We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart and Memories of My Life as a Pastry Chef—Gluten-Free Tart Version Included

by Linda

"If baking is any labor at all, it's a labor of love. A love that gets passed down from generation to generation." ~ Regina Brett

Maddie's 18th birthday dessert request—Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart
   In 1990 I was busy working as the pastry chef for The Los Olivos Grand Hotel, a small and elegant establishment on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos, California. I look back now with mostly fond memories of the job. In spite of the long hours, low pay and working on every weekend and holiday—the job offered much in the way of creativity—which I enjoyed immensely. From the time I was just a girl, I have always loved to bake.

   Luckily, the executive chef of the hotel restaurant allowed me complete freedom to bake and make whatever I desired as long as the customers loved my creations (which happily they did), and consequently she did not interfere with my menu selections. The hotel had a beautiful kitchen which I was told that Julia Child had a hand in designing, and I had my own private work station that included a large Hobart mixer, and small Kitchen Aid mixer, a Robot Coupe food processor, a large wooden table for working bread dough, my own sink with a large stainless work surface attached, double convection ovens, a cold marble surface on top of a low cold case for working pastry dough, chocolate and plating desserts, a microwave and a large free standing refrigerated case with shelves that held all of my components and completed desserts that required refrigeration. I worked on the opposite side of the cooks who worked the line (there was a freestanding wall dividing us), so while I had my own separate area, I still interacted with the rest of the kitchen's chefs and waitstaff. It was there that I best learned the intricate and chaotic dance that is performed each shift, during which the kitchen staff and the waitstaff are conjoined in a frantic back of the house effort in order to smoothly pull off the high-end dining experience going on in the front of the house. I enjoyed the camaraderie borne of stress and having a common goal that was shared among the cooks and the servers, and I am still friends to this very day with a few people that I worked with at that time—you know who you are—much love from me.

   As said "pastry chef" for the hotel's restaurant (I have no formal training, but have been baking most of my life), I was responsible for producing almost entirely by myself, every loaf of bread used for making sandwiches and filling the bread baskets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition many varieties of bread, I also baked all of the  hamburger buns, dinner rolls, muffins and cookies that were eaten on a daily basis. I also made all the offerings on the dessert tray which changed daily and seasonally, and all of the special occasion cakes for birthdays and weddings. Everything was created from scratch using the best ingredients. It wasn't long before restaurant patrons were asking to buy loaves of bread to take home with them at ten dollars a pop (a staggering figure to me back then). My Orange Wheat and Nut Bread was one of the varieties that I would sell if we had extra. It amazed me that customers were even happy to take home loaves that had been frozen if there wasn't fresh bread available, and so I did my best to have a stash available in the freezer.

   I had never done production baking before working at the hotel, and I learned a great deal in my three years there about the practicalities involved and time management skills needed in order to serve a busy restaurant that served breakfast, lunch and dinner, provided a buffet on Sundays and also hosted special events like banquets and weddings. The Santa Ynez Valley is home to a number of celebrities who dined at the restaurant and who became ardent fans of my baked goods, so I most definitely did some cooking for the stars. I was told that Steven Seagal would regularly come by in those days to order one of my Brownie à la Mode with Fudge Sauce dessert plates and teasingly gave instructions to the waitstaff to not let Kelly LeBrock, to whom he was married at the time, know about his sweets bingeing since he was supposed to be on a diet for an upcoming film. James Garner would call ahead to make sure that his favorite chocolate chip cookies would be waiting when he arrived fresh from the oven (I wish I would have gotten to take the order personally—he was one of my favorite actors because he reminded us so much of our Papa), and Fess Parker and his wife Marcy asked to meet me on one occasion because they loved my desserts—they ate at the hotel often and later bought the property. It was at this little hotel where guests attending Elizabeth Taylor's wedding to Larry Fortensky stayed in 1991, because it was near Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch where the ceremony took place.

    Over the course of my years baking at the hotel, certain items became standards, and our regular customers were disappointed if they were not on the menu. Among these desserts were my Favorite Cheesecake, the Best All American Apple Pie, Old Fashioned Berry Crisp and the much clamored for Chocolate Pecan Praline Tart. At the hotel I used pecans instead of Macadamia nuts because Macadamias were so expensive, and they can be substituted here if you wish (just about any nut of your choice will work perfectly well).

Maddie invites her cousin, Jordan, to help her blow out her
candles—his birthday was the day before hers.
   I left the hotel to accept a position as chef/manager of a bakery café in Solvang that was just down the street from where I lived, and I worked there until I left cooking professionally behind—but it is with nostalgia that I look back on those years when I was called "The Mistress of Spice and Everything Nice" in the Los Angeles Times after a food critic came to stay for a weekend.

   In just a week I will be flying to Arizona where our family is gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving, my son, Jordan's, thirtysomething birthday and my niece Maddie's (frequently the ever patient and good-natured model in our blog posts) eighteenth birthday, Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Years all in the span of ten days. Maddie isn't really a cake person, just like our dad, and so Michelle and I will be making the Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart for her party. It will be a trip down memory lane for me—I haven't made the tart for at least twenty years. I am looking forward to introducing it to this generation of our kids while we celebrate birthdays, and the passing of this year and the beginning of a new one. Should they want to make a special dessert in the near future or twenty years from now, for the generations of our family yet unborn, they will be able to find the recipe here, in our family's virtual recipe box.

Chocolate Macadamia Nut Praline Tart

   I wish I could take credit for developing this recipe, but it is the creation of a pastry chef who worked at The Boulders resort in Carefree, Arizona in the late 80s. The recipe appeared in Chocolatier Magazine sometime around 1990, and though I have googled the heck out of the dessert name and the pastry chefs of the year during that time frame (since I cannot recall his name) I have been unable to find him in order to give him proper credit. I did visit him on a trip to Arizona once, and he was most gracious and showed me around the beautiful café that he had just opened in the swanky el Pedregal shopping center which is adjacent to the resort. The café has reopened under new ownership according to my internet research. Cheers, to Mr. Pastry Chef—this recipe is a winner. It is not overly sweet and combines all of my favorite ingredients. The short crust recipe provided is from the original version, but I will be making it gluten-free for the first time using Michelle's recipe for an all butter pie crust with no gluten or gums.

A precious gift from Michelle one Christmas many years ago—she typed up all of our
family recipes and presented each of us with our own family cookbook of our favorite recipes.
Sweet Pastry Crust:
1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1-1/2 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate

or use our Absolutely Delicious All Butter and Gluten-Free Pie Crust (we highly recommend it and actually think that it is better than the Sweet Pastry Crust made with wheat flour.)
1-1/2 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate

I sprinkle 1.5 ounces of chocolate chips into the Absolutely Delicious All Butter 
and Gluten-Free Pie Crust that has just been pulled from the oven.
With a clean finger, I smear the warmed chocolate around the bottom 
of the tart shell when the chips are soft.
Macadamia Nut Caramel Filling Ingredients:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut in tablespoons and softened
1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

Beginning the caramel and nut layer.
The nut and praline layer layer gets poured into the tart crust to cool.

Sour Cream Chocolate Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg plus 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
3 tsp cornstarch
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Stabilized Whipping Cream for Decoration
Stabilized whipping cream is a trick that I learned in my hotel days. Stabilizing whipping cream allows it to sit for hours at room temp, or for a week in the fridge without getting watery or melting. It doesn't take much time, and it worth the peace of mind to me.
Measure 1Tbsp. of gelatin and sprinkle it over 5 Tbsps of water in it in a cup that is microwave-safe. When the gelatin has softened and absorbed the water, bring to a boil in the microwave. This will take about 60 seconds. Remove from the microwave and allow to cool while you are whipping the cream.

1 quart heavy cream
3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tsps vanilla extract

Whip the cream until it is thickened in the mixer bowl. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla. During the last minute of whipping the cream, pour in the gelatin mixture incorporating well while the mixer is running. Allow it to continue whipping for about 30 seconds. Remove bowl with whipped cream and give it a good stir with your spatula making sure to scrape the sides. The cream is now ready to be used for frosting or placing in a piping bag with a star tip on the end. For the best decorating results use use immediately, but cream will stay good for a week in a pastry bag that is keep refrigerated.

white and dark chocolate curls or leaves—for instructions on making chocolate leaves click here.
raspberries or any kind of berry. Dried fruit would work well, also.
Edible flowers and leaves
Candy (candy canes or candy corn, hearts, etc.)

10-inch round fluted tart pan with removable bottom
electric hand mixer

1. Make the Pastry Crust:  In a small bowl, stir together the flour and salt. In a medium bowl, using a hand held electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the confectioners' sugar and butter for 2 to 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and egg yolk using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until the dough forms a ball. Flatten the dough and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour, until firm enough to roll.
2. Lightly butter the bottom and side of a 10-inch round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. On a lightly floured work surface using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the chilled pastry into a 12 inch circle. Carefully roll the dough onto the rolling pin and transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Gently ease the dough into the fluted edge. Fold the edges of the dough to make a double layer of dough against the inside rim of the pan. Press the dough against the side of the pan making sure that there are no air pockets. Using your thumb, trim the excess dough by pressing it against the fluted edge. Using the tines of a fork, lightly prick the pastry shell all over. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes.
3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Bake the tart shell for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Place the hot tart shell on a cooling rack and sprinkle the 1.5 ounces of chocolate chips evenly around the bottom of the hot crust.
4. When the chocolate chips look melted all the way through, smear them evenly around the bottom of the baked crust. Don't worry if they don't cover every inch. See photo above.
5. Make the Macadamia Nut Caramel Filling: In a heavy, medium saucepan over low heat, combine the granulated sugar and corn syrup. Cook without stirring until the mixture turns light amber in color. You can pick up the pan and roll the melting syrup around, but do not stir. If you use too high of heat, the sugar can burn, so be patient.

6. Remove the pan from the heat when the caramel is the desired color. Using a wire whisk, gradually stir in the butter until well combined. Stir in the heavy cream until smooth. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the nuts. Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour until set.
7. Make the Sour Cream Chocolate Filling: In a medium saucepan over low heat, whisk the heavy cream, sour cream, egg, egg whites and cornstarch, until combined. Cook for 2-4 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate until well combined.
8. Using a rubber spatula, spread the mixture evenly over the top of the caramel nut filling the the tart shell. Cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
9. Make Whipped Cream: In a medium bowl, using a hand held electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the heavy cream, confectioners' sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Add the gelatin mixture.
10. Unmold, Decorate and Garnish: Carefully remove the side of the pan from the tart. Softly swirl the whipped cream over the top of the tart. Garnish with chocolate curls or leaves, if desired. Raspberries also taste great with the tart and add lovely holiday color

Linda's Note: I have found over the years that this is a great dessert to cut into desired sized pieces prior to serving the tart and then place those slices on the dessert platter that you will be using. Each piece can be decorated individually, but the tart will still make a beautiful presentation even when precut. At the time of the serving, no cutting is necessary and each piece can be easily removed from the plate with a dessert spatula. In this manner, no one needs to get their party frock dirty, nor will anyone ruin your dessert by cutting it poorly. See photos below for assembly:

For Maddie's party I cut the tart into 12 pieces. First cut the tart in half and then into quarters. Then cut each quarter piece into three pieces. Arrange evenly on a cake or dessert platter.
Decorate each slice as desired and then fill the center with a large piped rosette.

Then garnish your tart as desired with edible leaves and fruit, chocolate leaves and chocolate curls. Any thing goes as long as it is edible. A small figurine would work at the center, also.

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