It was August, and I hadn’t made a single pie.
I hadn’t made a single batch of ice cream or sorbet, either; but the cardinal sin was with the pie.
But then I saw huge stalks of rhubarb in my hometown grocers. Rhubarb that was far too girthy for its own good, and so late in the season that I couldn’t nearly call it “peak”. But rhubarb none the same. I also had some really beautiful black plums from a farmers market in NYC. And I had Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts on my brain.
It came out October 1st, but I had it mistakenly launching on my schedule on the 20th, so this little post is a touch late. Brooks had kindly sent it to me after we’d barely missed each other at a mutual friend’s restaurant anniversary party; a black-and-white copy with notes someone had scribbled on random pages.
Now, I’ve never worked with Brooks. I met him when he was celebrated as a 2013 Dessert Professionals Top Ten Pastry chef, where we’d been introduced by Niko of Dessertbuzz (that link is for the 2014 celebration, because I love the photo Niko took of me with my favorite sweet pea of a pastry chef, Ron Ben-Israel). I had planned to work with Brooks in my interview column, but first he was busy writing the book and then my column ended. I still have yet to work with him, as I’m saving up my “wanna work on…?” request for something meaty. But the book had landed magically in my mailbox after the post Brooks-is-walking-away-from-this-party email exchange.
And it’s f***ing awesome.
I say (type) this is a writer, reader and person who likes to cook. It’s entertaining. It’s got a really down-to-earth tone. It includes essays by producers and musicians Brooks worked with in his many years as a professional drummer in various rock bands, and stories from his time on the road and the journal he kept on tour… a journal less about music and more about the food he was eating as his criss-crossed the states. It has some really complicated recipes, and some really easy ones. He shares what he’s learned under Del Posto’s Chef Mark Ladner, and “Why Alex Stupak Scares the Shit Outta Me.” As someone who knows Alex relatively well, I admit that sometimes he still intimidates the shit outta me, too.
What I particularly love about this book is how un-holier-than-thou it is. Don’t have a scale?! You’ll live. Wanna mix a little of this and a little of that? Go wild. Things don’t have to look perfect; they just have to taste good. And most of the time that happens when you keep your fingers outta the mix as much as possible.
I got sucked in most easily by his love songs to fruit, since fruit is so delightfully seasonal and versatile and beautiful without a lot of messing with. And so batches of his roasted fruit and quick jam started coming out of my kitchen late this summer, and I finally got down to making the lone pie of August, 2014.
To pull together this badass book, my NEEDTOMAKEAPIE angst, those weird stalks of rhubarb, those black plums and the fact that I’ve been dreaming about this peach frangipane from a recent trip to Cincinnati that I could only visually admire, I mashed them all together.
Using Brooks’ Strawberry Quick Jam recipe as a guide (in my draft copy it’s on page 37 but I sorta hope yours is different so I can feel “in the know” and cool for once), I made a jam from the fruits and layered it between my basic pie crust (blind-baked in a tart shell) and the fragipane recipe below.
Now, I was gonna do this over again before posting because, in my mind, it needed expontentially more fruit jam (I may have eaten some of the batch for dessert over plain goat milk yogurt the night before… highly suggest you try it). But my roommate loved this. To me it’s not a complete dessert; it needs something creamy or crunchy and, personally, I’d still vote for twice the fruit. But it was perfect for breakfast, and wouldn’t scream at a dollop of ice cream or some of Brooks roasted fruit poured on top (instead of sacrificed to the yogurt). Think of this as a starter to a dessert recipe. The crust is buttery, the frangipane is really light and nutty, and in its entirety it screams for adaptation.
Go nuts. And if the book inspires you to smash some sweet shit together before you eat it, I say go ahead… Food should be fun.
Gluten-Free Fragipane with Brooks Headley's Quick Jam
Brooks Headley’s Quick Jam
This recipe is adapted from page 37-ish of Fancy Desserts, on sale! His original recipes uses strawberries, but I frigen can’t eat those for a while because of random inflammation problems. Go figure. So I first used blueberries and plums, which came out deliciously (albeit a touch sweet, but that’s blueberries for you), and then this rhubarb / plum mixture. Have fun with the fruit, just get around the same weight altogether of whatever you use.
And if you listen to Fats Domino’s “Don’t Lie to Me”, as I did while making this, don’t get too caught up on the lyrics. Cause they can scare a woman a touch if you take them too seriously.
- 390 grams thinly-sliced rhubarb (about 4 large stalks)
- 270 grams chopped black plums (about 2, pitted before chopping, obviously)
- 200g white sugar
- juice of one lemon
Heat oven to 200°F. Toss chopped fruit, sugar and lemon together and spread in a sheet pan (Brooks layers a Silpate on his, but I used a quarter sheet pan for which my Silpat is too small, and found without worked just fine, too, though was harder to clean).
Cook for about 90 minutes, until the fruit is roasted and yielding, and the juice thickened into a paste.
Cool on the pan. If not using immediately, refrigerate in a glass jar.
I love this because it’s not too sweet. I cut down on the sugar a tad, and creamed the first three ingredients very well, which made the frangipane pretty sturdy in structure. If I had mixed less, there’d definitely be a more custardy aspect to it.
Adapted from Paul Hollywood on BBC Food.
- 125g / 4.5oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 125g / 4.5oz sugar
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 150g / 5.5oz almond meal / flour
- 50g / 1.75oz quinoa or millet flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 75g slivered almonds (optional)
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
While beating, stream in the eggs and mix until homogonous, about 3 minutes.
Add the almond flour, quinoa/millet flour, and vanilla. Mix on low until it comes together (or by hand). Fold in 1 Tbsp of slivered almonds (optional).
Press your pie crust of choice (I used my basic pie crust and folded in 1/4 cup almond flour into the mix) into a 10″ tart pan (preferably one with a removable bottom for easy lifting later) and blind-bake your pie crust at around 375° degrees for 15 or so minutes, until the edges are just starting to brown.
Reduce the heat to 350° and let crust cool.
Spread as much quick jam onto the crust as you fancy (I put all of the above recipe minus what I had eating on plain goat yogurt for dessert the night before I made this, which was divine), then spread the fragipane mixture over the jam. If desired, use the chunky part of the jam or sliced fresh fruit (something soft, like berries or peaches) to gently press into the fragipane. Slivered almonds tossed in sugar would have made this pretty, too.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the filling is set and starting to turn golden brown.
Cool completely before serving.