First, Pim's cups.... if you have never tried one, you might ought to check them out. They are totally unusual for our area yet perfect. Lighter than a Mint Julip and more delicate than a wine cooler, but as deceptive as a Long Island Ice Tea.
So that set the stage for sitting around and visiting as the rest of the guests arrived. We were "fashionably late" (read: She's late again!) because I didn't time my dish correctly.
I wanted to make something from the leeks that are rapidly readying for consumption and knew it was to be an appetizer because everything was decided upon for the meal. I browsed the innertubes and found several interesting compositions using pears and leeks which sounded just the right idea but, being me, I switched things around a bit and learned something in the process.
Puff pastry is, in a word, complicated. If you have a Joy of Cooking laying around, I am pretty sure that is where I got the recipe for the first time I tried making Puff Pastry.
This was when we lived overseas and in an ex-pat community and I was introduced to it as something that didn't have to come from a bakery or restaurant but something you use at home. The Britons can buy this at any grocery and I think it is fairly commonly used in Europe but around where we live in the Southern States, it is available, frozen, and rather expensive. It should be, what with all the butter that is supposed to be in it.
So one day I wanted to see if I could make it. Now, we lived in the tropics (think hot as blazes) and this is not conducive to making puff pastry. The flour and butter need to stay cold.
You start with a basic dough and roll in out to a flat rectangle and cut slab of butter over this shape, fold into thirds and roll it out. Repeat this endlessly. Now, your body is warm and your hands are warm, and you melt the butter but shouldn't. Where the temperatures are cold, like the northern climes, you can do this a number of times before it needs to be chilled.
But in the Middle Eat, the Far East and the Gulf State region, every time you make a fold, you need to plonk it back in the fridge to cool up again or all the butter melts and you don't get the true classic flakiness of Puff pastry.
Now, while searching for a recipe I learned about this thing called Rough Puff pastry and this is what I made to make this tart.
2 1/2 cups white flour, sifted by YOU.
3 3/4 sticks of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of ice cold water.
I had a bag of flour I keep in the freezer and used this to help keep this as cold as possible, poured the measured, sifted amount into a food processor and added the cut up sticks of butter. Whirr this in pulses and add the water from the downspout slowly as you pulse to incorporate the 3 ingredients without pureeing it. You want chunky, not smooth.
Dump on a floored board, fold into a manageable mass, roll out, dust with flour, fold into thirds and roll again. Work quickly and repeat several times until you get it blended. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate at least 1 hour. More is better. Take out and do that fold n roll two more time and divide this now into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap separately and chill.
Now, chop and clean 4 leeks and make sure there is no sand or dirt in those crevasses. Sweat them in a little olive oil for 15 minutes, work in 2 tablespoons of butter and a scant 1/4 cup flour and add 3/4 cup of milk to make a bechamel sauce right in with those soft leeks. This should end up being creamy and smooth and somewhat thick. It should cook for 10 minutes to remove any floury taste. Add a little salt to enhance the oniony flavor. Allow to cool.
I canned brandied pears last fall and used this but you can use any fresh pear, like a bosc. (If you have red pears, I'd consider leaving the red peal on and washing it well. That color would look amazing in this dish) You'll need at least two pears, and slice them thinly.
Chunk up a 4.5 ounce round of brie. You can leave the rind on if it soft but trim some of it away if it is aged brie.
Now, with all your ingredients at the ready, heat the oven to 425 and and place parchment paper on a baking sheet. Roll out the larger piece of pastry dough on a floured board and transfer to the paper. Trim to a clean rectangle, approximately 9 x 13. This is the bottom of the tart.
Roll out the second piece and trim to 2 strips measuring the length and the width and 3/4" wide. Dip a little water along the outer edges of the bottom piece of dough and lay these long piece on top to create a frame.
Trim 4 more slices like this but make them 1.5" wide and fold them lengthwise in half. This is the upper edge of the tart and if you look at the photo closely, you will see this nice smooth soft edge that looks so pretty. Daub a little water again on the outer edge and lay these on top. Press lightly along in inner edge to firmly adhere these edges.
Smooth the creamy leeks onto the bottom and dot the top with the chunks of brie. Lay the pear slices in rows on top, brush the dough frame with a beaten egg wash and bake in that hot oven approx 25 minutes. Keep an eye on it. You'll see the pastry puff up and if you lift the tart with a spatula, you see when the bottom has browned light underneath.
Allow to cool and slice with a sharp knife or pizza cutters work exceedingly well.
So we had this and hummus to nibble on and a Pims cup to wash it down. Life is Good.
Once everyone had gathered, it was time to eat and the time was right to enjoy an afternoon in a lovely garden, set with a table that sat everyone comfortably. It was a picture out of a magazine; How to Dine in Style and Comfort in Your Own BackYard.
We filled our plates with corn pudding, outrageous salad, tomato pie (oh man! Paula Deen!) and out came the crown jewel:
Leg of Lamb
Now, I don't know how I got so lucky to be in this number, but lucky doesn't really begin to describe how it felt.
Blessed. That's better.