Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Martha Stewart's Nectarine Tart, a.k.a. My Slow Descent into Madness
I've spent a lot of time on this blog praising Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. Oh Martha, that biscotti was heavenly, Martha, your recipes are foolproof, you could never do me wrong.
Well, I take it all back. Every bit of it. What follows, today, is the story of a woman, a man, and the nectarine tart that threatened to destroy them.
For the past few weeks, the nectarine tree on my in-laws' farm has been producing obscene amounts of fruit. We've picked literally dozens of the things, eating some, giving most away to friends, grudgingly throwing the rotting ones in the compost bucket. I knew the best use would likely be some kind of baked good, but I was afraid. The convection oven at our new place gleamed at me from the kitchen, a heartless, unforgiving monster forged from tears and stainless steel. I was intimidated. And frankly, there just aren't that many nectarine recipes out there.
So I did what any rational baker would do: I gathered my courage, grabbed my go-to cookbooks and started looking for recipes. Nothing in Moosewood Desserts or Silver Palate, but just when hope was failing, the pages of Martha's Baking Handbook revealed a nectarine tart I could not resist. Those perfectly pink nectarine rosettes, that browned butter filling, the flaky crust... irresistible, right? I was so innocent then, unaware of the horrors to come.
For tart crust one, I followed the instructions in Martha's Baking Handbook, made the whole thing in the mixer, patted it into a pretty little disk, covered it in plastic wrap and popped it in the fridge. After the two hour chill time was up, I pulled out perhaps the driest dough known to man. My rolling pin and I could barely force the thing into submission. Though I did manage to get it into a passable shape, it crumbled as soon as I tried to put it into the tart pan. I have since realized that the refrigerator at this new place dries everything out... something I would have loved to know before I began this process, but alas. I kept going.
The next morning, I attempted crust number two, which came out similarly dry. I was sneaky this time, though, and enlisted Justin's help to flip the cutting board upside down - in my mind, this scenario would lead the dough to kind of gently fall into the tart pan, where I would use my nimble fingers to form it into something resembling the picture in Martha's book.
In practice, the whole thing landed in the stack of dirty dishes in our sink, and I created all sorts of new swears, such as "goddamn fucking tartfucker." I guess that counts for something.
For tart dough three, I gave up on Martha's crust and instead used a recipe from The Silver Palate. This one was hand-mixed with a pastry blender, rather than the Kitchenaid, but after two hours in the fridge, it also came out dry. Far past the point of caring, I jammed pieces into the tart pan and called it a day. It came out looking okay, actually:
But then, oh then, came the rosettes.
According to Martha, you simply slice the nectarines thin, create a pretty little circle out of the first slice and add more "petals" until the thing transforms itself into a rose. Easy, right? I wish.
If the slices are too thin, even by a few millimeters, they break in half, and absolutely will not form a pretty rosette shape, no matter how much wishing, or cursing, or flailing, or crying you do.
If you slice them too thin, they become translucent, slimy little things that are impossible to pick up. Justin cut ten nectarines into slices this way, just for my benefit. According to him, he's never chopped that much of anything in his life. As for me, I developed an excruciating neck cramp from hunching over the cutting board for an hour, creating dozens of these things, and then threatening each of them with bodily harm every time I transferred one to the pan.
And yes, the end product was beautiful. And yes, it tasted amazing. The sauce was browned butter and vanilla and what must have been ambrosia, or unicorn tears - even Justin's parents, who we served this evil, evil masterpiece to, agreed. But come on. Someone needs to sit down and ask themselves: can a mere mortal create this dish without self-destructing? If the answer is no, well, don't put it in the goddamn cookbook, okay?