Friday, 14 September 2012

Huckleberry Curd Tartelettes

I'd never seen huckleberries live and in person before so when I spotted a "Huckleberries" sign at Needham's Market Garden Stand at the Ottawa Farmers' Market in Brewer Park recently, I zoomed in for a closer look. 

Just last week I saw chefs on the Food Network show, Chopped, use them as a surprise ingredient in combination with octopus.  Very weird!

Mr Needham's huckleberries were beautiful.  They were shiny, fresh, dark purple, almost black, and very tempting.  I was about to learn their deep, dark secret...

Before buying them, I asked for a taste and popped a few in my mouth.

What a mistake that was!  They tasted awful.  They also brought an unpleasant, astringent, oily, spicy sensation to my mouth. 

Then I did something I haven't done since I was 6 years old.  I spit them out on the ground.  In broad daylight.  With other people standing around.  I couldn't help it.

I'm not certain what Mr Needham thought about my breach of etiquette but the following week, I noticed that he'd placed a sign in front of his huckleberries that read, "Not to be Eaten Raw."   I guess I wasn't the only one who had tried the darned things!

Instead of discouraging me, I was even more motivated to explore their attributes.

Once cooked, the unpleasant flavours disappeared and lovely, complex sweetness emerged.  Redemption!

I think this recipe does the enigmatic huckleberry justice and brings out their unique flavour. 
If you don't have time to make the tarts you can still eat the curd on its own.  It's delicious on toasted baguette, scones, or straight from the spoon.

Who knew that something so delicious would come from something that tasted so bad?
Huckleberry Curd Tartelettes

Makes 10-12 Tartelettes

Fine grater
10-12  2" (5cm) fluted tart tins
Round cookie cutter, 3" (8cms)
Rolling pin
Large fine meshed sieve
Small fine sieve
Potato masher
Hand held beaters or stand mixer
Parchment or waxed paper
Baking tray
Offset spatula

Optional:  food processor with a food mill attachment or a food mill
2 Piping bags, each with a Wilton 2A plain tip (10mm)

1 pint huckleberries to make: 1/2 cup (120g) huckleberry purée
1/2 cup (120g) water
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon (20g) strained lemon juice
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
4 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
pinch of salt

(pâte sucrée)
50g cold, unsalted butter
1/8 cup (25g) sugar
3/4 cup (100g) all purpose flour, sifted
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 small egg yolk or 1/2 large yolk
1/2 teaspoon cream

Whipped Cream
1/4 cup (57g) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon (3g) sugar

Optional:  dragées to top the tarts.


Prepare the pastry
1.  Mix together the egg yolk and cream.  Set aside.
2. Using your hands or a food processor, mix the butter, salt, and sugar together into a paste. There shouldn't be any lumps of butter visible.  If you're using your hands, work quickly so you don't melt the butter. Combine the butter and egg mixtures.
3.  Mix the flour gently into the paste until the two are just combined.  Don't overwork the dough or it will become tough.
4. Roll the dough between 2 sheets of waxed or parchment paper to 1/8" thick. 
5. Remove the top paper and using your cookie cutter, make circles in the dough but don't remove the circles.  Re-cover the rolled dough with the paper you removed earlier and place it in the fridge to firm up. Place your tart tins in the fridge at the same time.

Prepare the huckleberry purée
1. Wash the huckleberries and cut off the tough stems. (it's OK to leave the small ones that attached directly to the berries)
2. Place the huckleberries and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan.  Cover the saucepan and cook the berries over low heat.  After 10 minutes of simmering, mash the berries in the pot and add a bit more water, just enough to ensure that the berries won't boil dry.  When you mash them they'll squirt their juice - be careful - the juice stains. Cover and repeat the process one more time.  The berries are finished cooking when all the little seeds have burst out of their skins and the skins become soft.  Let the cooked berries cool completely.
Good all by itself
3. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, or food processor with a food mill attachment.  If you've used a food processor, pass the purée through a fine meshed sieve afterwards to make it smooth.  Measure 1/2 cup of purée.

Prepare the Curd
1. In a medium saucepan, mix together the sugar and egg yolks, corn starch until well blended. Add the lemon zest, huckleberry purée, lemon juice and pinch of salt.  
2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thick. Be careful not to let it boil or it will curdle.  If you notice it nearing the boiling point, remove it from the heat and stir it to let it cool a bit.  Remove from the heat and pour the curd through the fine meshed sieve into a bowl.
3. Press some plastic wrap directly on the top of the curd and refrigerate.

Prepare and pre-bake the tart shells
1.  Preheat the oven to 375°F(190°C)
Roll the dough between waxed paper and make pastry circles
2.  Remove the rolled pastry from the fridge.
3. One by one, peel off the pastry discs and gently press them into the tart tins, trim any overage and refrigerate them as you make them.
4.  Re-roll the leftover dough between the paper sheets and repeat the process until you've filled all your tins.
5.  To bake them, arrange the tins on a cookie sheet.
6.  Bake the shells for 14-16 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven, set aside to cool.
7.  One at a time, flip the tins over onto your palm and very gently squeeze the sides of each of the tart tins.  The shells should pop out easily.

Whip the Cream
1.  Whip the chilled cream together with the icing sugar to firm peaks.

1.  Stir the curd a bit to soften it.  Spoon or pipe the curd into each of the tart shells, top with the whipped cream and finish with dragées if you're using them.  You'll probably have some curd left over.
2.  Refrigerate the tartelettes if you're not serving them right away.


Huckleberries stain like the dickens!  If you have a dark apron on hand you may want to wear it.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Missing Rain

When I tell people that I love rainy weather, they look at me, puzzled. They don't usually ask me why, they just say, "oh" like I was a bit off my rocker.

Why do I love the rain so much?  Because it rarely rains where we live in the south of France.  There's a "rainy season" which starts, quite predictably, around October 20th, lasts for 4-5 weeks and that's it.  During these few short, cloudy, wet weeks, is the only time of the year when there's any significant rainfall.  That's pretty much it for the entire year. The rest of the year there's barely any rain, just brilliant blue sky.  I'm not saying this to make anyone envious, it's just a fact.

I really miss the rain, in fact, I crave it like a plant in the garden.  My friend Meghan who lives down the coast from us in the village of Beaulieu feels the same and when it rains we phone or text each other, sighing about how fabulous the day is and what we're doing to make the most of it.  Well, come to think of it, maybe I am a bit off my rocker!

The best thing about rainy days in Monaco is that when I go out during rainfall, and I always do, I have the entire village all to myself.  Almost everyone stays indoors, cowering, as though they would melt if they became wet. Some businesses even close when it rains, fearing the worst,  like no customers!

It's not like in Ottawa where rainfall can occur at any time throughout the year except when it turns cold and the delightful rain  becomes dreaded snow.

I miss Ottawa's spontaneous rainy days. I miss the sound of heavy rain, how it makes everything smell earthy and fresh and sweet, how I feel calm and how I always have an urge to park myself in the kitchen and bake.  

So this morning when the rain was pelting down with thunder and lightning along with it, I suited up and went to the Westboro Farmers' Market to take it all in.

Fruits, vegetables, and Farmers' Markets sure look pretty in the rain!