Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Father's Wise Words

"My father is not an obviously philosophical man. His life has been tempered by being born in the Roaring Twenties only to spend his childhood enduring the Great Depression. He saw his oldest brother off to the War. His Wisconsin born and educated mother died when he was barely 20. My father worked the family farm most of his life. Deep conversation is not his thing. However, he did surprise me one day as I shared my considerations on retiring. He succinctly summed up his thoughts in seven simple words. "You have to have something to do." He should know. He left the farm at the young age of 57 years and moved to a new community."                      Sarah 

My mind's eye picture of retirement as sitting under the canopy of a fifth wheel in the Arizona desert counting down to five o'clock happy hour with a flock of Snowbirds scares the hell out of me. Shrivelling to a raisin in the desert is a fate worse than death itself. 

Most people envision travel when they retire. My agenda during my career was to live every day to its fullest. I wholeheartedly worked seven days a week, fourteen hours a day. The reward was a vacation for a solid month or more every year. I travelled the world. 

My craving now isn't travel and seeing the world. My craving is to make a home. A home, and something to do.

Butter Tarts with Canadian Fleur de Sel

Butter tarts are a family favourite. Although Ontario lays claim to its origin, this "made in Canada" recipe is also very popular in the West. To my horror I have actually heard that some bakers make it without raisins or perhaps use nuts. Pure heresy, I say. In the West butter tarts are always made with raisins.

Any type of raisin can be used - golden, Thompson or sultanas - however, sultanas are traditional in this recipe. If they are very large raisins, like mine are today, coarsely chop them before adding to the filling.

There are also two camps when it comes to the texture of the filling. Some like it runny while others like it more firm. For a runnier filling use the shorter recommended cooking time and reduce the heat by 25 degrees.

Most recipes add a pinch of salt to the filling mixture. I like the idea of using a premium Canadian fleur de sel to top each tart. 

Fleur de sel or 'flower of the salt' is hand harvested sea salt with a very intricate crystal structure. It has a more complex flavour than table salt and no additives. There are now two companies harvesting Canadian sea salt. The original is Vancouver Island Salt Company. Andrew Shepard is a former chef who moved to the Island in the midst of an already successful career. On a challenge, he began experimenting and harvesting sea salt.

Philippe Marill and Carolyn Kvajic founded Salt Spring Sea Salt. Philippe brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from the south of France where his love for harvesting sea salt was born. They are on Salt Spring Island.

pie pastry 
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup soft butter 
1/4 cup packed golden brown sugar
fleur de sel
1/2 cup corn syrup 
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Roll out pastry and cut into rounds that will fit in your muffin pans. Place the pastry filled pans in the refrigerator until ready to fill. Meanwhile, plump the raisins in boiling water, to cover, for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl cream the soft butter with the brown sugar and salt with a hand mixer. Add the corn syrup and blend. Add egg and vanilla and mix again until slightly bubbly. Drain raisins and add.

Take the tart shells out of the refrigerator and fill them with the raisin mixture. Don't overfill the pastry because the filling will bubble and possibly bubble over onto the pan making it more difficult to remove the tarts from the pan. Place a few grains of fleur de sel on top of each tart.

Bake at 400 F for 15-20 minutes. If you are using a 'one bite' size muffin pan, then the cooking time can be reduced to 9-12 minutes. The filling will be lightly browned but still bubbling.

Immediately upon removing the tarts from the oven take a table knife and loosen any that have bubbled up and might appear to be difficult to remove from the pan. Then let cooked butter tarts cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove from the pans while still warm or they will be a devil to get out. Place on racks until completely cool. Makes 18 regular sized tarts or 36 one bite tarts.

Buttery Pie Pastry     adapted from Bon Appetit

Although we usually made lard pastry I really like this buttery crust. It is well suited to butter tarts.

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 c. very cold water

Add dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Blend for a minute.  Add cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a very coarse meal. Add cold water slowly while pulsing.

Form into a flattened circle and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour or up to three days. Leave at room temperature for about 20 minutes before rolling out.

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