Thursday, March 14, 2013

Toasts | in memoriam of Baba, ii


My "Pi(e) Day Dedication Pie" from 2012: Rye Pecan Pie, recipe from The New York Times.

One year ago today, I baked a pecan pie on Pi(e) Day for my father, my 爸爸 (Baba), vowing to honor the memory of him and his passing on this day with the celebratory consumption of a (pecan) pie (whether freshly baked or bought). All this is based on a fourfold wordplay that I somehow brought to life, and I'd like to think he would've appreciated my sense of humor. :P

Having celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday only a few weeks couple weeks ago, it is difficult to fathom that my dad has been gone for essentially half of my life. As the years pass by, I feel my limited memories of him slowly slip away, and that mustn't happen. I believe the best way to remember these stories that I keep close to my heart (and the ones left untold and unshared) is to continually share these stories with the people nearest and dearest to me -- not as invitations of pity and sadness, but as a celebration of a life. The life of a man who left an impressionable legacy on those he came to know, love, and cherish. He was a tough cookie -- sometimes to a fault with the stubbornness of a mule and the insistence of a drill sergeant -- and I feel my own obstinate ways and perseverance were reflections of the daughter he taught me to become. If I had a million wishes, they'd be all for at least one more day (and if I were a bit greedier, many days) with him.

Me with Baba and Mom at my cousin Renee's engagement party, circa 1992.

I had the pleasure of seeing my extended family this past weekend to celebrate my aunt Cynthia (my dad's oldest sister) and her seventy-third birthday (crazy, huh?!). At one point, we were talking about skiing (one of my family's favorite pastimes), as my cousin Michael, and his wife, Laura, had just gone to a relatively nearby ski resort the day before with their twin sons to enjoy the last opportunities to savor the snowy slopes before spring near approaches. I asked Laura about when she learned how to ski and if she found that she was able to pick it up relatively quickly or if it took longer than expected. She shared with me a tidbit about my dad that I didn't know about --  he was the one who first taught her how to ski when she joined our family for the first time on a ski trip. He was very patient and thorough (as I would have expected him to be), and she still carries those lessons and instructions with her to this day, every time she clicks on her boots and takes to the powdered trails with Michael and her sons. That was very touching.

The discussion moved onto food (something we are always enjoying, even at that very moment), when Michael asked me what cuisine Marcus and I find myself always coming back to when we're cooking at home, even after everything I've had fortune of trying in New York City. Japanese cuisine, we said without hesitation. At the time, we happened to be dining at Harold's, a Jewish delicatessen in central Jersey, as Michael and my other cousin, Spencer, were contently savoring rich slices of beef tongue. I made the observation that I can pretty much eat anything, unless it resembles the animal or creature a little too much, as is the case with the beef tongue, whole baby octopus, or even wholly cooked lobster. My family looked at me with disbelief, to which I just responded, " If it's de-shelled for me, no problem, but really, it's the legs that freak me out -- I just can't do it."

I suppose the image of cracking through a whole cooked lobster resonated with Michael that he asked if any of us remembered where we had sushi for the first time ever. We noted the first Japanese restaurant to open near our Jersey hometown -- it was the only place to find it without traveling outside county lines, especially when sushi was one of the most exotic cuisines at the time and not as pervasive and ubiquitous as it is now. The conversation turned to Tomoe Sushi, the little joint on Thompson Street that used to be one of the top places to sink your teeth into the most exotic cuts of raw fish (some say it used to be the sushi mecca of yore), and how they used to frequent that place in the nineties, before they changed owners many times over. Michael noted that my dad was one of the bravest eaters amongst them all, recalling this one time when he cracked open a live lobster (yes, live) with his bare hands and ate it up without pause or grimace, insisting that Michael try a piece. Further confirmation that my father was pretty badass and fearless -- the kind of adventurous eater I can only hope to be one day.

I left the family lunch this weekend with my heart a little warmer, my memories a bit fonder.


I had been shopping around for the perfect pecan pie recipe over the past year (I started looking the day after the last Pie Day), compiling a list of potential contenders. My search widened the parameters as I stumbled upon lovely recipes for tarts and such, which led me to wonder -- were tarts technically pies? Would it be fair to bake a tart instead of a pie on Pie Day? A pie has a crust and a filling and can be sweet or savory; similarly, a tart can also be sweet or savory, but has shallow sides and only a bottom crust. Just by sheer definition alone, I could surmise that tarts are pies, but not all pies are tarts, which meant I was in the clear with baking a tart on Pie Day. Then I stumbled upon the perfect recipe this past fall whilst perusing the November 2012 issue of Bon Appetit -- a pecan and chocolate tart with bourbon whipped crème fraîche. The photo alone had me sold -- it was a gorgeously browned tart with a precise layer of concentric pecans sunken into a dark chocolate filling.

Just as it was last year, I've never made a tart from scratch, so the recipe itself was a new challenge for me in the kitchen. As with most dessert recipes that involves a crust, the recipe came in two parts. The first ingredient on the list requires a pâte sucrée (pronounced pat-sue-CRAY) -- i.e., the dough that the French created exclusively for the use in tart crusts. This dough is "sweet and crumbly" giving tarts "a sturdy, tender base that support the heaviest fillings (e.g., custards, creams, and fruit) without falling to pieces." Ultimately, pâte sucrée has the same elements as a standard pie crust except for the addition of egg yolks, cream, and sugar, which together "transforms" it all into something almost "cookie-like" -- tasting just like shortbread.

01a - ingredients
The ingredients were simple enough -- eggs, heavy cream, butter, sugar, flour, salt, pecans, chocolate chips (I mixed semi-sweet and dark chocolate chips for a more dynamic taste), vanilla bean, and both light and dark corn syrups. Thanks to Whole Foods and Fresh Direct, procuring them all was easy as pie! :P

{1} I combined all of the pâte sucrée ingredients and chilled the resulting dough for about two hours until firm. Once the dough was ready, I let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before I began to roll it out into a 1/8"-disk. {2} It was my first time ever rolling out this kind of dough, so I struggled a bit, mainly because it was still crumbly and fragile even after the two-hour chill time in the fridge. After attempting to roll it out smoothly, I gave up and began to piece the crumbled pieces of dough into the 11"-diameter fluted tart pan with a removable bottom recommended by the recipe (I got mine here). Once I made sure the thickness of the dough crust was about 1/8" throughout up until the pan edge, I returned the tart pan back to the fridge for another hour of chilling.

01b - pate sucre + filling

{3} An hour later, I layered in two cups of chopped and toasted pecans over the prepared tart shell, followed by four ounces of chocolate chips and concentric circles of whole pecans. I finished this triple-layered goodness with the filling comprised of warm brown butter infused with vanilla bean, corn syrup, salt, and eggs. With everything swimming in the tart filling, I placed it into the preheated oven of 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes.


The oven timer went off, and violà -- the finished golden tart with the crust evenly brown (no burnt edges!). I transferred the pan to a wire rack, letting it cool for about 30 minutes.

I got a fancy schmancy new cake stand from West Elm this weekend, so I was very excited to use it for the first time! Here are some gratuitous pretty tart shots as drool fodder! :P




When I first cut into the tart, a bunch of filling started oozing out, so I think it was heavier on one side over the other. I'll have to note for next time to more evenly pour over the filling into tart shell (perhaps to start from the center, going out).

The first slice of the tart that I got to enjoy with Marcus, in dedication my awesome dad, Baba, on Pi(e) Day.

Findings: After baking a tart from scratch for the first time, I think I find this process a lot more straightforward and intuitive than my experience with the pie last year. It was certainly less work intensive, allowing me to work at a leisurely pace, especially since I had taken the day off so I could properly allot the time to this dedicatory ritual. You may notice that I include any bourbon whipped crème fraîche in my post here -- I promise I have a reasonable explanation! Once the tart was ready to be served, I combined heavy cream, crème fraîche, and some bourbon together, attempting to whip it to soft peaks. But alas, I was a victim of overwhipping, and even after I tried it for taste, I wasn't crazy about it, so I just didn't try whipping up a new batch again. After trying the tart solo, I can definitely vouch for how awesome it tastes without the accoutrement -- the caramelized pecans on top and inside with the melted chocolate, all swept up with the buttery crust is just heavenly.

Whenever I conquer a new recipe, especially one that involves baking (even worse when it comes to trying a new technique), I will admit that I harbor quite a bit of anxiety the days leading up to D-Day. What calms me down? Surprisingly enough, preparing my mise en place. The orderliness and organization of the needed ingredients all seems to have some kind of calming zen effect on me, and I snap out of it almost immediately once it's complete. I had that scare with my crumbly pâte sucrée (the hardest part of a tart recipe, in my humble opinion), but you always gotta find some way to make it work. Thankfully, here we have a handsome looking tart if I do say so myself! I'm always looking for recipes to conquer in the future on Pi(e) Day, so if you know of any kickass pecan pie or tart recipes, please feel free to send them my way --  it'd be very much appreciated!!

This dedication, this culinary ode, this yearly ritual -- I am glad I can do something as meaningful as this on the day that my mother and I had lost so much in the past. As I enjoyed my sliver of tart today, I thought about the ice cream sundaes my dad and I used to enjoy together at Friendly's on the weekends with the rest of my extended family. For him, it was always the Happy Ending Sundae with toasted almond fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry on top as well as with a side of crushed almonds and chocolate syrup (wasn't kidding when I divulged that our nutty family loves nuts)! For my younger self, it was always a dish of strawberry ice cream, straight up. If any of you have a special memory of him, please share these stories in the comments section or even just the next time I see you -- I would very much love to hear them!

Anyway, if you can, please enjoy a slice of pie (or tart!) today in memory of my father on Pi(e) Day! :) Thank you for letting me share this special dedication on this day. Happy Pi(e) Day!

--March 14, 2013

Whole Foods Market
4 Union Square South
New York, NY 10003


1 comment:

  1. Well done! Wish I could have been there to share the experience.



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