After complaining a few posts ago about the complicated recipes involving blueberries in a recent L.A. Times article, I felt badly about dismissing the recipes. After all, isn't that what this blog is supposed to be about? Trying new things, scouting out ingredients, figuring out whether you should clip and save a recipe forever, or throw it down the drain? So, I rummaged through my print-outs and decided to make Dorte Lambert's blueberry tart.
Dorte Lambert is a pastry chef at Michael's, a restaurant in Santa Monica. I vaguely remember reading about this place in one of Ruth Reichl's memoirs. Blueberries are no longer available at greenmarkets in New York City, so I threw my cooking-with-the-seasons-and-preferably-local-ingredients sensibility to the wind and purchased the blueberries at D'Agostino's (at $3.99 a wee plastic container!). Not only were they expensive, but they looked a bit old and dull. And being mathematically-challenged, I bought too many. This is what I do for my blog! I buy expensive, sad-looking berries! I go broke! I sacrifice my values!
At home, I set about preparing the crust. First, I cut two sticks of butter into a bowl of flour and sugar. Using two knives, I mixed the ingredients together until the mixture looked like a bunch of large peas or clumpy cornmeal.
Then I added a sludge of beaten egg yolks and heavy cream to the bowl. This resulted in an oddly dry, yet simultaneously sticky dough. I somehow managed to squish the dough into equal-sized portions and wrap them in clingfilm for a rest in the refrigerator.
I hoped an hour of cold would discipline the discs into more cohesive blobs. This was wishful thinking. After unwrapping the discs and trying to roll them out, crumbly dough shot everywhere. So I took a deep breath, cast my pie crust skills to the wind, and pressed the dough into my tart pan with my fingers. This resulted in several pockets of soft butter and a not particularly professional-looking shell, but at least the pan was lined.
I set the pan back in the fridge while I prepared the filling. Eggs and sugar were beaten together with vanilla and a small amount of flour, while another stick and a half of butter were set to melt on the stove. Browned butter takes on an entirely different flavor from plain melted butter. It becomes nutty and deep. If not watched carefully on the stove, however, it can quickly burn, resulting in a bitter and dark-brown glop.
For a while, the butter bubbled away at a uniformly golden color. Then the solids separated from the liquids (this is also how you make ghee, Indian clarified butter), foam rose to the top, and the bottom browned, filling the kitchen with a toasty smell.
The recipe then instructed me to leave a whisk in the bowl of filling, so that adding the butter wouldn't spatter. An odd note, especially when there was no mention of cooling the butter so that you don't end up with scrambled-egg pie. I poured the butter into the bowl, then found I had to whisk quickly and thoroughly because the melted butter threatened to remain an oily stratum above the egg mixture. Luckily, the two eventually came together. I spread the washed blueberries onto the crust, then poured the filling over the blueberries.
I set the tart pan onto a baking sheet, then slid the whole thing carefully into the oven. An hour later, the top and crust were nicely browned. According to Dorte, this was what I was looking for. I cooled the tart in its pan on a rack before slicing. It looked so promising: a rich, sweet crust, sweet berries coaxed by the heat into jammy goodness, a vanilla-scented and butter-flecked filling. The recipe instructs you to then blanch more blueberries in a simply syrup, mound those on top of the tart and cover the whole thing in a sprinkling of powdered sugar. I left this step out.
When I cut a slice, the crust crumbled into delicious little pieces. But the filling looked entirely raw!
I was grossed-out, annoyed and exhausted. So I went to bed, figuring my colleagues would be my unwitting guinea pigs. Today, the tart has sat out on a table for all of three hours and is almost gone. I tried a small sliver, and although totally overwhelmed by the amount of sugar, figure it doesn't taste terrible. The filling, as Ben pointed out, tastes like tapioca pudding (something I realize not everyone loves). The vanilla and the butter and the faint muskiness of the blueberries come together nicely. I just can't get over the raw-looking filling. The crust is really wonderful - it melts in your mouth. I guess this is lucky for me, because I have another portion of dough in the refridgerator waiting to be "rolled" out. Any ideas for a filling?
Altogether, I'd say the L.A. Times so far has been a qualified disappointment. Maybe next time I'll try something other than a baking recipe.