there's a lot of things that seem mysterious about professional cooking. i had my first glimpse of that back in early september, when i first roasted vegetables for a daily salad special.
'chef,' i asked, 'how long should i roast them for?'
a good-natured smirk later, he replies, 'until they're done.'
professional cooking and that gateway to it, culinary school, are not about recipes but about learning to trust your senses. repetition breeds familiarity, knowledge, perfection.
chef mike says to our mod 1 class - 'i'm teaching you how to be professional cooks. control your heat, control your energy. there is nothing standardized in cooking. all porkchops vary. all potatoes vary. there is no standardized time.'
it's hard to believe that i've only been at my internship for two months. in some ways, it feels like i've been doing this forever. however, in looking back at my salad specials from early september, it's clear how much i've developed in these short ten weeks. i play with flavors, textures. i try to make them sing. my salads no longer strictly rely on fresh vegetables and beans. i'm incorporating proteins - shrimp and octopus, adding red onions i've pickled in cider vinegar or oils infused with basil. i'm learning to layer flavor. to draw it out. showcase.
after so much savory cooking, between work and school, i relax by baking on my days off. completely different in execution, baking requires care and focus but removes the guesswork and fluidity found in cooking. baking is precise. baking is science. but the art of flavor combination is the same.
this tart has a little bit of everything you need for a chilly november day. the crumbly, buttery crust, hinted with a bit of nuttiness from the browned butter. the nuttiness is pulled through to the hazelnut of nutella, darkened by chocolate and tempered in sweetness by the mascarpone. the pears finish sweet and clean, with familiar autumn notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.
2 cups flour
12 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. sugar
6 tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. salt
8 oz mascarpone cheese
6 oz nutella
4 firm baking pears such as bosc or seckel
1 bottle white wine, a riesling or Gewürztraminer
2 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
preheat oven to 410 degrees. in a small saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, water, and salt. heat over low heat for 10-12 minutes, or until butter is fully melted and beginning to brown at the edges. remove from heat and add flour, mixing quickly until all are incorporated and dough ball is pulling away from sides and forming a ball. turn out into a 9 x 9 well-greased tart pan. allow to cool slightly, then press into pan to form crust shape. puncture bottom with a fork to allow steam to escape. fill with either pie weights or beans and bake 13-15 minutes or until crust is beginning to golden.
in a medium bowl, mix mascarpone and nutella until thoroughly combined. set aside. once the tart crust has cooled, spread the filling across the tart, leaving a 1/4 inch between the top of the crust sides and filling.
in a large saucepan, combine wine, vanilla bean, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg. poach pears for 30-40 minutes at a simmer until pears can be easily penetrated by a fork. remove from pot and pat dry, arrange on tart on top of filling. bring heat up to high on the pot and boil until reduced by half. spoon vanilla-pear syrup over top of tart.
serve & enjoy.