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Dolce Italiano

I made the Honey and Pine Nut Tart, the one pictured on the jacket, for a dinner party last night and wasn’t quite as thrilled with it as I had hoped to be. Luckily, my guests didn’t agree with me. They couldn’t have been happier when I offered to send the leftovers home with them.

The recipe itself annoyed me. She instructs you to make the Sweet Tart Crust for one 10-inch tart shell. But the recipe actually makes enough dough for one-and-a-half tarts. She says, “This recipe makes slightly more dough than you need for a 10-inch tart. After rolling out and trimming your tart shell, you can gather the scraps together and freeze them for up to 2 months; combining the scraps from the two batches will give you enough dough for another tart shell.” Well . . . c’mon! I’m probably not going to be making three tarts in two months. It was a very nice pastry; tasty, flaky, and easy to roll. But if she’s adjusting her recipes for the home baker, why not go all the way and give us a recipe that makes the amount we need?

And the filling, too, makes more than necessary. I was using a 9½-inch tart pan, but even with the specified 10-inch pan she says “The recipe may make just slightly more liquid custard than you need to fill the 10-inch tart shell; simply discard the extra custard rather than trying to overfill the shell.” “May” and “just slightly” were both understatements. Even with a 10-inch shell I’m guessing I would have had to throw out at least a half a cup of filling. I just don’t think that’s good recipe writing and it’s going to make me a bit leery of other recipes in the book.

But you want to know how it tasted, right? When I tasted the custard, before I poured it over the pine nuts and baked the tart, I thought it was just heavenly. Very sweet and buttery and caramel-like. It’s entirely possible that that tasting killed my appetite for the tart itself, because when I finally tried the finished tart, served as she suggested with a vanilla gelato, it seemed overly sweet and almost cloying. As I said, my guests clearly disagreed with me. But easy as this was to make, and attractive as it was to present, I don’t think I’ll return to it.

I know many of you were planning on trying recipes from this book over the holidays. I’d love to hear reports of what you’ve made and hope that my initial annoyance will be overcome by your experiences with the book.

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    4 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      I've made several things from the book, and they've turned out wonderfully. Great results from the Mosaic Biscotti, HazeInut Cookies, Bonet, and Three-Cheese tart with chocolate crust and marmalade glaze. When I've had too much crust and filling (this happens to me a lot with quiche recipes and pies) I use muffin tins to make minis, a cook's treat and way to taste results. A bonus, not a problem, to my way of thinking!

      1. re: JoanN

        JoanN, I just bought this book. Would you recommend, then, that I edit the Honey and Pine Nut Tart (yours looks delicious) in my book to indicate making two tarts with the ingredients given?

        1. re: dolores

          It may depend on the size of your tart pan. If it's 9 inches or less, I think you probably could get two tart shells out of the recipe for the Sweet Tart Crust. (I put the leftover dough in the freezer and haven't tried to roll it out yet.) But there's definitely not enough custard for two full-sized tarts, just too much for one. AmyRuth's idea of making mini tarts is a great idea for this recipe. You might well be able to get four or even six mini tarts from the leftover custard.

          1. re: JoanN

            It's 9 inches, yes. Okay, thanks.

      2. I've made the cranberry tart (fabulous) and the mosaic biscotti (also delicious) with no problems. I might have had a little extra filling for the tart, but had no problem using it otherwise - I just cooked it separately in a small buttered dish - a wonderful snack! I actually love when there's leftover in baking recipes.

        You know, now that I think about it, I'd say that 90% of the pastry recipes I've made produce more than you need. Juila Child, Jacques Pepin, Alice Waters.... Extra filling, extra pastry, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if that's a pretty standard thing - MUCH better to have too much than too little, don't you think? With a little extra, you can be creative!

        2 Replies
        1. re: LingoQ

          AmyRuth and LingoQ: I like the way you think :-). Glass half full and all that. Mini tarts is a wonderful idea.

          As for other recipes having dough left over, that's true. But in my experience it's mostly just trimmings, not enough enough so that the recipe itself instructs you that two batches of trimmings will make another tart shell. I see, though, that the Cranberry Tart calls for the Polenta Tart Crust, not the Sweet Tart Crust, and that that recipe is not accompanied by the what-to-with-leftovers caveat.

          But thank you both for your feedback. I'll consider it an anomaly with this one recipe and put my annoyance behind me. Those Hazelnut Cookies were talking to me from the first flip-through. Next up.

          1. re: JoanN

            Or, do what I do with leftover pie crust...roll it out, sprinkle on some cinnamon and sugar, throw in the oven with the pie, and voila, a treat in advance of a piece of the pie.

        2. The only thing I've made so far is the pine nut brittle, which I gave someone as a gift. But there are at least a dozen recipes I want to make. Has anyone tried the sweet focaccia with Concord grapes? Yesterday was the last day for Concord grapes at my neighborhood farmer's market, so I got some with that recipe in mind.

          1. I took the book out of the library and made the Citrus Glazed Polenta Cake. The flavors were nice and it was pretty easy to make. The one problem I did have was that the cake presented as finished when I took it out at the 30-minute mark (the suggested maximum time), and I ended up having to throw out the entire center of the cake because it was too goopy and undercooked to eat. Granted, I'm not the most experienced baker, but it was frustrating. I was hoping to get a chance to make the chocolate and walnut torte but I had to return the book. If anyone's made it, let me know!

            1 Reply
            1. re: abs294

              I made the Polenta Cake as well and had similar problems -- at 30 min. mine was still very raw in the center. I had to bake it closer to an hour. The taste was fine; I don't know if I'd make it again though.

            2. I'm going back to this thread to ask if anyone's made any of the other recipes yet. A friend asked me to bring a dessert to a gathering this weekend and I had my eye on a couple of recipes _ the ricotta cheesecake and the almond cake from Abruzzi. Has anyone tried either of these?

              1 Reply
              1. re: NYCkaren

                I'll report back and say that I made the ricotta cheesecake. Everyone raved. I followed the recipe except that I used part-skim instead of whole-milk ricotta. It was delicious but I'll use the whole-milk ricotta next time to see if it's even better. I did add the candied citrus peel, which she says is optional.

              2. I made the chestnut brownies - far prefer Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownies, the brownie be-all and end-all as far as I'm concerned. The chestnut flavor is not at all prominent, despite the use of chestnut flour and roasted chestnuts (I used the bagged roasted chestnuts available in pouches in Chinese markets and some NY supermarkets). The recipe also calls for 2 tsp baking soda which adds a somewhat soapy taste and made the brownies rise like mad, then collapse on cooling. Even though - or perhaps because - chestnut is one of my favorite flavors, I would not make this again.

                6 Replies
                1. re: buttertart

                  Are those the dried chestnuts that have to be reconstituted? I've never had much luck with those in anything other than Chinese recipes. They just don't seem to have much flavor. I much prefer the bottled chesnuts from France. They're awfully expensive, but I just *hate* trying to peel chestnuts. I agree that Malgieri's Supernatural Brownies are pretty tough to beat, but I wonder if de Palma's recipe might be better with freshly roasted chestnuts as she recommends.

                  1. re: JoanN

                    This reconstituted thread made me remember how much I loved the Creamy Pumpkin Custard with the Raisin sauce. The custard was fine, but would have just been forgettable without the amazing sweet/sour sauce. It's very simple - just raisins (I used the pale greenish yellow ones) cooked a bit and then steeped in orange juice and rum (I have also made it sans rum and once with calvados because I had no rum). This recipe should be in the Dessert Hall of Fame.

                    1. re: JoanN

                      No, they were the packaged roasted peeled ones from NY Chinatown (and sold in my Brooklyn supermarket, in pouches with a chestnut cartoon on them, usually - various brands). They are very chestnutty in taste. Haven't used the dried ones in a long time (although they do make a very nice chestnut soup, reconstituted and cooked with stock, onion/carrot/clery mirepoix, some white wine, cream and Cognac to finish). Not impressed enough with the result of this recipe (too much baking powder?) to retry with more expensive ingredients...

                      1. re: buttertart

                        I don't recall seeing roasted, peeled chestnuts in Chinatown. I'll have to look more closely. Those French ones are soooo expensive, and getting moreso. I'd love to find an alternative. Thanks for the lead.

                        1. re: JoanN

                          Here's a link to a picture of the sort of package you should look for - often in open boxes by the cash registers...
                          There are a lot of different companies shipping them, this particular brand is probably not available here (it's from a small northern Chinese city on the way to the Great Wall from Beijing).

                          1. re: buttertart

                            Thanks for the pic. I've seen something like that, but thought they were the dried ones. Perhaps I'll give a (subtle) squeeze the next time just to make sure.

                  2. Sour cherries are in season here, so I made the sour cherry custard tart for the DH today. He swooned.

                    1. I baked the Zucchini and Olive Oil Cake last week and was underwhelmed. Not a bad cake, but nothing special. The batter was quite tasty, though!

                      1. Ginger Honey Gelato (page182)

                        Just finished making this as the a la mode for a Thanksgiving sautéed apple pie. She suggests a flavorful honey such as eucalyptus and I just happened to have some pine honey I had bought in Turkey. It was just perfect, wonderfully enhancing the flavor of the ginger.

                        There’s a lot of fresh ginger in this (3 ounces), so the ginger essence really comes through. Not too subtle as have been some other ginger ice creams I’ve tried. I found I was scraping every last drop out of the freezer canister. Mmmm. Breakfast.

                        As good as this is, I found myself—yet again—annoyed by her instructions. After you whisk the hot liquid into the egg yolks, she tells you to “return the mixture to the saucepan and continue to whisk for 1 minute.” But she doesn’t tell you whether or not that should be done over heat. I assumed it should, otherwise why return the mixture to the saucepan rather than just pouring it into the canister directly from the bowl? I’ve only made two recipes from this book so far and the end results have been good. But I do wish the recipes had been better tested, written, and edited.