Friday, February 08, 2013

Grapefruit and Pepper Meringue Tartlets & A Practice Space

Grapefruit and Pepper Meringue Tartlets with Witchin' in the Kitchen

So what is it that I'm doing here, I sometimes wonder. Not what I'm doing here on Earth, but what am I doing here on the internet. Ha. I've always imagined myself as some type of luddite, resistant to and wary of digital technologies, and what's lost when things are no longer tacticle and tangible, mediated by screens. I've never stopped shooting film, I still don't have a smart phone, I quit Facebook the first three times I started, and some springtimes I go away to the woods for two months and unplug completely.

So what has happened? Here I am with a Facebook with multiple pages and groups, Twitter, a few Tumblrs (like this one and this one). And then there's this pie blog. Eight years in and I still shy away from the term "blogger." I stumbled upon it by accident, sort of. It was a way for far-away friends to keep in touch, to continue that connection that was initially made over pie in our Ann Arbor kitchens. It's since evolved, and become more of a solo project, and I keep going.

Grapefruit and Pepper Meringue Tartlets with Witchin' in the Kitchen

My friend Morgan says she thinks of her blog as a resume, a presentation of what you can do and what you've done. I like that and sometimes it's that for me. Other times, it feels like an ideal (though unpaid) job-- researching historical background or interviewing others, weaving in personal narrative, writing about something I love, while also getting to work with my hands to make something that actually exists in the world and that I can share with others. If my job could always have those elements, I would be quite content. And other times, I think it's just my own personal recipe catalog.

But another way I like to think about it is as a place for practice. Like a yoga practice, a music practice, or a sports practice-- something we do and maintain regularly, with a "better" goal but not necessarily an end goal. In thinking of it as a practice, it also allows a space for experimentation, for play. For becoming.  In a real sense, it gives me a space to practice my writing and research, photography, and baking. And it also gives me a space and a tool to connect.

Grapefruit and Pepper Meringue Tartlets with Witchin' in the Kitchen

One such connection was through Jess, of the blog Witchin' in the Kitchen. Though we had been meaning to meet for a while--I think we exchanged e-mails over a year ago--we didn't until recently, and the fact that we shared this interest in food and tradition and both had blogs propelled that. A few weekends ago, Jess came over to my kitchen, to work on a blog collaboration and take photos and just visit.

We ended up talking about a lot of these issues I mention above, wondering what a blog--food blogs, our blogs-- are for, what we present to the world and why. For me, and for Jess too, this raises challenging questions of how feminism aligns with our domestic pursuits, of how public voice meets private life (oversharing and undersharing), and how honesty meshes with curation. I started writing about some of this in grad school, for a project on feminism and women's food & lifestyle blogs, but the chat with Jess reminded me that I want to explore this more-- something I'd like to continue to do here in this "practice" space.

This writing too, was inspired by the comment thread that happened on Jess' very dear post on our afternoon in the kitchen together-- it seems that other women food bloggers and producers are thinking about these same issues and looking for conversation. That's exciting and inspiring and makes me realize that this medium itself is still quite new and evolving, and perhaps we'll eventually figure out how to more comfortably tackle these questions that seem difficult to understand and address now.

Alas, there's much more to be said about that in time. But for now, do go over to the Witchin' In the Kitchen post, read lovely Jess's words, and see her BEAUTIFUL photos that make my house and kitchen and tartlets look better than ever (you can also spot my aforementioned non-smart phone). There, and below, you can also get the recipe for these grapefruit and pepper meringue tartlets that are so patiently serving as a backdrop to my self-conscious blogger musings.

Grapefruit and Pepper Meringue Tartlets with Witchin' in the Kitchen

My friend Lora sent me this delightful recipe from French chef Rachel Khoo. Lora is a big fan of hers and her BBC Show "The Little Paris Kitchen"; she tried to go to Khoo's home kitchen when she was in Paris (she used to open it to guests), but she recently closed it because it became to popular. I haven't yet seen the show (perhaps it will catch on here like that other BBC show...), but these tartlets might just prompt me to do what it takes to find it here.

For what might seem to be a simple citrus meringue tartlet, this recipe is rather unique. I've never had a biscuit base quite like this in a tartlet--it's similar to shortbread cookie crust, and reminded me of corn muffins (though perhaps that was just because I made them in cupcake tins--there is no cornmeal in them). I absolutely LOVE the spice and grainy-ness that the pepper lends to the meringue, and I tried out a new technique of piping it onto the curd. I'm pretty sure Jess and I simultaneously squealed when it actually worked! 

Grapefruit and Pepper Meringue Tartlets
Adapted from Rachel Khoo

Makes about 6 small tartlets (I doubled this recipe when I made it)

Ingredients
For grapefruit curd:
Zest and 6 Tblsp. juice of 1 unwaxed grapefruit
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 1/2 oz. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 heaping Tblsp. cornstarch
1 3/4 oz unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature

For biscuit base:
2 3/4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
2 3/4 oz. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Zest of 1/2 lemon
2 large egg yolks
3 1/2 oz. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder

For Italian meringue:
3 1/2 oz. sugar
2 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Directions
For grapefruit curd:
1. Pour 6 Tblsp. grapefruit juice in a small saucepan and whisk together with zest, sugar, salt, and eggs over low heat. Whisk in the cornstarch, stirring continuously (this keeps the eggs from curdling).

2. Once the curd is thickened (Khoo says to the consistency of puréed tomatoes), remove it from heat and whisk in butter, one cube at a time. Pour curd into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, placing it directly on the surface of the curd. Refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

For biscuit base:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour 2x3 inch metal tart rings (I didn't have any that size so I used cupcake tins).

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together butter and sugar with the salt and lemon zest until fluffy and pale in color. Add egg yolks and continue beating.

3. Sift together the flour and baking powder, and add it to the butter mixture. Continue beating until the dough comes together in a smooth paste.

4. Here Khoo suggests piping the dough into the tart pans, but that didn't work for me (the dough was too thick and my pastry bag was a little wonky), so I scooped dough into the cupcake tins and created a little depression with the back of the spoon for the curd to sit. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden (they will resemble corn muffins in color). Remove biscuits from the tin/tart pans and let cool on a wire rack.

For the meringue:
1. Pour sugar into a saucepan with 1 fluid oz. water and place on high heat. Bring to about 244 degrees F, about 10 minutes. If you don't have a thermometer, you can test it by dropping a little bit of sugar syrup into a bowl of cold water--it will form a sticky ball when ready.

2. While sugar syrup is cooking, begin to beat the egg whites and salt with a mixer. Beat to a light froth, before soft peaks begin to form. When sugar syrup is done, drizzle it into the egg whites while beating. Add the pepper and continue to beat until the egg whites are glossy and stiff.

To assemble:
1. Place a scoop of curd on each biscuit. Scoop meringue into a pastry bag and pipe onto the curd decoratively. Place the biscuits under the broiler for about 1 minute (watch carefully!) until meringue is just slightly browned on the tips.

Grapefruit and Pepper Meringue Tartlets with Witchin' in the Kitchen

4 comments:

Amanda said...

"it feels like an ideal (though unpaid) job-- researching historical background or interviewing others, weaving in personal narrative, writing about something I love, while also getting to work with my hands to make something that actually exists in the world and that I can share with others."

YES! This! :)

dessert girl said...

I totally agree. I still have a flip phone (gasp!) and I pretty much hate Facebook 95% of the time. I do love Pinterest, but it is a time sucker. That part I don’t love.

I didn’t realize that you’re from Ann Arbor! I’m in the suburbs of Detroit.

Oh, and the cupcakes look and sound wonderful!

emily said...

A flip phone! Mine finally broke last year and I got one with the QWERTY keyboard. Gonna hold out with a dumb phone as long as I can.

Ahh Michigan! I'm originally from the Indiana side of "Michiana," but went to school in Ann Arbor. I love it so. And Michigan in general--it's one of the best states.

Thank you, Erin!

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