I promised myself that after I quit my job, I would take ONE full week, SEVEN complete days, to not do anything. No baking, no blogging, no looking for jobs, no design gigs, no invoicing, nothing. I planned to sleep, eat, and maybe watch some Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD (I’m a big Joss Whedon fan). But then I realized that plan had a bit of a snafu because I had actually planned a big dessert party three days after my last day of work. Which meant I had to bake on those two days in between, to get ready for the dessert party. Bake things like a Gluten Free Fig and Raspberry Mascarpone Tart with Local Honey. Or, you know, the 17 other desserts that I made for the party.
Now with most of my dessert parties, I start pretty early on, baking some cookies, brownies, maybe a couple of cake layers that I can freeze ahead of time. Sometimes, if I am ambitious, I’ll even make a bunch of pie crust ahead of time, so I can freeze them and just bring them out to defrost for “easy as pie” pie. Everyone seems so impressed with pie, but it’s not that difficult (hello, there’s a reason why that phrase exists). All you big time blogger who are scared of pie crust, give me shout out. I’ll teach you real good how to make a pie crust.
Somewhat harder though, is making a decent gluten free pie crust. I’ve made a couple in the past, but never been super satisfied by them. Shauna over at Gluten Free Girl has been baking up a storm and recently released an AWESOME new book Gluten Free Girl and the Chef with 100 amazing recipes (everyone run out and get it, if you don’t already have it). I pinged her on Twitter and asked if she had any tips on making pie crust and she said she just uses her Ahern magical ratio of 60% starches 40% whole grains to replace the All Purpose flour. I had never thought to create a ratio for my gluten free flours, but there you have it. Easy as Pie.
The rest of the baking was not so easy. In fact, though I thought I was going to spend all of Thursday and all of Friday baking, I was so physically and mentally exhausted with leaving my job that I basically slept all of Thursday. Which only left Friday for me to bake for a party that I had invited pretty much everyone I knew to. Everyone and everyone’s friend as well.
Normally our parties get a bit crowded. After all, we did invite some 250+ people to the party (if you didn’t get an invite, I apologize. It probably got lost in the mail). We rarely get that many people to show up, and in fact a number of people who said they were going to come, didn’t come (yeah, I’m looking at you. And you. And you and you and you!). But we DID get a pretty good number of people packed into our tiny little one bedroom apartment. And, as always, they came in waves. Our peak was about 40 people strewn through our apartment around 4:30pm. Which is right about the time I was ready to collapse.
Collapse? Why yes, collapse. Because as I stated before, I had only one day to bake enough desserts for about the 100 people that came. Which meant I ended up waking up at 8:30am on Friday and baking nonstop until 3am in the evening. 18 hours of non-stop baking. And people ask me why I don’t open up my own bake shop. Because if I did, I feel like it would be that sort of thing EVERY DAY. Baking nonstop. That would get old pretty fast. Actually I would get old pretty fast.
I was a little nervous about the upcoming party actually. Along with my usual potpourri of random friends and loved ones, I totally had invited some food bloggers as well. Which meant I KNEW that they would be judging my food. Sure they might not INTENTIONALLY judging my food, but I know that it’s an automatic reaction. How can it not be, when you write and taste food constantly for your blog?
This, of course, left me thinking to myself that I better bring my A-Game to the desserts. But I have to admit, after being sleep deprived and mentally exhausted by everything that happened at work right before I left, I was feeling baker’s block. As in, I didn’t feel like I could think of anything new or amazing to make. So I started out with my standard spiced oatmeal dried fruit cookie. I use thick cut rolled oats in it, as opposed to the thin instant oatmeal that a lot of recipes call for. It creates a nice chewy cookie. I decided to tinker with it a little bit and use some almond meal and substituted graham flour instead of all purpose flour and though the both added to the nice carmelized nutty flavor, I don’t think there was enough gluten in the graham flour, as the cookies were much more delicate than normal. Ah well. Live and learn.
After that it was two different brownies (a chewy dark chocolate brownie with butterscotch chips as well as a gluten free version of the strawberry balsamic brownies that I had brought to the 18 Reasons Ice Cream Social) along with a gluten free version of Flo Baker’s Congo Bars. A lemon curd cheesecake (that my friend Nina had requested), a jumbleberry pie, as well as the gluten free Mediterranean Olive Oil Orange Cake.
Also on the menu was a blueberry peaches and cream cobbler, Italian Cream Cake with blackberry curd filling and lemon curd buttercream, and as well as a gluten free ginger walnut plout crisp, and a caramel tart (it originally was going to be a caramel and chocolate ganache tart, but I just didn’t have time to make the ganache. You know you are running out of time if you don’t have time to make ganache. Ganache is DEAD easy to make).
I also made an old fashion apple slab pie which I had never made before. I had gone to a block party a couple of weeks ago and Tartine was serving up a raspberry peach slab pie there. Though I wasn’t impressed with their pie (I know! blasephemy!) I liked the idea of a slab pie, and when King Arthur Flour featured it on their website and it inspired me make an apple version. That and the white chocolate buttermilk strawberry cake were probably my favorite things to make. I mean who doesn’t love slathering creme fraiche whipped cream and layers of strawberries between white chocolate buttermilk cake? So fun!
Oh yeah, I can’t forget that I made four blackberry lemon chess pies (one with a gluten free crust) because I figure it was my award winning pie, people would want to taste it. My one wheat-free friend had actually requested that I make it for her (it was the only thing she requested from me, and as I like to tell my friends, I do take requests).
You wouldn’t think it would have taken me 18 hours to bake all that. Well, ok for some it probably would have taken more time, but for me, I’m usually on top of things and can bake fairly efficiently. But there was SO much more that I wanted to make and do. Like the chocolate cake with caramel cream cheese frosting. I actually made the cake layers, but was in such a hurry that I didn’t let the frosting set up in time. So the cake was a hot mess. I just left it in the fridge for the party. AJ and I later brought some of it to an impromptu dinner party at a friend of our’s house. Tasted great, just didn’t look that great.
Or the OTHER apple pie that I had every intention of making, that involved blackberries and a coconut crumb topping. I had made it a month ago for our friends dinner party (same friends who threw the impromptu dinner party). I keep on meaning to blog about it, but just haven’t had a chance. But I had hope to repeat the pie for the party, going to far as to make the crust and make AJ run out and buy the apples. Didn’t happen (much like the blog post that I keep on saying I’m going write about it. I will. Really I will.).
The party seemed to go without a hitch. It was a bit rough in the beginning. AJ was also mentally and physically exhausted and was heighten state of anxiety up until the party started. “It just that, for the past three or four years, we’ve totally perfected and learned a lot about throwing these parties. But I feel like for THIS party, we’ve just forgotten what we’re doing!” he said to me, as his voice climbed higher and higher pitched, as I frantically mopped the kitchen floor while early guests hung out in the living room, entertaining themselves. Luckily, the early guests (who we had invited earlier, but we just weren’t organized enough) had brought along their own form of entertainment – their three year old mischievous child Dylan.
It’s true. We’ve been throwing dessert parties for nearly 10 years now; about 7 in the current apartment that we have. You’d think we’d have learned a thing or two about planning and executing them. And we have. We just, apparently, decided to ignore all that for this one.
But thankfully, no one seemed to notice. We calmed down once the kitchen floor dried, and AJ got the savory food out (we were a little slim on the savory food this time round. Usually we’re a little bit more robust in that area, but I didn’t have time to make the fresh salsa I had bought all these lovely heirloom tomatoes and chili peppers for, or bake my no knead sourdough bread, and AJ didn’t have time to go to Costco to pick up more savory like he usually does).
People didn’t seem to mind. After all, we DID bill the party as a dessert party. Which it is. And though I always am in a slight state of panic that there’s not enough desserts for the party, there seemed to be enough to go around, with some desserts going fast and some lasting throughout.
The party was scheduled to go from 3pm to 7pm. But we had actually opened up the party early for our friend with kids at 2pm (imagining the party to get a bit crazy for the kids as it went on). We also told some of our select chosen friends (the Jewish ones) that they could come later, post sunset, as we had unwittingly scheduled the party on Yom Kippur and they would be at temple and fasting for the holiday.
However, despite all obstacles, the party was a success. I was sad that I wasn’t able to talk to as many people as I wanted to. Some people came that I had never met before, only known via their twitter handle or their blog, like Amy (@educatedpalates) or Colby (@colbymichaelssf). My friend Miranda who I was friend with back in 7th grade showed up, just as she showed up to the Pie or Die contest, and I barely talked to her for five minutes before I was distracted by another group of friends walking in. My friend Pat and her daughter Marina came to my party, after years of inviting them, and it always being bad timing. I hadn’t seen Pat in about two or three years. I barely exchanged ten words with her, before I was pulled away to talk with someone else. Or my friend Sandrine and Noah who I rarely see, and who ended up spending nearly the entire time in the kitchen talking to my friend Forrest and his girlfriend Ali. The kitchen, being the one place I rarely entered into the party. It was constantly like that.
But I was so pleased that everyone who could make, did. My brother and sister-in-law showed up, driving all the way from Sacramento, which was all the more amazing as brought along my niece who is only 10 months old. She has gotten SO big! We babysat her WAY back in February when she was teeny tiny and then we saw her a couple months later, for a photoshoot, but I hadn’t seen her since. I have to get up there more to visit.
Our friends Peter and Heather showed up at the tail end of the party and they ALWAYS close down our party. As they walked in, they turned to us and said “Now we KNOW that we always stay late. We will not be doing that this time. We will not be here until 11pm. Really. We just wanted to drop by, say hello at the end of the party, and then take off.” They said this specifically pointing to Heather, who happens to be 9 months pregnant, as if they couldn’t stay very long in case Heather was going to give birth any minute (and I guess, technically she could have).
They stayed until midnight. Along with my friend Michelle, my prom date from high school. Yep, I’m still friends with my prom date. At one point in the conversation we were talking about us being prom dates, and that AJ used to be married, and he married his highschool sweetheart.
“Oh, you know, I had no problems having sex with women. I was married you know.” AJ explained to Heather, Peter and Michelle. I confessed that I had never had sex with a woman. But then I turned to Michelle and said “Oh, but you know. If I were to have had sex with a female in high school, it would have been you.”
Michelle got REALLY excited by that comment. “ What?!?! REALLY? Oh my gosh! That’s the sweetest thing that ANYONE has ever said to me!!!”
I love my friends.
My one wheat allergic friend, Kim showed up a bit late to the party. Half the desserts were already eaten, and though she had requested that I ONLY make her a gluten free version of the award winning chess pie (the one that AJ decided he had to put my ridiculous trophies next to) I clearly had made more than one dessert that she could eat.
Sadly the dessert that I wanted to taste, and I wanted her to taste (other than the award winning pie) was the gluten free fig and raspberry mascarpone tart with local honey I had mentioned earlier. Inspired by a similar tart by David Lebovitz out of his book Ready for Dessert, I used a different crust (clearly, as it was gluten free) and went with a mascarpone filling instead of the raspberry jam that he uses (which I thought would be too sweet). I wanted to make pastry cream, but again, that would take more work and time. This was down and dirty fast. And it turned out beautifully – or so I was told.
BUT as my friend showed up and asked me what she could eat, I pointed out my dessert namecard (I have since learned to label all my desserts, not because I’m fancy, but because it saves me the effort of NOT having to repeatedly answer the infernal question “What is everything?”) that everything that had a plout on it was gluten free. And as I pointed out what she could eat, I saw that my friend Alan had already taken the entire tart pan in his hand and was eating the final two bites of the gluten free tart. In front of my friend, and in front of me.
“And that,” I pointed to Alan’s hand “is also gluten free. Sorry.” Kim looked slightly crestfallen and ready to put up a fight but in the end she acknowledged that she was late because of another party so it was her fault.
I, personally, never had a chance to taste the tart. But it was one of the first thing to disappear, so I can only assume that it was good. Better than good, since more than one person came up to me to tell me that it was their favorite.
The next dessert party we have (it’ll be for the holiday season) will be better planned. I’ll won’t be as insanely crazy busy as I was right up to the party, leaving a job and starting a new chapter of my life. I’ll plan things out, AJ will get more sleep. We’ll communicate more, mop our floor beforehand, and I’ll make sure that I get to taste all the desserts that I want to taste.
Or maybe not. I’m sort of realizing that just because I quit my job, doesn’t mean I’ll have more spare time. In fact, this last week, the week that I was suppose to take off, sleeping and watching Buffy DVDs didn’t happen. Instead I ended up landing two freelance design gigs. Both of which, due mid October. You know, right in the middle of the time when I’m going to the BlogHer Food conference. And people keep on asking me what’s it like, living the dream. “How is it, your life of leisure?” they ask me.
And I just reply back “It’s exhausting. Exhausting but more fun than I could ever imagine.”
Gluten Free Fig and Raspberry Mascarpone Tart with local honey
This tart was inspired by David Lebovitz’ Ready for Dessert Cookbook, a pretty amazing cookbook. The gluten free crust got a lot help from Shauna over at Gluten Free Girl. If you aren’t gluten free, feel free to use your favorite pie or tart crust for this recipe.
Gluten Free Tart Crust
This dough makes enough for two single tart or pie crusts, or one double crust pie. It also freezes really well.
30 g sorghum flour
60 g brown rice flour
90 g tapioca flour
90 g sweet rice (otherwise known as glutinous rice) flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
30 g almond flour (not meal)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup leaf lard
1/3 cup water
1. Using a food processor, put the sorghum, brown rice, tapioca, sweet rice flour, xanthan gum, and salt into the bowl. Pulse two or three times to blend.
2. Cut the leaf lard and butter into tablespoon chunks and evenly distribute them throughout the food processor bowl. Pulse for 10 or 15 seconds until the dough starts to gather on the side of the bowl.
3. Scrape the side of the bowl and evenly distribute the dough and then add the almond flour. Pulse a few times to break up the dough and to create a sandy pebbly consistency.
4. Empty the content into a large bowl and sprinkle water on top of the dough. Using a large spatula slowly fold in the flour mixture to the water. The dough will start to get sticky. You can use your hands to evenly distribute. Since there is no gluten, you can mix the dough as much as you want.
5. Divide the dough into two parts and wrap them in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flour hydrate, or overnight.
Blind Baking the Tart Crust
1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F
2. Pull the dough out of the fridge and dust a surface generously with brown rice flour. Roll the dough out and fit into a 10” tart pan.
3. Prick the bottom of the pan with a fork several times, and place a sheet of parchment paper over the pan and fill it with pie weights, dry beans or rice to weigh it down. Push the weights to the very side of the pan.
4. Bake the tart pan in the oven for 10 minutes until the side of the pan starts to turn a little golden. Pull out the pan, and gently lift the parchment paper off the tart crust.
5. Put the tart crust back into the oven and bake it for another 10-15 minutes until the crust looks deep golden brown and the bottom of the crust looks dry.
6. Remove the tart crust and let it cool completely before assembling tart..
Assembling the Tart
8oz of mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1/2 cup of sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
12-14 fresh ripe figs
6 oz of raspberries
3 Tbsp local honey
1. In standing mixer bowl, combine the mascarpone cheese, crème fraiche, powdered sugar and vanilla extract.
2. Using the whisk attachment, whip the mixture until light.
3. Gently spread the mascarpone mixture onto the bottom of the tart evenly. I used an offset spatula, but a small spatula or butter knife will work just as well.
4. Trim the tough stems from the figs and quarter them. Working in two concentric circles, fit the figs around the sides of the tart tightly, cut side up.
5. Pile the raspberries into the center of the tart.
6. Drizzle the honey over the tart making sure to cover all the fruit evenly.
7. Serve immediately.
Note. If you don’t want to make this gluten free, feel free to use your favorite pie crust or pâte sucrée recipe for the tart crust.