September 29th, 2011

Two Autumn Tarts

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Sweet Potato Tart with cornmeal crust

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Maple Pecan Tart with gingersnap crust

Today, an embarrassment of riches!

Between house parties and a special local farm dinner, I’ve been busy-busy cooking this month. In the process, I’ve created a couple of lush desserts suited for fall.

It’s a beautiful day in Nashville, the essence of early autumn: sunny, neither warm nor cool, with that slant of light that makes all things clear.

Ripe for sharing both recipes.

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The first, sweet potato pie with cornmeal crust, was one that I made for the local farm dinner, hosted by Fretboard Journal, a guitar-afficianado’s dream-magazine based out of Seattle Washington. With all the “box” pickers, builders, traders, and listeners, Nashville is one guitar lovin’ town, the perfect site for the Inaugural Fretboard Feast.

My friend, organic farmer Tally May, and her husband, guitar builder extraordinaire, Kipp Krusa hosted the event on their Turnbull Creek Farm, just west of Nashville.

Working with Tally, I designed a menu, basing it on what was seasonal and available at the moment. We sourced meat, eggs, fruit, and vegetables from her farm, and her neighboring farmer-colleagues.

Here are some of the highlights: Rosemary-Sage Roasted Fresh Ham with Fig Sauce, Fall Lettuces with beets, pears, walnuts, chevre, Sherry-Plum Vinaigrette, Butternut Squash-Swiss Chard Gratin, October Beans, Pole Beans, and Leeks with blistered cherry tomatoes and peppers, Yukon Golds and Harukei Turnips roasted with Thyme and Garlic…

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And, this very local pie, distinctively Southern with its slightly gritty cornmeal crust. A drizzle of sorghum, a dollop of lemon-basil scented creme fraiche, and Mer-cy, was it ever down-home elegant good. Have a bite, please!

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SWEET POTATO PIE WITH CORNMEAL CRUST

The Crust
3/4 cup Yellow Corn Meal
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour
2 T. Sugar
1/2 t. Salt
7 T. cold Butter, cut into pieces
3-4 T. Ice Water

Place all dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with a pastry cutter blade (or swivel blade). Pulse quickly to “sift” them together. Add cold butter, and pulse until the pieces are cut throughout the cornmeal-flour mix. Continue pulsing, add water, one tablespoon at a time. The dough will begin to amass. Continue pulsing until it forms a ball. Collect, pat into a firmer ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can do this well ahead of time–a day in advance.)

The Filling
2 cups cooked Sweet Potatoes (2 medium or 1 large Sweet Potato, baked, meaty insides scooped from the sweet potato shell))
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Cream
1 T. Vanilla
1 t. Ginger
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. Nutmeg
pinch ground Cloves
3 Eggs

I used the food processor (swivel blade) for the filling too.

Place sweet potatoes into the food processor and process until smooth. Add brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and spices. Continue processing. Taste, and adjust for seasoning. Add eggs, one at a time, and process until very smooth and well-incorporated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove doughball from refrigerator and allow to soften. Sprinkle counter with a little flour and roll out crust. Fit into a 9″ or 10″ pie pan. If the dough breaks or crumbles, (which it might) don’t worry. The cornmeal makes it a bit that way, but is very forgiving as far as piecing the crust back together.

Fill the pie with the sweet potato mixture and bake for about 35 minutes. Test in the center for doneness (whatever you stick in to check will be clean when removed)

Cool. Serve with lemon-scented creme fraiche.

LEMON BASIL SCENTED CREME FRAICHE
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 T. Buttermilk

3 T. Lemon Basil Simple Syrup
1 T. Lemon zest

Mix the cream and buttermilk in a clean glass mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit out, in a cool dark place, for 24 hours, to thicken. Stir occasionally. Refrigerate, and allow to culture for 3 days.

Make your simple syrup. (recipe below)

Whip the creme fraiche with lemon zest and simple syrup until fluffy. Serve over pie.

Lemon Basil Simple Syrup
1/2 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Water
1/2 c. Lemon Basil Leaves

Dissolve sugar into water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Plunge in the lemon basil leaves.
Stir well and simmer. Allow to cool. Strain the leaves.

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Next up, Maple Pecan.

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Southern pecan pie is traditionally made with corn syrup, and I’ve generally made it this way, with delicious results. But, for this tart, I wanted to use maple syrup that I was able to source from a farm in neighboring Kentucky. I had always thought about maple syrup coming from New England and Canada—so it’s nice to know that locals are making it too.

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And, a different, “spicier” crust seemed to be in order. For its sweet and heady bite, a crust made from ginger snaps makes a nice shell to hold that pecan studded custard, and is a snap to make.

I’ve used the same recipe, pressed the crust into an 8″X8″ square baking pan, and made Maple Pecan Bars, instead of the round tart. This works, easy-peasy.

I hope you all are enjoying the change of season. Take time outside, have a slice of one of these tarts, sip hot coffee, drink in that rare slant of light.

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MAPLE PECAN TART WITH GINGERSNAP CRUST

The Crust:
24 Ginger Snap Cookies (from an Archway Cookie Bag)
3 T. Melted Butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pulse gingersnaps in a food processor into fine crumbs. Place into a mixing bowl, and stir in melted butter. Press mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan. Bake for 5 minutes.

The Filling:
1 cup Maple Syrup
1/2 cup Sugar
1 stick melted Butter, slightly cooled
1 T. Vanilla
3 Eggs
1/2 t. Salt
2 cups Pecan Halves

Line the bottom of the gingersnap crust with pecans.

Make the filling, using a stand mixer, or a hand-held. Beat maple syrup, sugar, vanilla, and butter together. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Pour over pecans in the pie pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (drizzled with caramel sauce!)

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