Friday, January 12, 2018

Storing decorations, making tarts and ringing in 2018

Welcome to 2018!

All that is left from my holiday baking are the photos!

Decorating for the holidays is a little like moving!  While it may not be that evident when we are setting up for Christmas -- excitedly putting lights on the tree and garland around the fireplace -- it is VERY evident when we need to take it all down. After spending all of yesterday carefully arranging fragile bulbs back into their wrappers, discarding torn cardboard boxes, worse for wear after reuse year after year, and safely organizing and storing all evidence of the holiday season into nifty red and green waterproof containers down into the back corner of the basement, I had an epiphany.  The holidays are a boatload of work, not that dissimilar from moving. Every year, I move an entire room of items, first up the stairs, then down the stairs, to decorate and then un-decorate for the holidays. And while, at the onset of the season, it is very exciting -- the snow is falling softly outside while our whole family joyfully reacquaints ourselves with ornaments that we have not seen for a year, happily placing them on a fresh cut tree. It is far less exciting when there is a foot of snow on the ground and we are completely drenched as we clumsily box up soggy and wet outdoor garland for storing.  It's funny... what great lengths we take to make everything chipper and festive during the holidays.

But, don't get me wrong, while I may be complaining after a clean up that is still fresh in my mind, I do still love the holiday season. And perhaps there wasn't a more important year, than 2017, for each of us to put some joy back into the world.

Any trace of the holidays no longer adorns my fireplace!
Actually, I left one bowl of ornaments out for another couple weeks -- just because!

Aside for the normal bustle of the holidays, which for our family included a trip to beautiful Deer Valley, Utah, I managed to accomplish a few new tasks.  For beginners, I made my first large batch of salad dressing.  Friends, who have enjoyed my salad dressing for years, have been urging me to put it into a bottle for some time.  So, for the holidays, I finally did. I made 20 bottles of my famous garlic, parmesan dressing and I now have requests for more!  We'll see where this goes! 

Refrigerator stocked with freshly made salad dressing
Look closely, and you might be able to uncover all the secret ingredients in my famous dressing!

A second accomplishment this holiday involved baking.  I love making dough -- working with my hands to kneed and shape a dough into the perfect consistency is, in my opinion, an incredibly artful process. But, dough is tricky.  Even for the most accomplished bakers, dough can become tough, dry, crackly  -- and then there is the problem with rolling it out.  Mostly, doughs require some experience, to know when the butter is too soft, or when it is too lumpy, or when there is just the right amount of stickiness to the hand. Luckily, this year my holiday dough was perfect! No promises for next year, though!

With the dough, I made two types of tarts. First, I made a white chocolate and raspberry ganache tart (below) and then, with the remaining shells, I made a custard filled tart that I topped with colorful fruit. Both were amazing, but I preferred (slightly) the fruit tart.  

Before making some dough this winter, here are some tips (from my recent baking journey):

The fat (butter, shortening, lard, etc) must be very cold.  I like to put it in the freezer for a half hour before using. This way, the butter does not soften when kneading.   

Use a food processor (pulse position) to initially mix the flour and fat, to get the desired pellet consistency. 

Add water AFTER mixing flour and fat and do not use the food processor at this point. 

Work slowly when mixing in water, but quickly to keep the butter from melting. Tricky!

 In case you are in the mood to bake, here is the recipe that I used for the shells. It is a gorgeous recipe that can be used for any sweet pie crust:

Sweet pastry recipe:

2 and 2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
zest of a lemon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2/3 cup cubed butter
1 egg yolk
cold water (2-4 tablespoons)

Mix together flour, sugar, zest and salt in bowl.  Put into a food processor fitted and add the butter.  Pulse until pellet crumb consistency is achieved. Take out of bowl and add egg yolk and enough water to make dough come together.  Do not over kneed. Form dough into ball and place in refrigerator for at least an hour.  It can last in the refrigerator for a few days, if needed.  Good Luck!

So far, it is a great start to 2018.  I hope it is the same for you! 

Baking in my new kitchen.  The marble counter works perfectly for this!