I love, love, loved Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector. I picked the book because I thought with the title it was about food, but not so much. While a very rare old cookbook collection does feature in the book, it has a pretty broad range of topics - it's about family, about sisters, about the dot com bubble, about politics, about trees, about religion, about friendship, about business, about aging, about growing up, about finding oneself, about rare books, about Berkeley and about Cambridge, and in its best parts, it is about falling in love. The love story that is the center of the book (but as my list in the preceding sentence makes clear, there is a lot going on here with lots of characters though one central story line) finally gets off the ground as the result of a perfect juicy peach. Jess, one of the two sisters that are the main characters of the book, is a student at Berkley, studying philosophy. She also works at an rare book store, which is run by George, a wealthy middle aged man. George made his millions working for Microsoft, quit, moved to San Francisco and opened the book store. Where Jess is a free spirit, George is uptight and particular - he has the best things - an architecturally significant home, filled with art and rare treasures, he is obsessed with special wines and eats only exquisite food, skillfully prepared. Jess is scatterbrained, a vegan, and lives in a "Tree House" a group house run by a political group that fights against deforestation. Through the first half or so of the book it is clear these two have a connection, but it is a gorgeous peach, procured at the farmers market, that brings them together. This peach tart is a recipe from the classic place that represents the snooty, foodie Northern California scene - Chez Panisse, and it is made from peaches procured in the other main setting of the book Cambridge, Mass - where I live! More after the break.
Chez Panisse Peach Tart
Here on the East Coast, you can still get late season peaches, grab up the last vestiges of summer and make this tart! It has a lot of steps, but was delicious.
Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts, Lindsey Remolif Shere
1 and 1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3/4 unsalted cup butter
1 and 1/4 teaspoon water
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups milk
1/3 cup flour
6 tablespoons sugar
6 egg yolks
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
vanilla extract to taste
3 italian almond macaroons, crushed
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 inch piece of vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 3/4 pounds ripe peaches
1 or 2 teaspoons finely chopped almonds
For Crust (Note - I would recommend going to Martha Stewart.com for a better shortcrust recipe, this one was a struggle): Mix flour, sugar, salt and lemon peel. Cut up butter into little pieces, add to flour, use a pastry cutter to cut it into the flour until it is in small pebble like pieces. Combine the water and vanilla and combine into flour mixture and press together with a fork. Turn out onto a work surface and form into a ball. Flatten, wrap in plastic and let rest at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375F. Press dough into a 9 inch tart pan. Before baking, put the shell in the freezer for 30 minutes. Bake for 25 minutes until shell is light golden brown and totally baked through.
To make pastry cream: Scald the milk in a small saucepan (heat until just under boiling - little bubbles at the edge of the pan). Mix flour and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Beat egg yolks until thick and light colored. Thoroughly whisk hot milk into the flour and sugar mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture has boiled for a minute or two. Whisk a little of this milk mixture into the egg mixture to temper the eggs, then stir this all back into the flour mixture on the stove. Mix well and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until temp reaches 170F. This is the temp you need for the eggs to be fully cooked. When this temp has been reached, you will have a nice thick pastry cream, pudding like consistency. Don't let the pastry cream boil. Remove from heat, stir in butter, then put through a fine mesh strainer to remove any little pieces of egg. Cover with plastic, refrigerate till cool, then stir in vanilla and crushed macaroons.
To assemble: Spoon pastry cream onto cooled shell, you will probably use 1 cup of pastry cream. Arrange the peaches on top, brush with the peach glaze, sprinkle almonds on top.