Today’s post is less recipe and more story so if you’re not into my ramblings come back next week for more recipe, less story.
It all started with this idea for a raspberry tart. Simple. Classic. Except nobody wants to see someone (me) make something so staple. There was no twist, nothing added to make it my own. It would be just like every other raspberry tart in every other french pastry shop window. Except it wouldn’t look as good because I’m neither pastry chef nor french. So I tried to change it up. The plan was to infuse the pastry cream with one of my favorite loose-leaf apricot teas. And I thought what better base recipe for pastry cream than Julia Child’s from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. How could it go wrong?
It went so wrong. You know that feeling when something isn’t working but you’re just like pushing and pushing and trying to deceive yourself with thoughts like, “It doesn’t look that much like mucus”? (Add your own context). That was me yesterday, stirring and stirring away at something with the consistency of glue and the color of infant waste. I thought, momentarily, that I could possibly describe the color as “beeswax,” then backed down. It didn’t taste that good and that was the final straw. (I wish I had pictures of this substance but I was teetering on a breakdown thus not really feeling like documenting.)
It sucks to throw in the towel, with anything in life, but especially if you’re an intensely critical virgo (hi). Here I was, standing in an absolute mess of pots and pans covered in drying custard, having wasted hours of time and dollars of ingredients and thinking about scrapping this post altogether. Then I took a deep breath, downed a bottle of Vernors (for energy), and remembered that, happily, there is always Ina Garten.
If you like to cook/bake, chances are you have a favorite “celebrity” chef who serves as your go-to reference. Ina is mine, devoutly. I could wax poetic about her virtues (and plan to in a post someday) but, for now, I’ll just say that her recipes make up a large part of my daily repertoire and also I love her to death. I grabbed for her cookbook and started over. Unlike the first attempt, this time I felt like I had little birds helping me. It was breezy and fun and yielded a gorgeous, silky-soft, clump-free cream the color of fresh butter. I assembled the tart. It was delicious. I got on with my life.
I don’t mean to discourage experimentation in the kitchen. If you have a great idea, go for it and try, try, try until it comes out the way you want. You can be really proud of that recipe. I only mean to say that, some days (like yesterday for me) it’s okay to crack out the cookbook and celebrate somebody else’s tried-and-true recipe.
I’ve wanted to start this blog for many years and have literally spent all that time thinking about what it would be like. I could never settle on a “premise” that seemed interesting and sustainable so I just never did it. A few months ago, I was eating lunch and thinking about food (as per usual), and the name popped into my head. I don’t even really know why. I guess because I love vintage markets and cookware, old family and historical recipes and I just thought it sounded ‘right’. My vision for “La Retro” is a place where old and new recipes are celebrated and, often, come together to make something that’s rooted but fresh. Sometimes I feel a little fatigued on Instagram or whatever where it seems like there’s such a pressure to create something new. I feel like I’m running over myself trying to constantly re-invent the wheel and it’s just not necessary. I have to remind myself that there’s value in doing something that’s been done before, as long as it tastes great and it’s true to my own perspective on food.
I’ll just wrap this little post up with a final sappy thought (it’s just the kind of day I’m having). If there’s something you’ve been wanting to do, do it. I know it’s cliche but, really, what is the worst that could happen? You might fail and be disappointed but you’re probably just as likely to succeed, even if that success doesn’t look like what you thought it would like (even a lesson learned is success). But I can promise you one thing– from personal experience–if you never try, you will always be disappointed. Guaranteed. Life is short, take the gamble.
This link will take you to Ina’s Strawberry Tart Recipe on Food Network: Ina Garten Tart
I used raspberries but the process is exactly the same. I used a 4-1/2 inch tart pan (the recipe says its yields 4 of these but I find that it really depends on crust thickness and how much cream you use per tart.)
Variation: If you don’t have a tart pan, you can use a mini-cupcake tin to make individual tartlets. Take a round cookie cutter or drinking glass with narrow mouth and cut out circles. Press down into muffin tin and poke the bottom of the dough with a fork a couple times so the dough doesn’t puff up when you bake it. Bake the shells in a 350° oven until they are lightly browned. Let cool and then fill with pastry cream and top with fruit. These are great for a party because you don’t have to deal with slicing and they look really cute on a tray.