Monday, 29 July 2013

Linzer Cookies aka Jam Biscuits

Many a blogger will tell you how blogging has helped them discover hitherto unknown aspects of their personality. For me, working with food, fresh produce and props has helped me discover my personal sense of colour and aesthetics. Another unexpected one has been the discovery of me as a 'jam lady'. Funnily enough, I don't eat that much jam but I do enjoy making them. My mother, of course, can't get over how her kitchen klutz of a daughter found her inner jam lady!! C'est la Vie!!

So, how does this jam lady make her jams?? Well.. they are made with the fruit of the season, without any commercial pectin and not cloyingly sweet. I am not pedantic about their consistency. As long as it's spreadable, I am good to go! And this weekend, I made a jar of plum jam. Plums have a natural tartness which in my dictionary makes them a perfect candidate for jams.

And when you make jam, you've got to make jam biscuits. Whether they were made at home or bought from the supermarket, every one has had their fill of them as a child. Mine came from the local, neighbourhood bakery!

The ones I am sharing with you today are the cookie version of the Austrian classic, Linzer Torte. Originated in the early 1700s, the Linzer Torte is nothing but a posh Jam Tart that is filled with black currant preserve and then topped off with a lattice crust. The cookies use the same principle but a different presentation. It is two almond flavoured cookies that sandwich a layer of jam. The upper cookie has a cut-out in the centre that lets the jam peek out.

I made these cookies in two batches. I nearly gave up with the first batch. This is an extremely soft dough that wasn't helped by the extreme humidity that we are facing these days, thanks to the rains. The dough kept breaking and poor quality cookie cutters had a pair of flower cut-outs looking like a pair of eyes that people carve on the pumpkin during Halloween. If you look in the background of some of the photographs, you will get a glimpse of them.
Highly frustrated, I switched on the air-conditioning and decided to go with one big cut-out in the centre. This plan worked a lot more smoothly.

Are these cookies worth the effort?? Most definitely yes! The almonds are toasted and the resultant nuttiness enhances the flavour profile of these cookies. Once completely cooled, you will taste the subtler flavours of cinnamon and lemon. And topping it all off is that plum jam that retains a certain tartness that cuts through all the sugar while the jam itself gets more.. jammy! And the fruity freshness that bursts through is simply delightful.
The cookies taste even better the next day as the jam helps the cookies to soften and the flavours to mingle. So, if you have time on your hand, these cookies are worth your time and effort.

As a child, the fascination of jam biscuits was in seeing the vibrantly coloured jam peek out through the cookie. All these years on, the same fascination endures!!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Baked Apricots with Lemon Tea

Ever since I started blogging, I have become more attuned to local and seasonal produce. Look back at my earlier posts and you will notice the local, seasonal calendar of fruits is what guides the subject of my posts. This year, we've had a good and bountiful stone fruit season and I have had my fill of these fruits, fresh and ripe, just as they are!

But, as the season draws to a close, you can sense that the best of the season's produce is behind us. So, I have been looking for ways to prolong this season, with desserts and bakes that celebrate these fruits that aren't in their prime any longer. For instance, apricots rarely make an appearance in Indian markets, a fleeting one at most. So, when I saw a mound of them, freshly arrived from North India, I just had to buy them because for all my proclaimed love for fruits, I've never tasted a fresh apricot. Sad but true!
Unfortunately, while these fruits had the most beautiful colour, they were sadly lacking in flavour. So, I turned to my most trusted advisor on how to cook with the fruit of the season, Nigel Slater's Ripe. I can't praise this book enough and it hasn't disappointed till date.
I wanted something simple that didn't involve elaborate cooking. This recipe of gently poaching the fruit with lemon tea and vanilla was just what I was looking for. And it definitely did not disappoint. With ten minutes of prep and forty minutes in the oven, this recipe transformed a bland fruit into a dainty and elegant dessert.

The citrusy lemon awakens these fruits with their subtle zestiness while the vanilla and the star anise infuses it with a delicacy that washes over you with its simplicity. Paired with vanilla ice-cream, it is a subtle and light dessert that will be a perfect end to any meal.  

Much like a beautiful piece of music, all the flavours are in perfect harmony and this dessert enervates and calms at the same time. Try it once, it will awaken your senses!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Stone Fruit Tart

There is an old-fashioned charm and romance about a picnic in the park. It is about being a child all over again. And I am convinced that given a choice, most people would pack their picnic baskets with the same food that was in the picnic baskets of their childhood. And, if not that, then with the stuff they read about in their childhood books. Think Enid Blyton with hard-boiled eggs, jam sandwiches and lemonade.
So, why am I talking about a picnic in the park when its pouring buckets here in India. Well, because Facebook is bombarding me with photographs of my friends in the Western Hemisphere, out in the park, food laid out on the mat and them cheekily grinning into the camera whilst lazily sipping on their sangrias from mason jars!  

And, while I do love the rains, I really do, I wouldn't mind going for a picnic and stretching out on the green grass and mindlessly gazing at the blue sky. And I'd take this stone fruit tart along with me.
This tart would have definitely not been in my childhood picnic basket but when you are a food blogger, your friends expect something better than jam sandwiches! And, this tart is perfect for the occasion.
The tart is from one of my favourite baking books, 'The Popina Book of Baking'. What is unique about the tart is that the tart shell is filled with a sponge dough that is then topped off with fruits. As the tart bakes, the fruits will sink a little and the sponge dough will rise in places.  Once baked, you don't have to worry about soggy fruit or the filling oozing out, the sponge dough bakes like a cake making it ideal to transport and for picnics and travel.
I went with stone fruits but you could go with an assortment of berries like the original recipe or any fruit of your choice. But, remember not to be stingy with the fruit because they are the stars of the show.
As you bite into the tart, you will encounter an array of textures from the firm, tart shell to the soft, sponge dough to the ripe juiciness of the fresh fruits. It is the slightly tart, fresh flavour of the fruits that counters the sweetness of the sponge and tart brilliantly. For me, this tart celebrates the stone fruits of the season beautifully and that is reason enough to make this tart.

So, whether it is Central Park or Hyde Park or just, your cosy, dining table, this tart is a perfect companion for you and your friends!
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