living in the world with little color and sound as the woods stand still, deep in sleep over the coldest mounts of the year...
As of the end of February / beginning of March, it is decidedly still winter in our neck of the woods (literally) here in Nagano, and I feel amply justified to do a post about winter foods at this point of the year. Well, perhaps not amply. Okay, not at all. But like the last time, I will attempt to defend this not entirely well-timed piece of blogging with that time-honored dictum, namely: "better late than never".
If you happen to have read my last post even if only for the first few paragraphs, you would know how I went on and on and on about my love and appreciation of fresh produce, particularly fruits, that are available here in Nagano, how I threw myself into the world of making tarts (and tartlets) of all sort using all those gorgeous fresh fruits of the season (which, in the case of that post in question, was autumn), and how I found it fascinating to try different types of tarts and ingredients as I baked my way through over the period of a few years.
Now if you are ready, let us all go back to the end of November, when our fleeting spell of autumn leaves was over and the mountains turned all into brown...
I wrapped up my autumn tart post with apple tarts, and said you'd find a lot of them in the then-yet-to-come winter post as well. I thought that'd be inevitable; apples, after all, are the only fruit you can actually find at our local green markets (those that are open, that is) from around December through March or even April. Apple tarts for days, I thought.
And here are apple tarts that I managed to make in these last few winters...
Both the apple slices and the dried fruit got tossed with Calvados, which gave the tart a wonderful aroma.
I adore good apple tarts, but many of them seem to come out more or less similar. Nothing wrong with that, but still. Pears, on the other hand, have the remarkable ability of getting on well with all sort of ingredients, including chocolate (with which apples never seem to pair well). This I think helps the fruit find its way to a wide variety of tarts and other baked goods.
First, a classic..
Then I made the same tart again, but swapping ground almonds with pistachios - making it a 100% pistachio tart (with pears and grapefruit, too).
And the grapefruit isn't the only thing that goes well with the pear...
Another pear-chocolate tart recipe that's a little more elaborate:
And then, there are spices.
Now, back to basics - with a twist.
In addition to these (and those I made and included in my autumn tart post), I've got a bunch more of pear tart recipes bookmarked - such as pear tart with walnut crust, chocolate tarts with mulled pears, and pear and cranberry rustic tart, among others. Alas, this winter my stock of pears ran out before I tried everything I wanted to try, so I'll have to wait until the next pear season rolls around.
And another fruit that ran out on me?
Other than the one I mentioned in one of my past posts, I was shocked to realize that I've only tried one(!!) quince tart recipe over these last few winters. One!
Now, speaking of cranberries...
I came home in Nagano with a couple of containers of fresh cranberries, my brains working busy thinking what to do with my precious berries. Never mind you can't eat them uncooked, which means for most recipes calling for fresh cranberries, a frozen kind would do just the trick...
I checked out a few other recipes for sugared cranberries as well, and they slightly vary from one another. Some have you just soak the berries in a hot syrup, others require you to cook the berries a little, while some use spices, and so on. This time I wanted to use them for a tart, and settled on this recipe.
Though I bought fresh cranberries only in a small amount (they weren't exactly cheap), I'd gotten a large bag of the frozen stuff, so I set out to bake with them to my heart's content...
The first misgiving I had came as soon as I started making the crust. This wasn't my first time trying a gluten-free tart crust, but it was my first time trying this particular recipe which makes use of rice and tapioca flours - both very starchy. Now ever since I was a kid, I've had a morbid aversion to touching starchy flours, such as potato and corn starches; mere a thought of that squeaky feel when you touch them makes me shudder. And as it turned out, cutting butter into the mixture of rice and tapioca flours by hand (I don't have a food processor) did JUST that. It was like a torture; I wanted to cry. I thought about dropping it, but persevered, only to be baffled by the dough that wouldn't come together. As a result of excessive kneading, the crust came out tasting like cardboard or rubber, not that I've ever actually eaten either. However you'd choose to describe it, one thing it definitely wasn't was delicious. I felt defeated.
And you know what cheers me up enormously in late November or early December? The first flurries of the season.
So let's get full-on wintery with tarts, too.
By the way, I had a bit of the crust dough and the meringue mixture left after filling up the pan, so threw together a little tart.
Another snowy day, another cranberry tart...
And now, from one red berry to another...
Like a few other fruits I've covered in this post, the pomegranate may not strictly be a winter fruit, but is around at least mid winter, and is strongly associated with Christmas. So allow me to include it in this post.
Whichever camp you belong to, the following tarts were definitely made on the presumption that you'd eat the whole pomegranate seeds...
Anyway, about the tart; a graham cracker crust was filled with a white chocolate and cream filling and topped with fresh pomegranate seeds, a lot of it.
First white, then black...
Enough with chocolate (for now)?
I've never seen pomegranate molasses sold in Japan, but I can't be sure. Here I just cooked some pomegranate juice down to a thick syrup, and I think it did a trick.
Now for the most part, recipes I've found for pomegranate tarts have you use the fruit uncooked; here's one exception.
And while you are baking away with holiday-spirited fruits, the mountains here would be buried in snow that will stick around until the spring is around the corner...
A spot of tea while admiring the view?
Once New Year holidays have come and gone, the availability of (decent) fresh fruits becomes even less promising - all except for citrus fruits.
Every winter I would enjoy common varieties like the satsuma, yuzu, and kumquat that are available at local supermarkets in our small town. This winter, I took things up a notch and procured a bunch of different varieties, all hailing from the southwest. I tell you, it's been a citrus paradise this winter!
Though I bake a lot with yuzu myself, where tarts are concerned I have only one under my belt...
In the said recipe, the lemony filling is based on silken tofu in lieu of eggs. Flavor of tofu can be more prominent in some recipes than in others, and this recipe was one of those that wouldn't give away the fact that you used tofu unless you mentioned it.
And yes, lemons.
I think I sometimes get carried away a little and end up buying a whole lot of something before deciding on what to do with them, like that time when I bought a large box of lemons not once but twice in one winter. I went on to make all kinds of things with all the lemon, about which I blogged about, including a few lemon tarts. Hope you don't mind me repeating myself on that account... and they are totally worth a double mention.
When I had a lot of lemons around, I made lemon curd a couple of times. Here is something I made using leftover curd:
Back to tarts starring lemons little more overtly...
And now, my all-time favorite lemon tart:
Because I was after something like Bonne Maman lemon tartlets, I tended to make small tarts in my experiments. But Dorie's original recipe is for a large tart; so for my second batch, I made it in a larger pan.
By the way, I had an occasion to eat the Bonne Maman lemon tartlets soon after I'd tried this recipe, for the first time in ages - and found them rather different from what I remembered them to be. I think I now prefer Dories'.
Also from Baking was another recipe for really lemony lemon tart that takes quite a different direction:
As a matter of fact, the amount of butter scared me enough to decide that this tart would be a special-occasion treat, and haven't made it again since. But recently something similar came to my notice that took my fancy pretty mightily.
I put my order in straight away, for pink and yellow kinds, along with a bunch of other things (including the Meyer lemons shown in some of the pictures here).
Anyhow, the first recipe that came to my mind the moment I knew I was to have the freshest grapefruit was a certain grapefruit cream.
I've made another grapefruit tart, a couple of years back.
If the highlight of this winter, in terms of citrus fruits, was the grown-in-Japan grapefruit, that of the winter two years back was this:
And before I knew it, a lot of them disappeared as a morning and afternoon snack, before I could bake much with them!
The tart in itself is nothing more than a simple combination of a buttery, flaky pastry and juicy, sweet orange slices. And it's marvelous how a simple combination can produce.
Another striking-looking blood orange tart:
While blood oranges are seeing their domestic production expanding in recent years, we are also seeing other types of orange grown in Japan now more than ever, including common kinds such as Navels and Valencias, both of which are still mostly imported.
I'd prepared a tart dough before my oranges arrived, and proceeded straight on to make it as soon as they did.
Meanwhile, I got a few bags of blood oranges at around the same time, as I had something in my mind to make when I had these two kinds of oranges together:
The tart itself is a pretty simple thing, with an almond-packed crust filled with Greek-style yogurt, very lightly sweetened and set with a bit of gelatin.
Along with the dark red blood orange and bright orange Navels, I wanted to add something sun-kissed yellow, and settled on a one called Haruka, a lightly sweet variety related to Hyuganatsu. I should probably admit that this isn't a variety you eat with membranes on, thus not really suited to the use like this one here. But I used them anyway, if nothing else for the sake of color, and of course, flavor.
And isn't this tart just GORGEOUS?
And here is another I have made while I've got, well, a whole lot of them...
For the tarts, I made vegan tart shells and 'custard'.
My plan was to mix and match the citrus fruits for each mini tart, but I changed my mind halfway and instead made four kinds of single-citrus tartlets.
Now I may seem to have been going gaga over all the not-traditionally-Japanese-but-now-increasingly-common kinds of citrus fruits, but I do embrace the traditional bunch just as much.
Satsuma mandarins are THE citrus fruit of winter when I was a kid. We'd buy them in large boxes over the winter, and consume them in copious amount in one sitting, most often at kotatsu. Why, the combination of the two, namely "kotatsu de mikan (satsumas at kotatsu)" is considered as the epitome of the way Japanese people used to spend cold days at home in good old days. Now, satsumas are usually eaten as is, as a snack; if you want to use them for dessert, you'd usually pick up a tinned kind, which now seems to exist solely for the nostalgia's sake. And truth be told, satsumas can be a bit too bland when baked.
I used to cook kumquats almost always even when I had them simply as a snack, but I've been eating them uncooked more and more these days, thanks partly to the newer, larger and sweeter varieties that are around.
And lastly, another of my favorite citrus fruits (I know, I know, they all are... but still):
And the first tarts I made with limes were dainty little things, though each with quite a kick to it..
...That is, if the freezing winter morning failed to do the trick.
One more tart that took advantage of the bright flavor of the lime:
And now, strawberries.
Despite such a little sentiment, I am not immune to the pretty red berries proudly occupying the store shelves, and I do buy them every now and then even in the winter. So here are some winter-like strawberry tarts I've made in the last few years.
Now, did you know not all strawberries are red?
Some years ago when I first heard about a kind of strawberries that are snow white with bright red seeds, with a flavor reminiscent of pineapple, called the pineberry, I wasn't particularly impressed. I consider myself to be curious about all sort of new-to-me fruits and varieties, but these eerily white berries simply didn't look very appetizing to me.
I hadn't given it much thought until very recently, when an Australian blogger/Instagrammer friend of mine visiting Japan expressed an interest in this white strawberry tart that was about to appear at a Japanese pastry shop chain dedicated to tarts. As we chatted about it a little, and I also spotted some white strawberries at some of the upscale fruit shops and department stores, I was grew more and more curious about them - enough to give in eventually and decide to try them myself.
Now the precious few punnets of berries that arrived looked just as odd and underripe as pineberries did when I first saw them. Even though everyone, marketers among others, claimed that they were sweet and not at all tart, I couldn't quite believe it until I actually had the first bite. They were, quite counterintuitively, really rather sweet and not tart, like, at all; in fact, I would have liked them better with a little more tartness. And smelled wonderful.
So here is the first white strawberry tart I made for Y, who missed on the fancy tart from the fancy tart shop (which I haven't tried yet, either)...
And when i said 'a lot', I meant it. Seriously.
Then again, I wasn't ready to give up on them completely so quick, and tried something else.
And you know, even though they are now more or less a wintertime regular here in Japan, strawberries still seem to give you a hint of spring, even in the depth of winter...
So that's it for my winter fruit tarts.
And I would like to leave you with one last thing...
As I've said repeatedly, I didn't expect to have a lot of fresh fruits to bake with during winter, and imagined I'd be making tarts mostly with dried fruits, like this one. But since I actually had my hands full with fresh fruits as it turned out, this was pretty much the only dried fruit tart I've made in these last few winters. I love dried fruits, so it's a bit pity... but I think I shouldn't complain here.
Again, thanks SO much if you've endured yet another intolerably long post and made it this far... hope it has something that may give you ideas for when the next winter rolls around. I do sincerely hope I'll do better with my spring tart post...!
See you then! cx