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…Cinnamon and Chocolate

November 27, 2010

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves….we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen, for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle could be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches….Each person has to discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes the soul…”

-from the novel “Como Agua Para Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel

Lately I have been feeling uninspired when it comes to my creative projects. The sign I was making for the front door wasn’t turning out anything as planned, I keep starting drafts of blog entries and then never posting them (don’t worry, I will…someday…), and I’ve had a few recipe tests that have turned out to be major flops. I realize that this is all sort of par for the course. You win some, you lose some blah blah blah. Suffice to say that my matchbox was in need of a serious spark, and until a few days ago I didn’t know where it was going to come from.

I did this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge mostly out of my misguided sense of duty. I signed up for the challenges, so I have to complete them. Right?

Does anyone else do this to themselves? Sign up for something that sounds great, and then drag ass through it? It’s not that the challenges aren’t fun… and delicious. It’s more that this month, the beginning of the holiday season, has brought with it for me an unbelievable sense of heaviness in my soul. These holidays that I love so much just aren’t the same without C around, and even though I’m going through the motions I don’t actually feel like celebrating.

Or, didn’t.

Thursday night, after I had caught him on Facebook long enough to have a good chat, I lay in bed and forced myself to think about everything that I’m thankful for in my life. Like the fact that I live in an era that allows me to communicate with my boyfriend from halfway around the globe even though he’s at war. Or that from out of nowhere my entire family has suddenly been reunited under one roof (plus one really awesome Brother-in-Law and a baby on the way!) I never thought I would live in the same house as my sister again, and yet the universe has seen fit to bring one of my best friends back into my home. I feel thankful for that, even on the difficult days. Family is the best kind of work that ever existed. I didn’t choose these people… they were given to me, and there isn’t a single day that passes where I am not grateful for the funniest, weirdest, most loving gift that fate has ever bestowed upon a girl.

These are the people who help light my candle.

C, who encourages me in everything that I do without ever asking me “why”… he’s the number one support that I have, no matter what.

G, who holds up a mirror to me and makes me see myself for who I really am.

A, who has wandered into this strange family and made himself right at home in the best way imaginable.

Mom and Dad, who have loved me since before I ever knew them, and have made my life a wonderful and nurturing place through their intention and purpose.

There are others, of course. Friends who are still here, friends who have come and gone, friends that come back out of the blue. Some of them I think will be part of my life for a long time to come (H; T… I’m looking at you!) They always forgive me when my flame goes out and I disappear, and we always pick up where we left off when I come out of the darkness. I’m grateful to them for their understanding and unconditional love.

And now, I suspect, you would like to hear about the food. 🙂

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Crostata is just the Italian word for tart… which we usually think of as filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with impossibly perfect glazed fruit. Anyone who has ever seen me work in the kitchen knows that “rustic” is probably a better term to describe my efforts than “perfect”, so fruit was out.

I tried to get inspired by Thanksgiving… I had dreams of a cinnamon pastry cream topped with a savory cranberry relish with hints of orange. But I just couldn’t get into it. I sat with my notepad in hand, just dreaming about combinations for cinnamon and sweetdough and…

Chocolate.

According to Aztec legend, chocolate was solely the food of the Gods until Quetzelcoatl disguised himself as a blue frog and revealed the secrets of the cocoa pod to the villagers. Even after it had become a staple in their society, the drink called Xocoatl was so revered that it was reserved for religious ceremonies, royalty, and the wealthy elite. Raw cocoa was worth more than gold. Anyone who has ever had a perfect cup of hot chocolate can understand this perfectly. 🙂

Once upon a time, I was introduced to hot chocolate that had been spiked with cinnamon. The flavors transcend themselves, wrapping you in warmth that spreads all the way out to your toes. This tart combines sweet pasta frolla with velvety cinnamon pastry cream and a traditional cooked chocolate pudding, and turns them into something sweet, savory, and divine. Frankly, the effect is sinful… seems appropriate, since chocolate is widely regarded as an aphrodisiac.

Be careful who you feed this tart to.
Salud!

***

Cinnamon-Chocolate Tart with Pasta Frolla

I have listed the components of the tart in the order you should prepare them (pastry cream, crust, pudding). When the crust and pastry cream have cooled, you should prepare the pudding. After assembling the tart (crust, pastry cream, pudding) you will have some pastry cream and pudding left over. But not for long 😉

Cinnamon Pastry Cream (adapted from this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 T. cornstarch
  • 1/2 c. (4 oz.) sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan bring milk, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and ground cinnamon to a boil.
  2. While the milk is heating mix the cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time to the cornstarch mixture and beat well with a fork.
  4. Remove the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick from the milk.
  5. Slowly add 1/3 of the hot milk to the eggs/cornstarch, whisking constantly. This is known as tempering the eggs, and will prevent them from curdling.
  6. Pour the tempered eggs back into the saucepan and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
  7. Pour into a large shallow bowl (a pie plate works well) and cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Cool for a bit before chilling in the refrigerator.

Note: After you have removed the vanilla bean from the milk you can rinse it, allow it to air dry, and then place it in your sugar jar. The sugar will take on the most delicate and fabulous flavor of vanilla imaginable. You can use it exactly as you would regular sugar… and reap the ambrosial results.

Pasta Frolla

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 C. superfine sugar
  • 1 C. whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 C. almond flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 6 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a food processor combine sugar, flour, and salt until combined.
  2. Add butter and pulse until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand.
  3. Empty the mixture into a bowl (or onto your work surface).
  4. Beat the egg and vanilla together.
  5. Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and pour the egg/vanilla mixture into it.
  6. Using a fork, incorporated the liquid into the solid just until mixed.
  7. Knead lightly until the dough forms a ball, adding flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking.
  8. Flatten the dough into a disk and chill thoroughly, at least two hours.

Homemade Chocolate Pudding

Note: This is a great recipe to have in your repertoire… a no fail way to pamper the chocolate lover in your life.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C. Sugar
  • 3 heaping T. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 C. milk
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan combine sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in milk to combine.
  2. Heat over medium flame until the mixture boils, stirring constantly.
  3. Cook until the pudding coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.
  5. Pour into a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Serve warm or chilled, preferably with a dollop of whipped cream.

To Assemble the Tart:

Roll dough into a 9″ circle, and press into an ungreased 9″ tart pan. Prick well with a fork and bake until golden brown, 10-12 minutes at 350°. Let cool. Fill cooled tart shell with cooled cinnamon pastry cream (leave room for the pudding!), and chill while you prepare the pudding. When pudding has cooled to room temperature spoon gently over the pastry cream and spread to the edges with an offset spatula. Garnish the perimeter of the tart with cinnamon chips, if desired (available at King Arthur Flour).

 

 

 

Ok, I admit it… I was so excited to eat this that I forgot to take pictures of it without the pan. So sue me. Happy Thanksgiving!

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