Saturday, August 13, 2011

Secret Ingredient Summer Sauce

If you've been reading my posts for the past month or so, there's probably not much "secret" left in my "surprise ingredient" category. But if you try making these recipes for your own friends, there may still be some element of surprise when you turn with me once again to the wonders of balsamic vinegar.

Once I got balsamic in my head as a magic flavor enhancer spanning all classifications of foodstuffs, I started creating a list of recipes I wanted to try that incorporated its distinctive properties. One such was this Balsamic Custard Tart. I had all sorts of modifications in mind for how to use what else was fresh from the market (and use up what was languishing in the freezer) and what I ended up with was an angel food cake with balsamic custard sauce and balsamic-bing cherry compote.

Cherries are all over in Washington state right now, and they are beautiful and inexpensive. Like for the salmon a few posts ago, I simply chopped up a handful of fruit per person and let it steep overnight in a tiny amount of balsamic and a bit of brown sugar. The angel food cake was thanks to the ever-increasing number of egg whites I'd accumulated in the freezer after siphoning off yolks for buttercream frostings. I think angel food cake is underappreciated, and even my husband has to have his arm twisted to bother with it (if he's feeling kind, he'll leave it at "boring.") But even if it's not a favorite on its own, it is undeniably just the right thing to get dressed up. Take the sweet, light, fluffy cake and let it contrast with a creamy, richly indulgent custard, then top both with a tangy, juicy fruit compote that soaks into the cake. It's truly a special experience.

The custard is an interesting carmel color, which will cause your taste-testers even more surprise when they
realize it's balsamic! It has this uniquely balanced tangy, fruity flavor that is unexpected but oh-so-delicious
and goes particularly well with some juicy cherries and sweet angel cake.

The custard was so fantastic, I made it a second time, this time for a tart closer to the original recipe, and using regular balsamic vinegar (as I'd used up the last of my white balsamic for the first batch.)

In a further attempt to relieve my freezer, I pulled out some of my favorite sugar cookie dough (recipe in the "cookies" section) to use as the crust. This was good news/bad news because I thought it gave an excellent flavor, and I appreciated the structure a cookie dough provided to the overall tart... it held the decorative fluting of the tart pan sides very well. But, it was a bit of a challenge to cut into slices, especially with a soft custard and slippery fruit filling. It worked without crumbling completely (at least after the initial slice!) but next time I might try scoring the crust before baking or immediately after it comes out of the oven before it's completely set.

Sugar cookie dough used for tart crust, prior to filling.
Once the crust was completely cool, I simply filled with the chilled custard (made the evening before and refrigerated overnight) and topped with delicious, fresh sliced peaches. I didn't notice any difference in the taste of the custard using the regular balsmic versus the white balsamic. The color was darker, and it actually looked like a chocolate cream filling. To preserve the color of the peaches, I brushed them with about a tablespoon of melted jam and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. I used orange marmelade, but peach jam would be preferable, or apricot jam. Jam melts in about 6 seconds in the microwave.

Peach tart with balsamic custard and sugar cookie crust.
I found that the custard recipe size makes a ample quantity - I didn't use the whole batch to fill the tart pan. The leftovers last at least a week in the fridge, but might separate slightly or loose the smooth consistency. Simply reheat it over low heat, stirring gently until it's smooth again, and chill. You won't regret having it around, because the possibilities for accompaniments are virtually endless: almond pound cake and strawberries, shortbread cookies and plums, cinnamon bundt cake with raisins and grapes, or just eat it with a spoon and a macaroon or florentine!!

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