When life hands you pits…make ice cream! (and a tart)

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“You want me to do what?”

My son was looking at me funny.

I repeated my request.

“I need you to take this hammer and smash open these apricot pits. We’re making ice cream.”

Hammer. Ice cream. My son was totally onboard with this. My daughter was wearing her concerned face.

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(Safety note: I did have him cover the pits with another towel as he whacked away at them to avoid flying pit-shrapnel.)

While my son continued cracking I explained, over the din, that stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots contain a small kernel within their seeds that the French call noyaux. They look like almonds and have an intense, bitter-almond perfume and flavor. Imagine store-bought almond extract minus the artificial undertones.

We broke a kernel in half and took a whiff.

“Ooh, that smells good!”

“Right?” I agreed. “Now imagine that in ice cream.”

Now for the intriguing part.

“Noyaux contain a very small amount of an enzyme which, when digested, becomes prussic acid (or hydrogen cyanide).”

“Is that bad?” my daughter asked.

“Well cyanide is poisonous, but unless you were planning on eating a ton of apricot kernels it won’t hurt you.”

In fact, cyanide does naturally occur in several foods: apples (in the pips), spinach, tapioca, soy, bamboo shoots, and all stone fruit pits.

“And anyway, we aren’t going to eat them. We’ll just steep them like tea leaves in our hot cream.”

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We gently warmed our cream and milk until just beginning to boil and added the noyaux. I covered the pan and we played Quirkle while the kernels steeped.

We tasted the cream every so often to make sure the flavor wasn’t getting too strong. It was to our liking at about the 90 minute mark.

We strained the noyaux and set the flavorful cream aside.

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The kids separated the eggs.

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They never seem to get bored with this process.

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The yolks went into a mixing bowl and I placed the whites in a container to freeze for a future recipe.

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They measured the sugar.

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And whisked both the sugar and salt into the egg yolks.

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Meanwhile, we reheated the aromatic milk and cream.

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I placed a damp towel on our work surface to anchor the bowl.

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When the cream had come to a boil, my son used a ladle to introduce the mixture, a little at a time, to the yolks in the bowl. My daughter whisked the two together as he ladled.

“Why do you think we couldn’t just add all the egg yolks directly to the pot?”

I explained that we needed to bring the eggs up to temperature gradually so that we didn’t inadvertently scramble them — a process called tempering.

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Once we had about half of our hot cream added to the yolks, we poured the contents of the bowl back into the pot.

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Over medium-low heat, the kids took turns stirring the mixture with a heat-proof spatula, making sure they scraped the bottom and edges of the pot.

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We took the mixture off the heat when we could feel it thickening and it coated the back of a spoon, (about 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer).

We immediately strained it into a clean bowl. The kids could see coagulated bits of egg white caught in the strainer.

“Egg whites cook at a lower temperature than egg yolks, which is why we need to strain the mixture again. You can never get all the whites out when you separate eggs, and the cooked whites would make our ice cream lumpy.”

They expressed their disapproval.

We set up an ice bath to cool the mixture quickly.

Now the hardest part — waiting. While the ice cream base was cool now, it would make much smoother ice cream if it was really and truly cold. The longer the ice cream takes to freeze, the larger the ice crystals will be in the final mix. If you start with a really cold base, your mix will take less time to freeze. Easy. Unless you are 7.

Noyaux ice cream is very tasty on its own, but what could make it better? I’m happy you asked…

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What could be better than pairing noyaux ice cream with the fruit it came from? And in the form of a warm and buttery pastry of course!

While we waited for the ice cream base to chill, we made pastry dough and rolled it out into a large circle.

The noyaux we had used earlier came from a container I keep in the freezer where we hoard our stone fruit pits. Now we could replenish those with new kernels from these babies:

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The apricots were on the riper side, so they would need something between them and the pastry dough to soak up all the juices they would release in the oven.

We ground together some blanched almonds, a bit of sugar, a touch of flour and a pinch of salt, and sprinkled that all over the dough circle.

The kids placed the apricots cut-side up in concentric circles on top of the almond mixture, leaving a border all around.

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They took turns pleating the dough. We weren’t concerned about spacing; they just folded the crust up and over the fruit where it seemed like a natural spot. Galettes are supposed to look rustic.

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They brushed the pastry dough with a little milk.

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Then sprinkled sugar all over the top of the galette.

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We popped the galette into a hot oven for about 50 minutes. The smell of hot apricots and butter does not suck.

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Later we topped slices of the rewarmed galette with scoops of noyaux ice cream. It was not even close to the pits.

Noyaux Ice Cream   makes about a quart

35 – 40 apricot pits

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

1/8 tsp salt

7 egg yolks

Cover the apricot pits with a towel and crack them open with a hammer. It doesn’t matter if you mash or break the kernels inside. Place the kernels in a pot with the cream and milk and heat to just boiling, taking care not to scorch the mixture. Remove from heat and cover to let the kernels steep. Check the mixture every 30 minutes or so until the flavor is strong enough. Strain the cream and set aside while you separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a bowl and whisk in the sugar and salt. Anchor the bowl to the work surface with a damp towel. Bring the infused cream back to a boil. Use a ladle to add some of the hot cream to the yolk mixture with one hand while whisking it together with the other. When you have incorporated about half of the hot milk, pour the mixture back into the pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until just beginning to thicken. It will coat the back of a spoon, (about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.) Strain the mixture again. Chill completely and freeze according to your ice cream manufacturer’s instructions.

Apricot Galette   serves 8

pie pastry, (a little more than half of this recipe)

2 T blanched almonds

1 T flour

1 T sugar

pinch of salt

1 1/2 lbs of apricots

1/4 cup of sugar

Roll the pastry dough out to form a circle about 14″ in diameter and 1/8″ thick. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the components. Grind the almonds, flour, sugar, and salt together, (I use an old coffee grinder for this. You can also just use almond meal in place of the almonds). Cut the apricots in quarters, removing the pits (save them!) Sprinkle the almond mixture over the dough, leaving about a 1 1/2″ border. Place the apricots, skin-side down, in concentric circles on top of the dough, fitting them snugly and leaving the border bare. Fold the dough up and over the galette, pleating it as you go. Brush the crust with a little milk and sprinkle the 1/4 cup of sugar over the fruit and crust. Bake in a 400 degree oven on the lowest rack, (use a pizza stone if you have one), for about 50 minutes. The crust should be nicely browned and slightly caramelized. Use a large spatula to transfer the galette to a wire rack to keep the crust from getting soggy. Cool for about 20 minutes before serving, or cool completely and rewarm before serving.

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Multifunctional

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I couldn’t find more than four of my small tart rings.  They are probably buried in the backyard somewhere.  Or being used as some sort of contraption for Batman.  Or hidden somewhere with my brain.

Not looking forward to running out to the cooking supply store with two kids in tow, I was trying to think of any alternative when I remembered something I’d seen on Pinterest…canning jar lids as tart pans. Hooray for Pinterest!

This lesson was a departure from our previous projects as it was the first time we made two different pastry components which we then brought together to form frangipane and apple tartlets.

First up, the tart dough, also known as pate sucree.

We talked about the differences between pie dough and tart dough.  Typically, the first is flakey, and not overly sweet.  The latter is sturdier, (to stand unsupported by the pan), sweet, and crunchy or sugar cookie-like.

Now the ingredients are not wildly different in the two doughs; the primary distinction is how the butter is incorporated into the flour and to what degree.

Me: “Does anyone remember how we mixed our butter into our pie dough?”

“We cut it up into little squares?”

“Was it supposed to be cold?”

They recalled cutting the cold butter into the flour, and I reminded them that we did that to avoid completely mixing it into the dry ingredients.  Those chunky bits of butter gave us the flakiest dough.

I explained that tart dough is more like a cookie dough, so that is how we would mix it.  Just like our gingerbread cookie dough, we would start with room temperature butter which we would then cream together with the sugar.

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Me: “If we are using room temperature butter should we try to mix in a cold egg?”

“No!”

Flour was measured and added and, that was that.

Tart dough.  Easy peasy.

Again, just like our cookie dough, we would need to let this dough rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let the flour absorb the liquid from the egg and allow the butter to firm up enough to roll out.

I had some dough already made and ready to go.  And roll they did.

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We worked on keeping our hands closer together to even out the pressure of the pin on the dough.

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And what to do if the dough started getting too long or misshapen in one spot: “Turn it!”

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As well as how to use small bits of dough to press into and patch the spots they weren’t happy with.

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We tried to roll “around the clock” to keep things somewhat circular.

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Once the dough was bigger than the tart ring, we gently picked it up and placed it over the top of the tin.  I showed them how to lift the outer edge of the dough and use their thumbs or fingers to ease it into the bottom contour of the lid.

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We didn’t worry about getting a perfect round, but aimed more for an even thickness.  At one point we even got something that resembled the continent of Africa, though there was some discussion about whether it looked more like Louisiana.

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Once the dough was settled nicely in the pan,

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we rolled the pin over the top to make a nice edge.

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Further refinements could be made once the extra dough was removed.

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The tartlet cases were then placed in the refrigerator to chill while we made our almond filling.

Frangipane, or almond cream as it is also known, is very versatile and besides being used for filling tarts, it can be swirled into a quick bread or pound cake, spread onto pastry or yeasted dough and rolled up cinnamon bun style, or even spooned over fruit in a dish and baked as is.  Another cheer for multifunctional items!

But back to the task at hand…

The first step required a food processor.  The kids were excited to see an actual piece of cooking equipment as up until then we’d mixed every other recipe by hand.

To avoid making almond butter, we ground the sliced almonds with a little bit of sugar, pulsing the blade until the nuts were a fine meal and beginning to climb the side of the bowl.

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We creamed room temperature butter with sugar and salt, then added our reserved almond mixture.

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Finally, the egg and vanilla were beat in with a tiny bit of milk.  We finished the filling about the time that the tartlet shells were sufficiently cold.

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The kids took turns scooping the frangipane into their shells, (yes I did label the bottoms so there wouldn’t be a question of which belonged to who!), not quite to the top of the pastry.

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They used a spoon to spread the frangipane over the tartlet cases while I sliced some apples.  We kept the slices together and just pushed them slightly forward to get a nice fan.  These were placed directly on top of the almond filling.

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We had extra frangipane, which they had ideas for…

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About 25 minutes later the small tarts emerged from the oven, slightly puffy and nicely browned.

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I warmed up a bit of apricot jam to glaze them with and removed them from the tins.

I think we even won over the “non-almond” person in the group.  There were only crumbs left on the plates.

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Sweet Tart Dough    yield: two 9″ tart shells or six 4″ tartlet shells

1/2 c + 1T unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 c granulated sugar

1/4 t salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 3/4 c all purpose-flour

Either by hand or using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until smooth.  Mix in the egg.  Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the flour all at once.  Mix until just incorporated.  Divide the dough as necessary and shape into a disk about 1/2″ thick.  Wrap well and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Let dough sit out of the refrigerator for a few minutes to take the chill off and become just malleable enough to roll.  Roll to 1/8″ thick and line tart pans. Patch as necessary.  Chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Frangipane      yield: about 1 1/2 cups

1 c sliced almonds **

1/2 c granulated sugar

7 T unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/8 t salt

1 egg, at room temperature

1 T whole milk

1 t vanilla

In a food processor, grind 2 T of the sugar with the almonds until fine.  Set aside.

Either by hand or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the remaining 6 T sugar and salt.  Add the almond mixture and beat until combined.  Add the egg, milk and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.

** Alternately you can use purchased almond meal.  I chose to grind the almonds because commercial nut meals are more likely to have been processed on equipment also used for processing peanuts.  Just FYI for those with allergy considerations.  Also, grinding your own is a bit cheaper.

To assemble and bake the tarts:  heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread frangipane over chilled tart shells.  Add fruit.  Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until nicely browned.