Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Secret to Stress-Free Birthday Cakes

Today I would like to share the #1 secret to making amazing birthday cakes without breaking a sweat. It's not having all the fancy kitchen gadgets, although some specialty tools can help. It's not taking expensive baking classes, although you can learn lots from great teachers. And it's not using expensive ingredients, although sometimes it's worth it to pay more. No, the #1 secret to stress-free baking is to watch the time.

Allow me to illustrate this very important principle with an example. Well, it's really more of an anti-example...

This is Ryan. You may remember him from such previous cakes as the Baby You're A Rock Star cake, which he enjoyed while still in the womb. (Aw, baby's first taste of sugar.) Ryan recently celebrated his first birthday and I was lucky enough to be asked to do the baby cake and mini cupcakes for the party. Here's how it went down:

Get the email with the party details, everything's great.
Finalize the numbers and flavors and decorating ideas, everything's great.
Do all the prep work the day before, everything's great.
Get up the morning of the party and get started baking the cupcakes and decorating the cake. Everything is still great.

After a leisurely morning of swanning around the kitchen, fiddling with different tasks, I check my email to make sure that I have everything covered and all the details in order. Only then, upon closer reading, do I discover that I mis-read the party invitation and what I thought was the start time was actually the end time. Suddenly I am running an hour and a half behind, and the party is supposed to start in 10 minutes. And the cake's not quite done. And the cupcakes aren't frosted or decorated. And I haven't showered yet. And, oh yeah, it's a 25 minute drive to the party house. Commence panic.

The next 45 minutes were spent tearing around the house like a Tasmanian devil, piping cupcakes like a madwoman, trying to strike a balance between finishing everything and not being unforgivably late. It was not my finest moment.

Of course, this story has a happy(ish) ending. I made it to the party about an hour late, which, while embarrassing, still left plenty of time to have Ryan eat the cake and let the guests enjoy the cupcakes. My friend Jane, the hostess, was beyond gracious and understanding. And the cake and cupcakes turned out pretty well. There were things about the cake I didn't have time to fix, and cute fondant cut-outs that didn't make it on top of the cupcakes, but I'm trying not to focus on the negatives.

The guidelines Jane gave me were to use shades of blue, green, and brown, and to try to work in a striped pattern. I did that for the bottom layer, but since I know Jane is a wee bit fond of obsessed with argyle I thought it would be fun to do one of the layers in an argyle pattern. It turned out to be my favorite look, by far. I wish I'd done all the layers argyle...but then I would have been about 4 hours late to the party!

This picture is for my adolescent self, who would scowl in geometry class and huff, "When will I ever use this in real life?" Drink it up, Past Liz, you could have used a little more geometry learnin' this weekend. Diamond measuring is hard work.

I made the 1 out of rice crispy treats, which is a fabulous trick when you need to sculpt something with hard edges or difficult details. I didn't love how the plaid turned out, so next time it's all argyle all the way. Live and learn!

It wouldn't be a post about a first birthday cake without a few pictures of the cake carnage.

This picture pretty much sums up Ryan's whole attitude toward the cake-eating. He was extremely suspicious of the whole enterprise--I think he thought we were playing a trick on him.
After taking a few exploratory bites, he found what he really loved about the cake: pounding it flat. He made like Animal and wailed on the cake, sending cake shrapnel flying through the air. I laughed, and then I cried, and then I took about a million pictures.
The end result was a horrifying swamp of cake and frosting covering him, and his high chair, and a swath of floor around him. Good thing there were cupcakes for the guests to enjoy, because no one was eating that cake when he was done with it.

I made two kinds of mini cupcakes: S'mores and Caramel Apple.

The S'mores cupcakes were a rich chocolate devil's food, with a thin layer of graham crumbs on the base and a sprinkling of graham on top before they baked. The cupcakes were topped with a vanilla marshmallow frosting that was lightly torched for that toasted marshmallow-round-the-campfire flavor.
The caramel apple cupcakes were the brainchild of Jane's husband, Seth. I was actually a little less excited about them because to me, apple cupcakes = muffins. And we all know muffins aren't so exciting. However, it turns out if you add enough sugary accessories to apple cupcakes, they're awesome. Here they were filled with a mix of caramel sauce and apple butter, then topped with a caramel buttercream and a caramel drizzle.

The S'mores and Apple Caramel Cupcake recipes are below.

S'mores Cupcakes

Basic Chocolate Cupcakes
Yield: 1-6" round, 1-4" round, and 48 mini cupcakes (make a 2/3 batch if you just want 48 mini or 24 regular cupcakes)

9 oz butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp chocolate extract (optional)
1.5 cups buttermilk, room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
3 tbsp lukewarm coffee (can use water instead)
2-2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1.5 cups BEST QUALITY cocoa powder, Dutch-processed (I use Valrhona)
2-1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.

Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make S'mores variation: mix 1 cup graham crumbs with 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Melt 1/4 cup butter and stir it into the graham mixture. Place a small spoonful (about 1/2 tsp) of graham mixture in the bottom of each muffin cup and press it down evenly. Fill the cups with cake batter, then sprinkle more graham on top of each before baking.

Marshmallow Frosting
8 large egg whites, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Use immediately.

After piping on cupcakes, use a kitchen torch to lightly toast the outside of the frosting. If you don't have the torch you can try sticking them under the broiler for 20-30 seconds at a time, carefully watching them the whole time. I have a very old, very crotchety oven that doesn't heat evenly, so I wouldn't trust it to brown these sufficiently, but you may have better luck.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Apple Cupcakes
Yields: about 55 mini cupcakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups coarsely shredded apples, liquid squeezed out

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; mix in apples. Don't worry if the batter looks broken at this point. Add flour mixture; mix, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until just combined.

Divide batter among lined cups, filling about 3/4 full to get generous, crowning apple cupcakes. Bake until tops are springy to the touch, about 15 minutes for mini cupcakes. Remove cupcakes from tins; transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Brown Sugar Buttercream
Yield: enough to frost 55+ mini cupcakes (7-8 cups?)

8 large egg whites, room temperature
2.5 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 sticks (20 oz) unsalted butter, soft but cool to the touch

Put egg whites, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly, until hot to the touch, about 5 minutes.

Beat in the mixer using the whisk attachment on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, and the bowl is no longer hot to the touch, about 6-8 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition. It's normal for the meringue to deflate and look soupy at this point. If your meringue wasn't hot when you started adding it, and your butter was cool but supple to the touch, you should be okay. Beat until frosting is smooth and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes. Buttercream can be refrigerated airtight for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature, and beat before using.

Caramel Sauce
Yield: about 2 cups

1/2 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream, warmed to 100 degrees F
1/2 cup full fat sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch salt (less than 1/8 teaspoon)

Combine the water, sugar, and the corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Stir them together with very clean fingers, making sure no lumps of dry sugar remain. Brush down the insides of the pan with a little water, using your hand to feel for any stray granules of sugar.

Cover the saucepan and place it over medium heat for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Do not stir from this point on. Keep an eye on the pan. It will be very bubbly. When stray sugar crystals appear on the side of the pan, brush them down with a wet pastry brush.

As the sugar cooks, the bubbles will get larger. Insert a candy thermometer, and when the temperature reaches 300 degrees F, lower the heat to medium, which will slow the cooking. Continue to cook the sugar until it reaches 350 degrees F. It will be dark brown. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 1 minute, or until the bubbles subside.

Add the cream to the caramel. It will bubble up vigorously, so be careful.

Vigorously whisk in the sour cream, lemon juice, and salt. This sauce is now ready to be served warm or cooled to room temperature. It will keep stored airtight in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

To make the caramel buttercream:
Have buttercream in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and turn mixer to medium-low. With mixer running, add about 3/4 cup of room temperature caramel sauce--it should be the same temperature as the buttercream, not warmer or cooler. Once it's completely incorporated taste the frosting, and add a bit more caramel if you want the flavor to be more pronounced.

To assemble the caramel apple cupcakes:
Poke a hole in the middle of each cupcake. I mixed together some caramel sauce and apple butter, since I had apple butter languishing in the refrigerator, but you can use straight caramel sauce if you want. Squirt a little sauce in the center of each cupcake. Pipe the caramel buttercream on top, and finish with a drizzle of the remaining caramel sauce.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

TWD: All-American Apple Pie

It is said that people are either Beatles fans or Rolling Stones fans, and that your musical choice explains a lot about who you are as a person. I prefer to group people in entirely different categories: are you a cake person or a pie person?

For myself, I fall firmly on the "cake" side of this equation. Preferably a big layer cake, definitely chocolate, and absolutely slathered with silky, luscious frosting. This might say something about my personality--and it might also account for my snug waistband right about now--but it also explains why I rarely never make pies for our casual consumption.

That being said, if I'm going to make a pie, it's going to be a big, beautiful, bursting apple pie. There's just something I love about watching a pie go from this... this...

And giving credit where credit is due, this is an excellent apple pie recipe, from the perfectly flaky crust to the juicy and flavorful filling. You can tell how sinful the crust is from the pockets of butter scattered throughout the dough:

And look at the result! I would never top an apple pie with a streusel crust, because I think the crisp, crackling top crust is one of the best things about an apple pie. Even though pies aren't at their best when they're piping hot, I love the crust fresh from the oven, when it shatters when you pierce it with a fork, sending buttery shards everywhere.

My only changes were to use a mix of apples (Granny Smith and Gala) and to substitute corn starch for the tapioca--I am not a tapioca-in-fillings fan. I unfortunately had to photograph this pie when it was still quite warm, and it hadn't really mellowed yet. I liked it much better once it was room temperature (or even cold from the fridge!) and the filling had gelled around the apples a bit, keeping them juicy and moist.
The only miss for me was the lemon zest in the filling--that was too jarring. In the future I'll stick to lemon juice and reserve the zest for lemon-flavored desserts only.

I made a brown sugar ice cream to go along with the pie, and it tasted awesome when I made the base. I was so excited to share it with you guys! Unfortunately, I put on my mad scientist jacket and tried adding some xanthan gum to it, to make it more creamy...and added about four times too much. When I took it out to churn it after its chilling period, it was the texture of snot. No joke! It was sort of repulsive, actually. I whisked in some more liquid, and although it thinned out, it never really recovered. This one is going back to the drawing board, but hopefully I'll have a successful brown sugar ice cream recipe to share with you soon.

So how's about it: are you fine folks cake people or pie people? I promise not to judge you too much based on your choice.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Violet Velvet & Fondant Flowers

This weekend I made a violet velvet cake for a friend of a friend's bridal shower. What is a violet velvet cake, you ask? Well, it's just like red velvet, only it's purple.
I wish I had a picture of the cake when it was cut, because it was this deep dark purple color alternating with stripes of cream cheese frosting. Alas. I DO have pictures of the outside to show you, though, full of violetty things, like flowers.

Close-up of the baby flowers along the bottom border:

And on top of the cake:

I thought it would be fun to do a little tutorial on how to make these flowers. It's not rocket science but sometimes step-by-step photos make things a bit easier. Here we go!

Optimally, you will need:
*fondant (not pictured, because I forgot. Eh. Gumpaste also works)
*flower cutters
*veining tool (teal)
*bone tool (purple)
*teensy, tiny paint brush
*food coloring
*lots of time on your hands

Start by rolling your fondant out very thin, about 1/8 inch, and cut out your flowers. Don't do all the fondant at once, because in the time it'll take you to shape the flowers the fondant will be drying out, and the ones that you get to last might be too brittle. So do a handful at a time.

A word about fondant flowers: they're definitely more delicate than gumpaste. But seriously, gumpaste tastes terrible, and it's rock-hard. At least with fondant, if people want to eat it they can without losing a tooth or wanting to sandpaper their tongue. So for this cake, where I didn't need the decorations to have any sort of long-term staying power, I went with fondant. But just be aware that they drying flowers will be more brittle and prone to breakage. Moving on!

Place the flower on the thin sheet of foam and press the veining tool in the center of the petal--this gives it a neat 3-D effect. The foam, quite honestly, is totally replaceable--you could use a soft cloth napkin of piece of felt. And I think the veining tool could be replaced by the thin edge of this handy orange peeler I have--seriously, the shape is very similar.

If you want to make curved flowers, move the flower to the thicker foam and press the bone tool in the middle, to create a cupped shape. Again, you can make substitutions: maybe a clean, soft sponge for the foam, and a pencil (eraser side) for the bone tool.

Now what you SHOULD do is transfer the curved flower to a curved flower mold to dry. But I don't have one of those, so I'm going to make a substitution of my own: empty egg cartons! Works like a charm. You can even layer multiple flowers on top of each other so you can do much more than just 12 flowers at a time.

Once the flowers are dry (anywhere from several hours-overnight, depending on the moisture in the fondant, the thickness, the humidity level, etc) you can add some decorations. I took the world's weensiest paintbrush (purchased from a craft store in the painting section) and dipped it in food coloring and painted some contrasting strokes inside the petals: purple on the white flowers, and white on the purple.

Did you know they make white food coloring? The world is an amazing place.

Finally, pipe a dot in the center of your flowers. Royal icing is a great idea here, I just used buttercream because it's what I had on hand and I knew the cake would be eaten and the flowers disposed of in a short amount of time.

Voila! Do this about a million more times and you'll have a nice collection of flowers! It is a bit time consuming, but it's fairly mindless work, and I got all caught up on my Top Chef and Project Runway viewing when doing it. (Speaking of: how is it possible that Gretchen is going to the finals? Aaaaaahhhhh!)

The final step is to stick them on your cake. I usually like to pipe a few vines on before I stick my flowers down, just because they always look naked to me otherwise. Fondant tends to sweat when placed in the fridge--especially when placed on a soft, sticky, non-crusting frosting like cream cheese--so I wouldn't chance putting a fully decorated cake in the fridge overnight. Too risky! I did almost everything the night before, and then just added the flowers in the morning before the party.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

TWD: Fold-Over Pear Torte

What a strange little hybrid dessert this was.

It uses pie dough, but it's baked in a springform pan. The filling is chopped fresh pears, and pecans, and dried apricots. It's all held together with a vanilla custard, and then the pie crust is partially folded over the edges. So many things going on! It's like five different desserts got together and had a baby and named it Fold-Over Pear Torte--confusing in and of itself, since isn't a torte a European cake?--and baked it in my oven for fifty kajillion minutes during which butter leaked out of the pan and burned in the oven and filled the kitchen with stinky smoke and....somewhere along the way this sentence turned from a convoluted simile into straightforward whining. Apologies!

At the end of the day, this was better than I thought it would be, but I admit my expectations were low because it seemed so random. The truth is, most of these elements are not my favorite things--cooked pears and custard and pie crust, to name a few--so it probably didn't have a chance at winning my heart. The hubs and I were both pleasantly surprised at how not-gross it was, to give you the world's most lukewarm endorsement.

The real problem, of course, is that it's not a looker, and we all know how I like to judge books by their cover.

What did everyone else think? Were you able to see past the ugly duckling exterior and devour the tasty swan inside?*

*This time, it's a metaphor that's gone awry. Forgive me.


Monday, October 04, 2010

TWD: Double Apple Bundt Cake, Drenched in Deliciousness

If you were around these parts for last week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, you may recall some apple-pickin' shenanigans that resulted in a half-bushel of apples taking up residence in my kitchen. Yes, my friends, they are still with us. [looks guiltily in the direction of the kitchen, overflowing with apples] Fortunately I've had a few more opportunities to bake with them, including this week's stellar recipe, Double Apple Bundt Cake.

This was actually the second apple bundt cake I've made in a week. The first was a variation on the Paris Hilton of internet apple cake recipes (surely that is a real category?), Mom's Apple Cake from Smitten Kitchen. Friends, I was not impressed. That particular cake has garnered over 500 fawning comments but I think Dorie's apple cake is much, much better. Maybe the Smitten Kitchen cake is not meant to be a bundt. I do not know. What I DO know is that I'm bummed I brought that gross cake to a potluck earlier this week instead of this other, far superior one! Superior, you say? Superior, indeed:

If you are wondering why my apple bundt cake looks drenched in deliciousness, it's because I made a brown sugar frosting for it. You might think the cake is moist enough, tasty enough, flavorful enough, sweet enough on its own, and it does not need a brown sugar frosting. You would be wrong. Fact: there is no apple cake that cannot be improved by a brown sugar frosting.

Especially a frosting that is thick and fudgy, with caramelized brown sugar notes, a hint of vanilla and maple, and a punch of salt in every bite. No, really. Check out this salt:

I didn't use salt in the frosting itself, but I sprinkled a large-grained sea salt liberally on top of the frosting. I wanted not just the flavor, but the texture of the salt to come through. I'm in love with this flaky sea salt and the way it pops in your mouth. I think a noticeable hit of salt is so necessary, especially in a dessert like this that could easily tip into the cloyingly sweet category.

I used my new favorite thing, Maldon Sea Salt. It's a great all-purpose large-flake sea salt that is perfect for finishing dishes (salted caramels, anyone?) because it keeps its texture well and crunches in the mouth. It's not wet (those moist sea salts creep me out) and it's reasonably priced--I got mine for about $6 total from saltworks. (I have no relationship with them at all, I just thought it was a monster steal and I'm in love, I'm in love and I don't care who knows it!)

Another exciting product going into this cake?

Okay, so fresh nutmeg is not exactly breaking news. BUT did you know you can buy it super-cheap at Cost Plus? 99 cents for about 8 nutmegs! (...nutmeg nuts? nutmeg megs? nutmeg seed pods? What do you call those??) Thus concludes today's Cheap Ingredient Shopping with Liz segment. Next week: vanilla pods on ebay!

So yes, if you were able to read between the lines of my product-bedazzled ramblings, this cake was phenomenal. I loved the way the grated apples melted into the cake, the extra apple kick from the apple butter, and the way it stayed so moist and flavorful day after day. It seems to keep getting better the longer it sits on the counter. I used plump dried cranberries and cinnamon pecans in the cake, and both of those were wonderful additions as well. I know I can sometimes be harsh on recipes (it's only because I love!) but I truly can't imagine improving on this.

The recipe will be posted on Lynne of Honey Muffin's blog, and the brown sugar frosting recipe is below.

Brown Sugar Frosting
Adapted from King Arthur Flour's brown sugar frosting

5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) butter
1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) cream
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tsp maple extract
hefty pinch of salt

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts. It might look separated, but that's okay. Stir in the cream, and it should all come together. Bring the mixture to a boil, then pour it into a mixing bowl to cool for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, stir in the confectioners' sugar, salt, maple extract, and vanilla. Beat well--I beat for about 30-45 seconds. If the mixture appears too thin, add more confectioners' sugar, if it's too thick, add a spoonful of hot water. Be aware that it sets up QUICKLY. Pour it over the cake while it's still warm. Know that it's hard to go back and correct mistakes because it starts setting and crusting soon after being poured, so one option is to put it in a large Ziploc bag and cut off a corner. Pipe the frosting over the top so it drips down where you want it to. Sprinkle any toppings on right away.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Tarts Worth Writing About

I've had a few summer posts lurking around waiting to be completed, and now that it's October the time for fresh berry desserts has almost passed! Quickly, quickly now...

It all started with a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city. Or rather...

A sweet pistachio tart crust in a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city.

A light and luscious lemon cream in a sweet pistachio tart crust in a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city.

Soft, ripe berries on a light and luscious lemon cream in a sweet pistachio tart crust in a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city.

And best of all, some good friends to help us eat the soft, ripe berries on a light and luscious lemon cream in a sweet pistachio tart crust in a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city!

When we had our housewarming party a month (...or two...) ago I made these cute mini tarts to celebrate. At the time, they fit the season perfectly: light, fresh, vibrant as the summer sunshine. Now it's a bit harder to find good berries at the market, but the tart dough and cream can still be made, and they could be topped with candied citrus peel, pomegranate seeds, or caramelized nuts.

Honestly, making these in mini muffin tins is a pain. The dough goes from rock-hard to super-soft in a matter of minutes, so it's a constant race between the table, the fridge, and the freezer. They have to be gently rolled and cut and pressed and trimmed and chilled and baked and then ever so gently coaxed out of the tins without shattering--my personal obstacle--and if you're like me and you only have two tins, you're ensnared in this process all morning and wondering what the heck is wrong with a full-sized tart anyways?

But really, I didn't mind. No, really. Because these tarts were about more than taking a good picture or having a cute centerpiece. The time I spent making these, rolling and scraping and pressing and nibbling on dough, in my pjs with flour in my hair, I had a heart full of gratitude. For our new apartment, for our old friends, for the luxury of time to make the tarts--to spend hours on stupid miniature crusts!--and for the money to buy fresh berries. I kept thinking how lucky I was, in this life.

It was all connected. And it turned what could have been a chore--what, too often, IS a chore in my overscheduled head--into an exercise in seeing the beauty and blessings in the world. And that is why these tarts are worth writing about, no matter what season it is.

Sweet Pistachio Tart Dough

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground pistachios (I like roasted & salted)
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6.75 oz very cold butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, ground nuts, confectioners' sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely. Add the egg yolk and process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough just starts forming clumps. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Luscious Lemon Cream

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart"

1 cup sugar
zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Put the sugar and zest in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. Whisk constantly until it's thick, opaque, and the whisk leaves tracks. This might take 10-15 minutes to get to 180 F.

As soon as it reaches 180F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of a blender. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add the butter a few chunks at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going for 3 minutes. Although it will look blended before then, this extended whipping will give it a light, mousse-like texture.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight. When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell.

To assemble the tarts

Spray mini muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 F. Dust a work station with flour and divide the tart dough in thirds. Keep two-thirds of it in the fridge and work with one third at a time. Roll it out very thinly on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Since we are making mini tarts the crust should be delicate and thin so it doesn't overwhelm the filling.

Use a large circular cutter to cut circles of tart dough--mine were about 3" wide. Gently lift the circles from the table and, one at a time, press them into the mini muffin cavities. Use a sharp knife or an offset spatula to trim the top and get a fairly smooth edge--it won't be perfect, but after they're baked they'll look fine. Freeze the first mini muffin tray while you form the second. If your dough gets too soft to work with, re-roll it and put it back in the freezer while you work with one of the chilled rounds in the fridge.

Once one of the muffin tins in the freezer is frozen, bake off the shells until they're light brown, about 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway throughout. Let them cool in the tins before attempting to remove, then gently slide them out and let them cool completely.

Fill with lemon cream (I found a pastry bag was easiest for this purpose) and top with season fruit or nuts.