Enrolling in an Autobiography class opened several doors of discovery that were previously unexplored. Discovering author and food connoisseur, Ruth Reichl ranks among a top 5 list. Making Oléron Berry Tart for dessert also features on that same list. When Prof. LJ showed up to class with an armload of book choices for our final project, it was in those arms that I discovered the amazing Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone.
Ruth’s double-edged passion/talent for food and writing goes unrivaled. Her descriptions of food and experiencing all its flavors puts you right at the moment where you crave a similar sensation . I bought a personal copy from Amazon after graduation and picked up from where I had stopped. Weaned off awful cafeteria food, I was determined to recreate the culinary luxuries I had been deprived for years. With so many tempting recipes to try, a dessert request for a special visitor led me back to the section of Tender at the Bone where Ruth mentions Madame Duveaus’ Oléron Berry Tart from France.
Ignoring the little voice that whispered into my ears, ‘How about buying some Baklava? You have never baked solo before,’ I reveled in Ruth’s description of her first bite:
It was magnificent. The fruit was intoxicatingly fragrant and each berry released it’s juice only in the mouth, where it met the sweet, crumbly crust. “Why is this so much better than other tarts?” I asked.
I wanted that same food awakening, the moment your taste buds are ignited by something they can’t resist. It was time to make a food daydream become reality, so I set out for the store confidently strutting the aisles with my ingredients list typed into my phone. That confidence began to melt the moment I realized that the items on my list didn’t match the labels I read. For one, there was ‘Blanched almonds’. After several Google search comparisons, I settled for a bag of unshelled almonds.
Did I make the right purchase? I still don’t know.
As if that wasn’t enough, I struggled with which flour was sifted and how to identify sweet butter. For baking newbies like myself, my internet search revealed that sweet butter is unsalted butter. An hour later of reading all the bottles in the baking aisle and asking every store personnel and fellow confused shopper in sight, I located a bottle of vanilla extract. I actually thought shopping was going to be the easiest part of this process. Feeling a great sense of conquest, I sat on the train with my conquered spoils and imagined people’s reactions to my dessert.
‘I couldn’t have had a better tart’,
‘You are Ruth Reichl’s little prodigy’.
‘The crust crumbled right in my mouth’
The real world saw the crust crumbling under my rolling pin as I attempted to flatten the 3 hour refrigerated dough into a disk. As if that wasn’t enough baking anxiety, the horror of not having a tart pan dawned on me. For the first time since reading the recipe I realized that a tart pan may actually be different from a regular baking dish. A baking disaster was in the offing. Thus, in the spirit of Scarlet O’ Hara from “Gone with the Wind”, I cleaned my tears of disappointment with my batter stained sleeves and went to bed reminding myself that tomorrow is another day.
As I struggled for a more manageable disk the following day, my mind became a circus of conflicting balls of thoughts.
Go buy Baklava
Teen Emma made this same dessert for her dad and you although older can’t get it right
Your mom is a baker and you can’t even knead dough properly
You try too hard to be French.
A massive headache effect followed as I smoothed the almond paste into the now baked crust. Before long the raspberries followed and I defied the recipe by adding blackberries for a very berry effect. I stood against the wall with my powdered apron and a flustered face, a first time baker gazing at a masterpiece (the glassware that held my newest creation).
Was this acceptable?
Ruth was in faraway New York and couldn’t contribute her opinion. Madame Duveaus would probably frown at the pesticide ridden raspberries I used. As for the guests, they would probably not know the difference.
This was a happy ending I had to create for myself.