Last Friday was my fifth wedding anniversary, a fact my husband and I both forgot until the morning of. We’re in a place in our lives in which we’re constantly looking forward—what’s next, what’s next—so we often forget to slow down and appreciate things we’ve done. The traditional gift for five years of marriage is wood. Champagne—one aged in old oak barrels—seemed fitting. Great. Anniversary celebration handled. Check!
But then I got to thinking about how I promised myself that, after we got married, I’d make more pie. Phil loves pie and I love the idea of pie, but in five years, I think I’ve made exactly four pies; three of them were recipes I was developing for work.
Because I’ve decided to focus on baking this month, I flipped through one of the new books I recently received: Samantha Seneviratne’s gorgeous The New Sugar and Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking. A paragraph in the introduction resonated with me:
“Homemade desserts have a big job: they carry messages to important people. We bake them with the people we love. We share them with the people we love. We eat them with the people we love. But these days, we are told over and over again that one of the principal ingredients of dessert is deadly.”
I think this has become my problem with baking: If you offer someone a kale chip or something “healthy,” it feels overly virtuous, maybe even judgmental. A homemade cookie, however, seems nuturing, even if, as she writes, “Some doctors claim that sugar should be grouped with cigarettes and alcohol as a harmful, addictive substance.”
Sam’s solution is to keep desserts as a celebratory, indulgent part of life and to make them more memorable with the generous and intriguing use of spice. Sounds good to me!
Toward the back of the book, I spotted the Pear Tarte Tatin with Anise Seed Caramel. Tarte tatin is kind of like an upside down cake in pie form. Best of all, the tarte is made in a skillet, which somehow feels less stressful to this reluctant baker because I’m not really baking when I’m using a frying pan, right? It was a perfect non-pie pie to celebrate.
Following the recipe was a cinch: Sam writes clearly with lots of great coaching along the way. For example, when you’re first making the caramel, she writes, “Don’t worry if the caramel separates. Once you add the pears, it will smooth out again.” Phew!
I will admit that—through no fault of the recipe—I chickened out when finishing up the caramel. She says to wait until the caramel turns a deep amber, and I pulled it when it was closer to the color of honey, or somewhere between light and medium amber, if you want to be technical. I learned a lesson: Don’t be afraid to take the caramel to the brink, especially when sweet pears are involved!
The resulting tart was delicious, but that little bit of complex caramelly bitterness would have made it even better. No matter: With Champagne, it was perfect. (Because everything with Champagne is, isn’t it?) continue reading