Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Pear and Frangipane Tart

Let's talk about that 'voice' in our heads. Have you noticed that it never shuts up? I'm talking about that voice that told you that your Date hasn't called because he's avoiding you. He's avoiding you because you're not 'his type'. You are not 'his type' because you are a little on the heavy side. And you shouldn't have had dessert - it made you look like a glutton after that rich T-bone with the fried shallot and peppercorn cream sauce. Maybe you should have had a salad instead. And no dessert. That dress sure didn't help - it's just not you. He was friendlier the first time you met and you were wearing that comfy old pair of jeans with the lime green top. That dress just made you look like a 'try-hard'. It also made your calves look chunky. Oh, and that T-bone! $46! What were you thinking? This was your first date and you whacked him with an expensive main course! Why would he call you? He thinks you're a Gold Digger. You should have split the bill. And what was that comment you made about him moving back home? You made him sound like a 'Mommy's Boy'. Great Job ! You sure did yourself in! Why on earth would you..

That voice in your head SHOULD SHUT UP ALREADY! Aren't you miserable enough? How many times have we allowed that 'voice' in our heads to ruin our day? Our week? Shape us into who we are today even? We spend most our lives interpreting other's words and actions or the lack of words and action thereof towards us. We let the 'voice' in our heads govern how we feel, decide the course of action for each and every circumstance in our lives. Why is this so? It's because we are afraid. We are afraid of 'looking bad'. We are worried about what others MIGHT think of us. I used the word 'might' because we are not a 100% sure whether what we think others are thinking of us are accurate. It's all Guess work if you will. Still, we have allowed this Guess work to dictate our lives. We quit our jobs because of it. We are estranged from our parents for 20 years because of it. We end our marriages because of it. Bad experiences in our lives are very often designed by ourselves through what we PERCEIVE to be true. Those bad experiences in turn CONSTRAINTS us from actually LIVING our lives. We become 'by standers' in our own lives toying with the possibilities of 'what if's', 'should have's', 'could have's'..

Ming and I attended a Seminar over the weekend. No. Correction - I attended the first day and gave up, while Ming finished the 3 day course. I'm not here to make excuses for myself. I will say however that I am glad that Ming completed the course and was able to share with me what I had missed. The Seminar was an 'enquiry' of what it is that is stopping us from achieving what we want in life. What is it that is holding us back. This Seminar's (that I will not name) methodology is the believe that once we recognize the constraints in our lives and deal with them, we free ourselves to embrace our dreams.

On the second day of the seminar, Ming came home, cupped my face with his hands, looked me in the eyes and said;

"Do you know that I Love you?
Do you know that I don't care what the whole world thinks of me, but I care what you think of me?
I'm sorry for all the times that I misinterpreted what you said to me and we fought because of it. I know that you Love me and that everything that you've ever said to me was said out of love,concern and at times to protect me. From now on, I will take in everything that you say as an opinion without being defensive. Ok?"

All the time Ming was talking, I just kept nodding, my eyes wide in disbelieve. I didn't want to say anything and ruin the moment. He could have been SO LUCKY that night but we stayed up and talked about the seminar and how in our own relationship, we have been self-inflicted victims of the 'voice' in our heads. So many times in my own life, I have put aside my dreams because of FEAR. Fear of people judging me, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking bad. Today, I present my Frangipane Tart to you, braving judgement, rejection and the possibility of looking bad. Why? just as an exercise I guess, because I wasn't going to feature it in the first place. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious, but I didn't like the photos. I guess amongst other things, I'm trying to learn to cut myself some slack too.

Pear and Frangipane Tart
Serves 6-8
Takes 50 minutes to make and 1 hour 15-20 minutes to bake, plus chilling and cooling

For the pastry
225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
110g butter
110g caster sugar
3 medium egg yolks, lightly beaten

For the frangipane
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g ground almonds
1 tbsp plain flour

For the poached pears
250g caster sugar, plus 2 tsp extra
4 good-sized pears
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
3 cloves
1/2 lemon
2-3 strips thickly pared orange zest
1/2 vanilla pod

1. Make the pastry. Tip the flour onto a work surface. Cut the butter into cubes and dot over the flour. Sprinkle with the caster sugar. Using your fingertips, rub the butter, flour and sugar together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre, add the egg yolks and, using your fingers, gradually draw in the flour. Knead lightly, until it comes together in a smooth ball – you might need to add 1 teaspoon cold water if the dough is very crumbly. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes. You will need a 23 x 2.5cm round, deep, fluted, loose-bottomed flan tin for this tart.

2. Make the frangipane filling. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, one at a time, then fold in the ground almonds and flour. Mix well and chill until needed.

3. Make the poached pears. Put the sugar in a saucepan, pour in 500ml water and place over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Peel the pears and add to the pan, along with the cinnamon and cloves. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan and add the squeezed lemon and orange zest. Split the vanilla pod in half, scrape out the seeds and add to the pan with the pod. Add some more water to just cover the pears.

4. Cut out a circle of baking paper large enough to fit inside the pan, and lay on top of the pears. Weigh down with a saucer or small saucepan lid so that the pears stay submerged in the poaching liquor. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove the pears to a plate with a slotted spoon and discard the liquor and solids. Set aside for 15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

5. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan170°C/gas 5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a circle large enough to line the tart tin. Don’t worry if it breaks up, as this is a very short, crumbly pastry – you can just patch it together in the tin and mould it up the sides, making sure it is even all over. Trim off any excess pastry and spread the frangipane evenly on top.

6. Cut the pears in half lengthways and, using a teaspoon, scoop out and discard the core from the centre. Cut each pear half in slices, widthways, then lift onto your knife and push down on the pears slightly to fan them out. Lift into the pastry case and arrange in a circle. Fill in the gaps between each pear half with a few more slices and arrange some in the centre. Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is golden and the filling is set. Sprinkle with the extra 2 teaspoons caster sugar and bake in the oven for a further 15 minutes to finish off the browning. Cool in the tin slightly, then remove and transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of crème fraîche.

On another note, I'm submitting my Little Lemon Meringue cakes as an entry into Jugalbandi's February 08 Click event entitled 'Flour'. Thanks Jai and Bee, you rock!

I leave you with an insight into the fate of this tortured soul..

You can't call her, not after looking like an idiot, a cheap idiot too! How could you have exceeded your credit limit? What could be more embarrassing on a first date? What a dork! She must think you're broke too, moving back home! Too late now to wonder what could have been.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Little Yoghurt and Orange Blossom Hearts for my Valentine!

"How much do I love thee? Let me count the ways.." Have you ever heard this one before? or how about this one, " Love is... Never having to say you're sorry". Whoever wrote this crap probably never ever had a relationship. Our wedding theme song was 'Never gonna let you down' (yeah, how naive were we?), just in case you've never heard it before, here's some of the lyrics..

Forever, I will love you
Forever, I will be true
Forever, I'll always be right here by your side
and every morning I'll be there when you open your eyes

Never gonna let you down
I'll always be around
I'll be there for you
because I love you
(Never no never will let you down)

Have you had enough? Since that song was sung at our wedding almost 15 years ago, there's been countless times that Ming and I had let each other down and there were times we wondered if we did love each each other. What IS Love exactly?
Is it that warm fluttering feeling one feels in the stomach ? Nope. That sounds more like an early warning for food poisoning.

I don't know how Valentine's Day came to be a day of celebration for lovers and frankly, I'm not interested. Just hearing last Sunday's sermon on 'LOVE' and the staggering statistics of the divorce rate in the U.S. tells me that WE ARE ALL VERY DISILLUSIONED ABOUT WHAT LOVE IS. Marriage vows are spoken mindlessly and Pre-nuptual agreements are on the rise. Couples who go into marriage with pre-nupts are really setting themselves up for a Marriage break up, because a pre-nuptual agreement spells DISTRUST.

I have come to understand that we are all here for the one purpose of learning to Love. Sadly, some of us will never grasp the true meaning of 'LOVE'. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 of the Holy Bible ( New Living Translation) states;

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand it's own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

I have a lot to learn. How about you? I guess, when we can change the sentence from "I love so and so because of..." to " I love so and so in spite of... we are on the right track. As for Ming and myself, we are soldiering on, I hope that you will too. With that thought in mind, I made some Little Yoghurt and Orange Blossom Heart Cakes for my Darling Valentine, Ming Chong. I'm also submitting these little Love Hearts to Zorra's 'A Heart for your Valentine' event. Thanks, Zorra, you are a true romantic!

Little Yoghurt and Orange Blossom Cakes
(Adapted from Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook 2007)
Makes 6 Love Hearts

300 g (2 cups) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
300 g vanilla yoghurt
60 ml (1/4 cup) buttermilk
200 g salted butter, softened
220 g (1 cup) white sugar
2 tsp ( rind from a whole medium sized navel orange)
4 eggs
100 g vanilla Persian Fairy Floss

Orange Blossom Icing

50 g butter
250 g pure icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp orange blossom water
1 tbsp vanilla yoghurt

Preheat oven to 150 degrees celsius, fan forced. Grease and line the bottoms of two sponge pans, allowing some baking paper to hang over the two sides of each pan for easy removal of the cake. ( sorry, I don't have the measurements). Sift flour and baking powder and set aside. Whisk yoghurt and buttermilk together in a bowl and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and orange rind until pale and creamy.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating briefly between each addition. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour and mix to combine, then add one-third of the yoghurt mixture and mix to combine. Repeat with remaining mixtures, alternating, until incorporated. Mix till the batter is smooth, then pour into the lined sponge pans, tapping the base to level the batter. Bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted draws clean. Cool completely in pans on a wire rack, then loosen the edges of the cakes with a spatula and then lift them out of the pans by holding on to the 'hanging bits' of baking paper.

Using a heart shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as you can. Keep the heart shaped cakes in an air tight container until ready to fill.

For the Orange Blossom Icing, beat all the ingredients in an electric mixer for 1 minute or until smooth. Add more yoghurt if necessary to adjust the consistency of the icing. Spread some icing on one heart shaped piece of cake and top that with another heart shaped piece of cake. Spread icing on the second piece of cake as well and top with a final piece of cake. Spread some icing on the surface of the cake and top with some Persian Fairy Floss just before serving. Enjoy!