I know we've already passed Easter, but do me a favor and think back to New Year's Eve for a second.
Did you drink champagne? Eat good food? Dance? Did you spend it with family? Friends? Both?
That last part is always a bit tricky. You can't be everywhere at once, right? This is why, almost ten years ago, my college friends and I started the tradition of a "Second New Year's." We find a date that suits everybody and get together for an ersatz new year's eve celebration. We dress up, we drink champagne, we exchange gifts and we count down. The whole shebang.
Originally, our celebrations took place pretty close to January 1st and were late night affairs, but as time has passed and kids have entered the picture, we've tended more towards springtime brunch. You can just as well count down to twelve noon, no?
Last Sunday was the day. We brought a variety of foods and handmade presents to my friend's home and gathered around the table to catch up, laugh and eat way too much food. There were Danish, rolls, two quiches, salads, bacon and eggs, a cauliflower cake and even crème brulée. My friend Claudia made this cake - there was also a birthday to celebrate - and I contributed smoothies, fruit salad and a Belgian classic: a homemade carré confiture.
A carré confiture, for those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure of tasting it, is a puff pastry bottom smeared with apricot puree and topped with puff pastry lattice work. It's sweet and crispy, with just a little bit of gooey jam in the middle. Of course, if you want to make it yourself, you also have to make your own puff pastry, which makes the carré confiture quite a labor-intensive treat.
I was lucky enough to have some puff pastry left over from baking class in the freezer, so I could cut some of the rolling, folding and resting time. This shortcut was more than welcome, because I still had a present to make as well. And since Birger, the friend who I had to make a present for had, coincidentally, requested "something tasty," I transformed myself into a baking machine. I'd already made a double batch of granola for "Birger's Box of Bakes" the week before, but I still had banana bread and a batch of butter coronets on my to-do list. (I figured this combination would offer some variety without forcing him to eat everything at once - the box included notes about freezing slices of banana bread and keeping the granola in an airtight container.)
Luckily, banana bread is super easy to make - I used this recipe, but added chopped walnuts to the batter as well as as a crumble on top - and I'd already gotten the hang of those butter coronets before. I was pretty confident and quick with both recipes, leaving me enough time for the carré confiture. I needed that focus, for while we've made carré confiture in baking class before, there's always a little added stress of doing it at home, by yourself.
Like I said, I started from a batch of handmade, but frozen puff pastry. If you're starting from scratch, though, this is how you go about it.
recipe from baking class (syntra west)
makes many large carré confiture tarts
for the puff pastry (makes more than enough - freeze the leftovers)
500 gr bread flour, cold
250 ml water, cold
50 gr butter or margarine, cold
9 gr salt
350 gr butter for puff pastry
for the filling
1 can of apricot puree (I used Materne)
1 large egg, lightly whisked
for the puff pastry
1. Start by mixing the bread flour, water, 50 gr butter and salt, kneading them until you have a smooth dough. Shape it into a ball and place it on a clean work surface. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.
2. Flatten the dough just a tiny bit and then use a rolling pin to roll out four sides into points. You want to create a diamond- or star-like shape, but you want the center to stay quite thick and bulge out.
3. Take the puff pastry butter and knead it in your hands until it has more or less the same elasticity as your dough. If you don't knead it enough, you run the risk that the butter will break through the dough; if you make it too soft, it'll seep out. Once the butter has the right consistency place the entire piece on top of that bulge in the center of the dough and then fold over the four corners one by one. You should now have a fairly thick block of dough with a whole lot of butter in the middle. Make sure that the dough encapsulates all of the butter - you don't want any leakage.
4. Take your rolling pin and bash the dough a little to flatten it out. Once it's a little easier to work with, switch to the soft approach and start rolling it out on a lightly floured surface. Try to approximate a rectangle. You don't have to roll it out very thin - just aim for a rectangle of about 20x30 cm or around 1 cm in thickness. Fold the rectangle, lengthwise, into thirds. This is the first turn.
5. Place the packet of dough with the fold parallel to you and roll it out a little wider. Turn 90 degrees and roll it out lengthwise until you have a rectangle of roughly 20x30 cm again. Fold into thirds. The dough has now had two turns. Wrap the dough in plastic and put it in the refrigerator to rest for 20 minutes.
6. When the dough has rested, unwrap and repeat the process of rolling and folding the dough another two times. In total, the dough has now had four turns. Wrap the dough packet again and let rest in the refrigerator overnight, or freeze for later use.
7. The next day, or whenever you want to use the puff pastry, take out the dough and give it one more turn, i.e. roll it out and fold it into thirds one more time. If you're making a millefeuille, you can give it an extra turn (six in total), but five should be enough for most uses.
1. After you've given the dough a fifth turn (in total), you can immediately use it. For a carré confituur, roll it out to a thickness of 2mm on a slightly floured work surface. This is really thin and it will take some time. Don't rush yourself (unless you're working in a really hot kitchen) and be sure to turn the dough around from time to time, making sure it doesn't stick to the work table. Also, try to keep in mind how big you want the final carré to be. You can make several small ones, but it's easier and more efficient to make one big one and cut it into smaller pieces after it's baked. I simply measured my baking sheet and made my carré to fit. I rolled out the dough to a width that matched the longest side of my baking sheet and continued to roll it out lengthwise until it had the right thickness.
2. When you've rolled out the dough, start by running some water over your baking sheet and let it drip off. The drops of water left on the baking sheet will evaporate in the oven so that your dough doesn't stick. Cut the bottom for your carré from the rolled-out dough and transfer it to the baking sheet. To avoid stretching your dough, fold it into quarters before you transfer it and unfold it again on the baking sheet.
3. Brush the sides of the pastry with water and use a fork to punch holes throughout. Spread a layer of apricot puree over it, but stay away from the edges.
4. Use the remainder of the rolled-out dough to make the lattice work. Use a knife or, preferably, a pizza cutter to cut 1 cm strips out of the remaining dough. Arrange the strips on top of the apricot puree. I used a simple, straight pattern, but you can also use diagonals or figure out something entirely different. For the basic pattern, start with a single horizontal strip in the center and add two vertical strips on top of it. Continue by placing two horizontal strips, one on each side of the first one, on top, followed by two more vertical strips, again one on each side of the original vertical strips. Continue in this fashion, alternating between the horizontal and the vertical until you've filled the entire bottom. Use your fingers to seal the edges and trim the excess dough from the strips.
5. Brush the entire top of the carré with egg wash and then allow it to rest in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. This will allow the gluten strings to relax and break down and will result in less shrinkage. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200-210˚C.
6. Depending on the size of your carré, bake it for 35 to 50 minutes. Check the bottom to make sure it's baked enough.
7. When you reach the end of the oven time, prepare some apricot jelfix. As soon as the carré comes out of the oven, brush the entire top of it with the jelfix. For a cleaner result, you can trim the edges - which I didn't do - and divide the large carré into smaller pieces. They will keep for a quite a while, but are best within the first couple of days.