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Getting Crafty in the Kitchen

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Written by Peggy Fallon   
Friday, 02 April 2010

Image
Photo copyright (c) 2009 by Ellen Silverman
Behind every great man is a woman…and that woman is often a pastry chef.  Karen DeMasco, who along with Mindy Fox has written The Craft of Baking, boasts an impressive resume that includes some of Manhattan's finest restaurants. Even before Tom Colicchio became the arbiter of good taste on Top Chef, Karen's desserts at Craft, Craftbar, and 'wichcraft (from 2001 to 2008) garnered national attention for both of them. It's no surprise that in 2005 DeMasco was named winner of the coveted James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef.

Appropriately enough the book begins with breakfast…or what many might consider their fantasy breakfast. Sleepyheads would gladly come alive to Rum Raisin Scones; Jammy Fig Muffins; Toasted Nut & Honey Granola; Apple Fritters; and Chocolate Cake Doughnuts with Chocolate Crackle Glaze. Never one to take herself too seriously, DeMasco's buttery brioche, based upon a recipe from the renowned chef Pierre Hermé, is whimsically baked in empty soup cans. (Take THAT, Andy Warhol!) Recycling at its finest. (She even includes a detailed explanation of how to "season" cans before making them a permanent part of your batterie de cuisine.)

What makes these clear and concise recipes noteworthy is the author's ability to combine homestyle sensibilities with uptown taste. Add a plethora of baking tips and variations along the way, a healthy dose of seasonal produce, and lush photos by Ellen Silverman, and you simply can't miss with this book. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone not eager to cozy up to a generous helping of Rustic Blueberry Cornmeal Tart; Concord Grape & Pear Crisp with Marcona Almond Streusel; Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream; Butterscotch Pudding (reborn with a generous shake of kosher salt); and Almond & Sour Cherry Trifle with Lemon Cream.

DeMasco's cookies and biscotti are appropriately simple - with each recipe contained on a single page - yet the finished product packs enough flavor to make them menu-worthy. There are also a number of tempting little "bites" - like Spiced Apple Cider Jellies, Nut & Cherry Nougat, Coconut Marshmallows, and Spicy Caramel Popcorn - that are as well-suited to nibbling after dinner as they are for gift-giving.

Karen DeMasco is indeed a gifted pastry chef, and I for one am delighted she has shared her craft with the world. This book is going to maintain a special place in my kitchen for a long, long time.

Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Panna Cotta

Reprinted from the book The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox.  Copyright (c) 2009 by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox.  Photographs copyright (c) 2009 by Ellen Silverman.  Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.

Nutella, a creamy chocolate-hazelnut spread, brings the richness of both flavors to a basic panna cotta in one simple step.

Serves 8

  • 1 1/8 teaspoons powdered gelatin
  • 1 cup Nutella
  • ½  teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the gelatin and 3 tablespoons cold water.

Put the Nutella and salt into a medium mixing bowl and set it aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and vanilla to a boil. Pour one third of the hot cream mixture over the gelatin and whisk it well. Then pour the gelatin mixture back into the remaining cream. Pour about one third of the cream mixture over the Nutella. Whisk well to form a smooth paste. Add the remaining cream mixture and whisk well to combine. Whisk in the milk. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, and then divide it among eight ramekins, glasses, or cups. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours. (Once set, the panna cotta can be kept, loosely covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.) They can be served in the ramekins, or dipped in hot water and unmolded onto a serving plate or bowl.

Combining Your Craft:Top this panna cotta with slices of Rosé Poached Pears and crushed Cacao Nib Brittle.

Banana Tarte Tatin

Reprinted from the book The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox.  Copyright (c) 2009 by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox.  Photographs copyright (c) 2009 by Ellen Silverman.  Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.

Image
Photo copyright (c) 2009 by Ellen Silverman
As this classic French upside-down tart bakes, the buttery caramel coaxes the natural sugars from the fruit, then bubbles up into the pastry, melding the two together.

Makes one 8-inch tart

  • Half of a 14- to 17-ounce
  • package frozen all-butter
  • puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter,
  • cut into small pieces
  • 4 ripe bananas

To keep the pastry crisp, do not invert the tart until just before serving.

Lay the puff pastry onto a sheet of parchment paper. Cut a 10-inch round of dough from the pastry, and using the tines of a fork, prick the entire surface of the round. Transfer the pastry round (on the parchment) to a baking sheet, and refrigerate until the dough is firm, about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

In an 8-inch ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Cook over high heat (do not stir) until the sugar turns to a deep golden caramel, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.

Cut the bananas on the diagonal into 2-inch-thick pieces. Arrange the pieces, cut side down and snugly together, in a single layer over the caramel. Cover with the puff pastry round.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the skillet on top of the baking sheet and bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the puff pastry is deep golden brown, about 50 minutes. Transfer the skillet to a wire rack and let the tart cool completely so that the fruit absorbs the caramel.

To serve, rewarm in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, and invert the tart onto a serving plate. The tart is best eaten the day it is baked.

Varying Your Craft

Peach Tarte Tatin: Decrease the butter to 2 tablespoons (because peaches are juicier than bananas). Use 3 medium peaches, pitted and cut into quarters, in place of the bananas. Fan the peach wedges over the entire surface of the caramel.

Apple Tarte Tatin: Use 3 large crisp baking apples, such as Mutsu, Cortland, or Granny Smith, peeled, halved lengthwise, cored, and thinly sliced. Closely pack the slices on their edges over the caramel, forming the shape of apple halves with the rounded edges up.

Making Individual Tatins: You can use six 4-ounce reusable foil cups to make small tatins. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Make the caramel as directed and divide it among the foil cups. Pack the fruit into the cups on top of the caramel. Top each cup of fruit with a 3.-inch round of puff pastry. Put the foil cups on the prepared baking sheet and bake, turning the sheet halfway through, until the pastry is deep golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer tatins to a wire rack and let them cool completely. To serve, rewarm in a 350°F oven for 5 minutes and invert them onto individual serving plates.

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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Last Updated ( Friday, 02 April 2010 )
iced_coffee (Registered) 2010-04-11 15:23:15

Baking certainly is a craft. One I'm still trying to perfect. The Banana Tarte Tatin looks amazing. I just added every ingredient I'll need to make it to my shopping list for today! Thanks!
pam (Publisher) 2010-04-11 16:47:07

Hope you enjoy the Banana Tarte Tatin. I'm planning on making the Panna Cotta soon too!
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