want to make your roux?  Well, how strong are your nerves?

I’m being facetious here – dark roux is more intimidating to read about than it is to make, really, it is.  Dark roux is also unique to Louisiana cuisine – classic French roux goes no further than a medium sandy color, as a base for brown sauces.  Yes, if stirred without caution, it can splash and burn you and yes, it is called “Cajun napalm” for good reason: it hurts.   Be careful, and you’ll be fine.  The next worst thing that can happen is that it will scorch and the kitchen will smell like burnt toast.  The first is unfortunate, as you’ll have to toss it and start over, but it’s not the end of the world.  The second is why we have extractor fans.

Back to the color.  In his book Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, Chef Prudhomme includes an engaging discussion of making and using roux, including the general Cajun philosophy:  black roux for lighter, sweeter meats or seafood, and red-brown roux for darker, stronger-tasting ingredients, which presumably include onions.  He is not dogmatic, however — he recommends either black or red-brown for gumbos, but leaves it to his readers to find what works best for their tastes.  So to find the right color for onion gumbo, I tested both.  My first try was with black roux — actually dark chocolate-brown, a short step from black.  That intense roux just didn’t work with the onions, and the two strong flavors fought each other.  The second roux was red-brown, and it was perfect.  That toasty roux and the onions were soulmates.  Of course, the Cajuns were right about the best color:  after 250 years, they darn well know what they’re doing with roux!

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There is one more rule: keep your entire attention on on the roux while it’s cooking, because once you start the ride, there’s no getting off.  Keep stirring.  Make it any color you want, light, dark, in between — but no phone calls, no feeding the dog, no interruptions of any sort until it’s done.  If black flecks appear in the roux or even a bit of black crust forms in the pan, it’s scorched and there’s no saving it.  Start over and please don’t give up — each try gets you closer to expertise.  Once the technique is in your hands and in your senses, you are free to play and take your gumbo in any direction you choose, so if you’d rather make it with poached chicken and sliced andouille, or lightly sautéed seafood, or make the roux darker, it’s your baby.  Crank up the zydeco and start cooking.

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If you’d like to explore Louisiana’s wonderful cuisines further, here are the sources I used (so far) to fill the gaps in my gumbo knowledge:

And the most fun research in New Orleans, besides eating four different gumbos, was talking with Lisa Jones, manager of A Tisket A Tasket on Decatur Street.  Lisa is a delightful conversationalist and a knowledgeable cook, who first told me the right way to use filé, gave me some insights on roux, and recommended several other books on Louisiana cooking and history:

What makes the difference between an indifferent experience and a memorable one?  The people, naturally.  Thank you, Lisa!

And thank you, too, for dropping in!

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Cajun Onion Gumbo

Makes four generous portions, or six as part of a multi-course meal
Adapted from a recipe in New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories

Gumbo:

1380g / 3 lbs. yellow onions, divided

2 tablespoons peanut or olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons each celery leaves and flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

3 green onions, for garnish

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 rib celery

½ green pepper

2 cloves garlic

1 liter / 4 cups rich vegetable stock

powdered filé (optional)

Roux:

120ml / ½ cup peanut or olive oil (see note below)

100g / 2/3 cup flour

1) Cut one of the onions in half, and reserve one of the halves for the gumbo’s vegetable base.  Peel and slice all the remaining onions, about .75cm / ¼ inch thick.  Pile the onions into a large pan, and mix in 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper.  Start them frying gently over medium heat, then turn the heat down, cover, and let the onions stew for 60 – 90 minutes.  Give them a stir every now and again, and please don’t let them scorch.  They need to simmer in their own juices until they begin to sweeten and turn light brown.

2) While the onions are cooking, prepare the other ingredients:  roughly chop the celery leaves and parsley, and slice the green onions.  Cover the garnishes with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

3) Chop the reserved onion half, celery rib, green pepper, and garlic in a mini-chopper or processor.  Scrape the vegetables into a bowl, and set aside.  Combine the bay leaf, thyme, paprika, and cayenne in a small dish, cover, and set aside.  Whether homemade or commercial, have your vegetable stock measured out.

4) When the onions have cooked down to a light brown color, have softened and taste slightly sweet, they are ready.  If there is excess juice in the pan, turn the heat up for a minute to simmer it off.  Remove the onions from the heat and pour them into a bowl.

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5) Before beginning the roux, have all the other components lined up and ready:  chopped vegetables, seasoning, stock, and stewed onions.

6) In a heavy soup pan or Dutch oven (see note below), heat the oil until it’s hot and shimmering.  Gradually add the flour and blend continually until it’s all added — either a wire whisk or a heat-safe spatula will do the job.  Stir constantly — and carefully! —  as the roux darkens, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan.  Depending on the heat level, a red-brown roux can take from 35 minutes over low heat, to 13 minutes over medium-high heat (see note below).

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7) When the roux is a few seconds away from the color you want, remove it from the burner — it will continue to darken from the heat of the pan.  Scrape in the reserved vegetables and seasonings, and mix thoroughly.  This will cool the roux just enough to slow the darkening process.  DSCN2790

8)  Put the pan back on medium heat, and gradually whisk in the stock.  Once the soup is thoroughly combined, pour in the onions and any accumulated juices.  Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to maintain a gentle simmer, cover the pan, and let the gumbo cook for another 15 minutes.  If oil rises to the surface, skim it off or stir it back into the pot.

9) Ladle the soup into bowls and top with scoops of hot, fluffy white rice and sprinkle on the celery leaves, parsley, and green onions.  Serve potato salad on the side, if you wish.  If you’re including filé powder, have a ramekin of it on the table for guests to serve themselves (see note below).

 Notes:

  • Peanut oil is my preferred oil for dark roux, but use whatever high-heat, neutral oil you prefer.  I accidentally used olive oil a couple of times, and it worked very well.
  • A non-stick pan is great for preparing the onions, but the high heat used makes it unsuitable for roux.  My go-to pan for high-heat cooking is an enameled cast iron Dutch oven; a heavy stainless steel soup pan will be fine too.
  • Some practiced gumbo cooks use very high heat, and can get a black roux in five minutes, and a red-brown roux in three minutes.  Some traditional Cajun cooks make dark roux over very low heat, so it takes hours.  As noted, over medium-high heat, a red-brown roux will take about 13 minutes, stirring non-stop.  If you feel like you’re losing control of the roux and it’s in danger of burning, remove it from the heat immediately and keep stirring until you both settle down a bit.  Put it back on a lower heat, and keep going.  A more leisurely technique is to keep the heat to medium or medium-low.  It will take around 35 minutes for a red-brown roux, and if your stirring arm is up to it, this is a lovely way to watch the color change and see all the gradations you can choose.
  • A wire whisk will serve to stir the roux in a metal pan, unless you’re concerned about metal-on-metal.  If that’s the case, or if you have an enameled pan, I’ve found that a high-heat spatula does a fantastic job and I wouldn’t trade it for any other tool.  Don’t bother with a wooden spoon; the tip of the spoon isn’t big enough to keep the roux moving like it needs to.
  • Filé powder’s aroma is a cross between green tea and lemon verbena, and will add those flavors to the gumbo.  Used sparingly, I like the herby overtones — but it’s completely optional.  It’s not expensive, if you’d like to try it.  Check your grocery store’s spice and herb section.

A Visit to New Orleans

Nine years ago yesterday, Hurricane Katrina flayed New Orleans raw.  The city declined, however, to die.

We spent most of last week in New Orleans, our first visit there.  From the moment we hit the streets, I could think of no other name for her but the City of Life.  Over the next few days as we rambled downtown to Bywater and uptown to Uptown/Carrolton, this did not change.

There is an indomitable undercurrent here:  a feeling that life will survive, no matter what.  It’s in the weather, the hot, steamy tropical fertility that makes hedges grow inches in a day and live oak trees, maybe planted 150 years ago, burst their roots through sidewalk pavement slabs and bricks.  The life force in this climate is unstoppable.

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One feels it too in the trees in Audubon Park — enormous live oaks, 200 – 300 years old some of them, with or without Spanish moss.  Through war, weather, and human intervention on the land, they survived.

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Another characteristic of New Orleans is that she has chosen beauty for its own sake wherever it can slip into view, and it is at least equal to utility.  It is not the gimcrack “beauty” of the speculative builder.  Fretwork, for example, takes time to create, but the enchanting Creole houses in the French Quarter are rich with it and whoever built them considered it time well spent — whether fretwork brackets upholding the porch roof, or the iron latticework providing ventilation to the foundations, or even the delicate beauty of the buildings themselves.

Sometimes beauty didn’t seem to have an obvious reason for its existence, it just did.   How liberating not to have to justify one’s existence, even if one is “only” a set of cement tiles on a verge!

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When we got out into the French Quarter the first night, I walked around open-mouthed and saucer-eyed like a child.  Genuine, unpretentious, a little grungy, people just being themselves — what a place!  What people!  Thank goodness the grime and authenticity have not been botoxed out of New Orleans, as they have been in other, more staid places.  The people we met were people one could connect with even in the space of a three-minute encounter, or whose exuberance we could sense even if we’d never met them at all.

Exuberance flung strands and strands of silvery Carnival beads into the branches of the live oaks lining St. Charles Avenue, and hung more strands from wrought iron fences in the Garden District.  There were beads flying on Bourbon Street, bar doormen tossing free strands to bystanders; a high school brass band playing damn good Dixieland and passing a cardboard box for tips; and an elderly lady riding a three-wheeled bicycle with a canopy and a battery, wound around with blinking Christmas lights and decorated with Bible verses.

There were the waiters and waitresses, without exception chatty, interesting, and answering questions honestly about the city and their lives within it.   What they all expressed was an enthusiasm and directness that marked them as happy people.  A young man in an elegant coffee shop had to explain what Shark Week was when we spotted this sign on the wall — and as he explained it, it sounded good.  Live every week to the fullest.  Live like you’re on the edge and you don’t know what’s next.  Live like it’s Shark Week.

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And don’t make a fuss and palaver about life, just live it, fast or slow as you choose, but live it.

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There were the beautiful, beautiful tiled street signs embedded into building walls, recalling two cultures that have shaped the city, Spanish and French.  Calle de San Luis became Rue St. Louis, and is now St. Louis Street.

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In a lively city full of surprises, some signs were exceptional.

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These photos show both sides of the same sign.  Do they mean that the buyer actually has a choice?!

But her tragedies over time cannot be sugar-coated; New Orleans has been a cauldron of bone-deep horror and sorrow.  Her history holds plagues and weather and war and slavery, and fiends masquerading as ordinary citizens — never again will I use the flippant phrase “chained to the stove,” out of respect for the slave woman whose agonizing fate that actually was:  chained to the kitchen stove, prisoner of the unspeakable Delphine LaLaurie in her French Quarter mansion in the 1830s.

All these stories, mine and others’, wonderful and terrible, create the most fascinating and genuine place I have ever been.

There are commentators who feel it to be a city of decay and decadence, or a place looking death in the eye and celebrating before it strikes.  Fair enough:  these are people who know the city so much better than I, a first-time visitor, and I fully see their points; but until I know the city as well as they do, I can’t fully agree.  What is apparently the unofficial city motto, “let the good times roll”, is too superficial, I think.  I think the real motto of New Orleans is scribbled on a stop sign on the corner of Toulouse and Chartres, an altogether deeper imperative that the city has followed, perhaps without realizing it, for the 296 years of her existence:  “never stop living.”  City of Life, indeed.

♦  ♦  ♦

And city of food!  I believe that a blog devoted solely to recipes can be dangerously close to boring; I want to describe places and people too, and posts about our travels will start appearing from time to time.  But New Orleans is also the city of food, so in the next post look out for gumbo adventures — or maybe étouffée adventures, not yet sure which.  Until then!

 

Blueberry Rose Bakewell Tart

. . . or The Tart with Two Faces

Which is the real Bakewell Tart?  Is it stodgy almond cake in a short crust, relieved only by a stingy layer of indifferent jam?  Or is it a luscious poem of jam and fresh fruit in a tart shell, covered by just enough almond cake to soak up the juices, but still resemble cake?

Which face shall it be?

First, please don’t confuse Bakewell Tart with Bakewell Pudding—the latter is a puff pastry shell, spread with strawberry jam and filled with egg-and-almond custard.  The story has it that the pudding was created in the 19th century at the old Rutland Arms Hotel in Bakewell, Derbyshire, as the mistake of an inexperienced cook, and became a roaring success.  Bakewell Tart seems to have been developed in later years as a shortcut to the pudding.  The key differences are the tart’s short pastry shell and almond cake-like filling, called frangipane, as opposed to the pudding’s puff paste shell and custard filling.  Despite it’s secondary status to the pudding, Bakewell Tart is a traditional, classic English dessert — when it’s made properly.

If it’s made carelessly, Bakewell Tart can be repellent:  a scraping of cheap, high fructose corn syrup-laden jam under a leaden cake layer sitting in a too-thick pie crust.  Don’t get me started about commercial versions with white icing and a piece of glacé cherry, either.  With these examples in the marketplace, who in their right mind would eat, let alone love, these over-sweetened bricks?

Puzzling over Bakewells one day recently, I remembered the French Tarte Bourdaloue: a tart of sliced pears on top of frangipane, and baked in a pâte sucrée shell—and had a right-brain flash.  Fresh fruit, not atop the filling, but under it, to intensify and validate the fruit flavor of the jam.  Using half the usual amount frangipane; sweet crust instead of short crust; and reducing the sugar of both, letting the tartness of the fruit come forward.  And several months ago, I had been daydreaming about a rose-flavored Bakewell, especially with blueberry or strawberry jam . . . add rose essence and cardamom with the fresh fruit . . . oh my.  It works.

My husband had been out of town while I was baking trial versions, three of them:  two strawberry and one blueberry.  When he returned and I confessed my tinkering with a traditional tart of his homeland, he came as close as he can manage to a scowl.  Traditions are traditional for a reason, he feels, and do not need to be messed with.  I plated a slice of Blueberry Rose Bakewell, and waited for the thunderbolt.

“You’ll have to make another one so we can keep testing it . . . is there any more?”

Please enjoy this charming tart with morning coffee, afternoon tea, or anytime you fancy.

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Blueberry Rose Bakewell Tart

makes one 9-inch round or one 4½ x 14-inch rectangular tart

Sweet crust (pâte sucrée):

100g / 7 tablespoons softened butter

60g / ¼ cup sugar

1 egg

250g / 2 cups less 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 pinch kosher or fine sea salt

  1.  First, rinse and drain the blueberries, and spread out on a linen tea towel to dry.  Leave them aside.
  2. For the tart shell:  with a hand blender or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar.  Add the egg and beat again until the mixture is thoroughly blended.
  3. Add the flour and salt, and mix by hand to form a soft dough.  Form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before rolling it out.
  4. After it has chilled and rested, roll it out to approximately .25cm / 3/32 inch thick on a lightly floured, cool surface: granite, marble, or a pastry mat work well.  A long palette knife will be a tremendous help in getting the crust off the rolling surface so it will wind around the rolling pin to transfer to the pan; slide it under the sheet of pastry and with a gentle sawing motion, releasing the dough from the rolling surface.  DSCN2419Roll it gently around the pin, lift it over the tart pan, and unroll the dough.  DSCN2421This pastry can be tricky, as it’s essentially cookie dough, and will almost certainly crack or tear when you’re lining the tart pan — especially where it meets the sharp edges of the pan before you ease it down the sides to the bottom.  Below you see how badly the dough can misbehave!  However, it can be patched back together easily, and the shell shown above turned out fine.  When the pastry is tucked down to the bottom, roll the pin over the top of the pan to shear off the excess.  Then start repairing the cracks and tears.  When the shell is mended, gather the pastry trimmings into a ball, wrap, and refrigerate.  Please don’t throw away the trimmings until after the shell is baked and inspected, as there may be further cracks to fix; if so, please see the notes below for repair technique.DSCN2435
  5. When the pan is lined and patched, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate again for at least 30 minutes.  Pre-heat the oven to 375°F / 190ºC for blind baking.  I prefer to turn on the convection fan when baking the shell, but if you don’t have one, it’s not a problem.
  6. When the shell has rested and chilled, line it with baking parchment and add weights — please see the note below about what to use — and bake the crust for a total of 15 – 18 minutes, depending on your oven and pan size (check and turn the crust after 9 – 12 minutes, for even color).DSCN2106After 15 minutes, remove the weights and paper.  You can tell if it’s done to the proper degree by checking the bottom crust:  if it has dried and is firm — not brittle, but firm — and is a pretty golden color, it is perfect.  If the bottom is still a bit soft, return it to the oven, minus the weights, for another few minutes.  Let the shell cool on a rack, and prepare the filling.
 Filling (frangipane):

approximately 275g / 9 ounces fresh blueberries

75g/ 5 tablespoons butter, softened

50g / 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar

1 egg

75g / 2/3 cup ground almonds

½ teaspoon rose essence

¼ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

25g / 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons of blueberry jam  (see note below)

1 – 2 tablespoons sliced almonds

  1. With your mixer, beat the butter until it is soft and pale, with the texture of hand cream — to beurre pomade.  Add the sugar and cream the mixture.  Add the egg and beat until it is thoroughly mixed.  Add the almonds, rose essence, and cardamom and beat again.
  2. Last, add the flour.  You can fold it in by hand, or by mixer — since it is such a small amount, it won’t toughen the frangipane to use the mixer.  If the shell is cool, proceed with the recipe; otherwise, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator until the shell is ready.
  3. When the shell is cold, pre-heat the oven to 350ºF / 175ºC.  Spread the fruit jam evenly on the bottom of the shell.  Pack the drained, dried blueberries into the shell, filling in the nooks and crannies as best you can.DSCN2497
  4. Gently and carefully spread the frangipane over the top of the fruit; the easiest method is to dollop the filling atop the fruit at several points, and connect the dollops.  Even out the top, and sprinkle with sliced almonds.DSCN2500
  5. Slide the tart into the oven, and have a precautionary cookie sheet on the rack below to catch jam drips — even two tablespoons’ worth may find it’s way to the surface!  I do not recommend baking the tart directly on the sheet, as the air circulation under the tart continues to bake the bottom crust.
  6. Bake the tart for 30 – 35 minutes, for either the round or rectangular shape, turning after 16 – 18 minutes.  As always, the timing will depend on your oven and whether you use convection.  Check its progress at 25 minutes, and continue baking accordingly.
  7. When the filling is firm to the touch and is a golden brown color, the tart is done.  Remove and let cool completely on a rack before removing the tart from the pan and sliding it onto a serving plate — impatience can result in a cracked crust.  If a piece of the shell breaks and falls away from the side of the tart, wait until it’s cold, dab it with some blueberry jam, and stick it back onto the tart.  When you cut the tart, give that slice to yourself!

Notes:

  • Please use the highest-quality, cane sugar-sweetened jam you can find; no high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.
  • The strawberry version is delicious — but because strawberries “melt” and lose their vibrant red color when they are baked, the result is not as photogenic as blueberries, or perhaps fresh cherries, would be.  The photo of the 9″ round strawberry tart in the post above demonstrates this quirk: the holes in the filling are where the berries collapsed with baking.  If that is a non-issue for you, then go with the strawberries.  As an aside, I should think that fresh raspberries or pitted fresh cherries, with the corresponding jam, would also work marvelously in this tart with the rose and cardamom.
  • If you do choose strawberries, wash them first, then hull, halve, and place them on paper towels to drain, cut side down.  Larger berries might be too tall for the tart shell, even when halved, so slice or sliver those berries so they fit below the top of the shell.
  • For pastry baking weights, I recommend rice and/or lentils.  They will settle into the shape of the shell and support it, which neither ceramic baking weights nor metal chain weights will do.  I do not recommend ceramic baking weights at all.  The absolute worst thing that can happen is for a ceramic weight to fall into the shell and be overlooked, baked into the product, and then break the tooth of an unwary eater.  This has happened to me — I do not want it to happen to you.
  • After blind baking the shell, you may discover that it has cracked in places.  This is reparable.  Patch the crack with a bit of the reserved pastry trimming.  If the dough is cold, knead a bit with your fingers to warm it, shape it so it resembles the shape and size of the crack, and gently tuck it into the fissure.  This works for cracks on the sides or on the bottom.  The patch will bake with the tart itself.
  • Bakewell Tarts often have a glazed finish, usually strained and slightly diluted apricot jam.  I don’t feel it adds to the tart, but if you like the glossy look, by all means glaze them.
  • Leftover pastry trimmings can be turned into very pleasant cookies:  re-roll the dough and cut with your favorite shapes.  Brush with egg wash (1 beaten egg yolk, ½ teaspoon water, pinch of salt), sprinkle with sugar, and bake at 350°F / 180ºC until they’re lightly browned.
  • This tart freezes beautifully.  It may not be a picture-perfect as one straight from the oven, but the flavor is unimpaired, and it makes a lovely breakfast pastry.

Seared Tuna with Herb Vinagreta,Tomato-Garlic Sauce, and Polenta

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If one day the last truly do become the first, keep an eye out for the Canary Islands.

Although they are under the Spanish flag, they stretch out into the Atlantic just off the northwest coast of Africa.  They were the last port of call for the great westbound exploration ships of the 16th and 17th centuries; they are the last and furthest remnant of the Spanish Empire.  Canarian food is Spanish cuisine’s afterthought: their recipes usually form the last chapter in Spanish cookery books arranged by region.  But what recipes they are!

Canarian cookery is a meeting point for Spanish, Moorish, and New World ingredients, used in uniquely Canarian ways.  Spicy red mojos — dipping sauces — and garlicky green ones, “wrinkled” potatoes boiled in water so salty the potatoes float, stews and soups with pumpkin and watercress, are the most often-reported Canarian specialties.  There is also freedom to imagine and improvise.

My recipe here is not a classic Canarian dish, but came about by playing with their ingredients, adding a dab of Spanish influence, a touch of Moorish spice, and seeing what happened.  Tuna steaks are rubbed with paprika, ground caraway, and cinnamon, seared and topped with a vinagreta of cilantro, parsley, and oregano.  Underneath is a layer of fresh tomato and garlic sauce, and if you wish, a bed of polenta.  Polenta is a nod to gofio, a traditional Canarian subsistence food, which is a flour of mixed toasted grains (ground corn is a standard component), kneaded in a leather bag with liquid to form a crumbly paste, and eaten straight from the bag — an acquired taste, one suspects.  If you’d rather use rice, potatoes, or toasted bread, do it.

Cilantro is adored by the Canarians, but can be problematic.  According to the late, great Barbara Tropp, who knew a thing or two about cilantro from her own work in Chinese cookery, perceiving a “soapy” taste from the herb is due to one’s saliva chemistry.  Whether it is down to genetics, blood type, or another reason, she didn’t say.  If your chemistry just says no to cilantro, then go ahead and make the vinagreta with parsley and oregano only; or perhaps try parsley and oregano, and add a tablespoon of mint.  Any of them are right for Canarian cuisine.

Speaking of herbs, I’m also pleased to tell you about a beautiful English food site, Lavender and Lovage, by Karen Burns-Booth — it has become one of my favorites.  Every month Karen hosts a Cooking with Herbs Challenge, and this month her call is for recipes with summer herbs and flowers.  This tuna dish is my entry for the August challenge; you can find more warm-weather recipes featuring fresh herbs by clicking on the logo below.

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I hope you enjoy the tuna with trimmings, and watch this space — this won’t be the last Canarian-inspired dish you’ll see here.  ¡Que aproveche!

Seared Tuna with Herb Vinegreta, Tomato-Garlic Sauce, and Polenta

Serves four as a main course, or makes at least 20 tapa-sized portions

A multi-component recipe like this can get complicated; the outline of this dish is:

  1. Make the spice rub, vinagreta, and tomato-garlic sauce first.  They can hold for an hour or three.
  2. The polenta can be started about one hour before you plan to serve.
  3. Remove the tuna from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you plan to serve, to take the chill off.  Given high heat and a pan large enough to hold all the tuna steaks, searing the tuna will take about three minutes.
  4. This recipe can be served three ways.  The simplest is family style: pour the hot polenta into a lightly oiled baking dish, spoon on the tomato sauce, lay the seared tuna on the sauce, top with vinegreta, and place sprigs of herbs over the tuna.  Or, as an individually plated main course as in the main photo: this is lovely for a tête-à-tête dinner, but for more than two — unless you have a heat lamp in your kitchen — it can get frantic.  Last, it makes a great tapa, as in the post’s second photo: a spoonful of polenta topped with a dollop of tomato sauce, a slice of seared tuna, and a drizzle of vinegreta with a sprig of coriander or parsley.
Spice rub

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4 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground caraway seed

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt

  1. Combine all the spices with the salt in a small dish, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
Herb vinagreta

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20g / 1 packed cup fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed and blotted dry

10g / ½ packed cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, rinsed and blotted dry

1½ tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, rinsed and blotted dry

120ml / ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt

  1. Finely chop the herbs, either in a food processor or by hand.  In the processor, please use a bowl large enough to give the herbs room to move.  Too small a bowl and they will tear unevenly, and not chop as finely as they ought to.
  2. If you use the processor, add the olive oil, vinegar, and salt to the herbs and whizz together for 30 seconds, until the dressing takes on an opaque, emulsified look.  If you chop the herbs by hand, whizz the oil, vinegar, and salt, in the processor, then scrape the vinagreta into a small bowl and fold in the herbs.  Cover and set aside.
Tomato-garlic sauce

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8 ripe red tomatoes, vine-ripened or heirloom, if possible

8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

  1. Rinse and dry the tomatoes, and cut out the stem end.  Chop them into quarters and whizz them in a food processor until they are completely ground to a pulp.  You can also, if you wish, grate them by hand.
  2. In a non-stick or stainless steel pan, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the sliced garlic for one minute.  Add the ground tomatoes and their juice, salt, and sugar, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let them simmer with the garlic until the juices are nearly gone, about 30 – 40 minutes.  There can still be small pools of juice with the tomato pulp, but the sauce must not be runny.  Cover and set aside to be reheated later.
Polenta

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480ml / 2 cups water

480ml / 2 cups light vegetable broth

1 cup polenta

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  1. Bring the water, broth, salt, and oil to the boil in a large saucepan.
  2. Gradually add the polenta, stirring constantly, until it is thoroughly mixed into the water and there are no lumps.
  3. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting possible to maintain a simmer, and cover the pan.  Let the polenta simmer gently for 5 – 10 minutes, then give it a good, thorough stir.  Cover and let simmer for another 5 – 10 minutes.  Repeat the stir-cover-simmer-stir procedure until the polenta has been cooking for 40 minutes.  At that point, stir one last time, and remove from the heat.  Let it rest, covered, while you prepare the tuna; or if you’re serving family style, scrape it immediately into a lightly oiled baking dish, and leave to rest in a warm oven.
 Seared tuna

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720g / 24 ounces tuna steaks (one 6-ounce portion per guest)

spice rub (above)

1 – 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  1. After the tuna steaks have been resting outside the fridge for 20 minutes, rinse them and blot dry with paper towels.
  2. Dredge each steak in the spice rub, patting into the fish.  Set aside for a few minutes during the next step.
  3. Begin re-heating the tomato-garlic sauce over low heat.  For family style, spoon the hot sauce over the polenta, and return the baking dish to keep warm in the oven.  For individual servings, spoon polenta onto plates and top with tomato sauce.  Have the plates, vinagreta, and herb sprigs nearby as you start the tuna.
  4. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a cast iron or stainless steel pan, and, heat over a high flame until the oil shimmers.
  5. Gently lay the tuna steaks in the oil, and start the timer while they sizzle.  For 3cm / 1¼ inch steaks, sear each side for 1’30” for medium; 1’15” for medium-rare; 1 minute for rare.  Add more oil when you turn the steaks if the pan seems dry.
  6. Have the baking dish or individual plates ready.  When the second side of the tuna is done, remove the steaks immediately to the dish or plates.  Spoon vinagreta over the tuna, and place herb sprigs, or pluches, on each piece of tuna.  Serve at once, with extra vinagreta to pass around the table.
  7. If you’re serving the tuna as a tapa, you have more leeway.  Place a spoonful of polenta onto each tapa plate, or several portions onto a large platter.  Top the polenta with tomato sauce.  When the tuna is done, slice the steaks across the grain and lay each slice over the tomato and polenta base.  Top each slice with vinagreta and an herb pluche, and serve.
Notes
  • The stem parts of the cilantro and parsley – as in the photo above of a cilantro pluche – are fine to include in the herbs to be chopped.
  • The method given here for cooking polenta is the restaurant method, not the traditional method.  As much as I love to be purist, and as much as one will learn about polenta by standing over the pan for 40 minutes, stirring constantly, it is not the best use of your time in preparing this particular dish.  Dedicated Italian cooks, please forgive me.