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Savory Baking: Warm and Inspiring Recipes for Crisp, Crumbly, Flaky Pastries by Mary Cech, photographs by Noel Barnhurst

As it gets colder this autumn, what could be lovelier than a leisurely weekend day in a warm kitchen? Baking at home is fun and rewarding, but there are only so many cookies and cakes you and your family can take. All that prep time and careful attention should yield a delicious and healthy meal with which to feed your family or guests, not just a guilty pleasure! I don’t have a big sweet tooth, but I love to bake, which is why Savory Baking by Mary Cech is the perfect addition to my cookbook collection. The book starts out with an overview of ingredients, equipment, and techniques specific to baking, to ensure your success. More so than stove top dishes, it’s important to know what to expect in a baking recipe, so the overview of crepe, souffle, and doughs techniques is empowering.

This book is full of inspiring dishes, broken down more by what type of pastry they use than what course they’re for: quick breads, flaky pastry, rustic cobblers and betties, puff pastries, cookies, and, finally, sides and sauces. The gorgeous photos tend to draw focus to those particular recipes, but, really, every dish sounds delicious. Baking can be a time-intensive endeavor, so while I wish the book included time estimates for each recipe, I loved reading through the 75 delectable possibilities for this review.

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The best part of reviewing a recipe book is the cooking (and subsequent eating), clearly. I decided to make the Cambozola Pear Cream Tart, and enlisted the help of a foodie friend. Read the full article for the free recipe! Baking is a great team-cooking activity, since there are usually different concurrent tasks to be done. It’s a great time of year to make this recipe, since the pears at the market will be close to ripe enough already. We used Gorgonzola dolce instead of the suggested Camembert-Gorgonzola hybrid, Cambozola, since it looked really good at the Italian market, and both of us love the flavor. We used slightly more than the recipe called for, and the flavor came out delicate and subtle. I think next time I might try a little more cheese, even, to balance with the delicious walnut crust. The most challenging part of this recipe is working with the dough, which is crumbly and delicate, making it easy to overwork, and hard to get into the shell. Tarts are forgiving, though, so perfect placement in the pan isn’t critical, as patching up cracks and holes is much easier than with a flaky pastry dough. Besides licking the filling-covered spatula afterward, my favorite part of this recipe was laying out the pear slice in the shell in a sunflower pattern. It’s like a pretty little secret hidden under the cheesy filling.

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This is great for the intermediately skilled home cook looking to expand his/her repertoire of favorites. The tart I made required that I know how to toast walnuts (dry in a pan is how we did it), separate eggs (crack the whole thing into a bowl and pick up the yolk with your fingers), handle fancy cheese (remove the foil but let the food processor handle the rind), and work with delicate dough (I used a big cake mover to transfer it to the tart pan). Many of the recipes in Savory Baking are sure to become family holiday favorites, and this book would make a fantastic gift for the foodie in your life who’s looking for a new set of ideas to tackle. It’s inspiring because of the clever ingredient combinations and “why didn’t I think of that?” touches that really satisfy the itch to make something lovely and delicious. Check out my Flickr set with more pictures from the making of this recipe.

Book Giveaway Time!

Three lucky CRAFT winners will win a copy of this book, Savory Baking! Leave a comment on this post telling us why you want this book. Make sure to enter your email address in the form field (won’t be published). All comments will be closed Wednesday, October 28th at noon PDT. The winners will be announced on the CRAFT Twitter feed later this week. Good luck!

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Cambozola Pear Cream Tart

Ripe pears and the flavor of Cambozola cheese meld together in a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth toasted walnut-crust tart. Most pears will be very firm when purchased from the market and can take up to 2 weeks to soften. To accelerate ripening, place them in a brown paper bag and set them on a countertop for a day or two; they will undergo a noticeable change quickly. Use pears that have a slight yield to pressure and start to become fragrant; they should slice easily. I love this elegant tart served with a small salad as a first course or for a light lunch.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Tart dough

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg white

1/4 cup dry bread crumbs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups walnut pieces, toasted

Filling

4 ounces Cambozola cheese (see Note)

3 egg yolks

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium pear, firm but ripe

To prepare the tart dough, put the butter and salt together in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and process for 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula, add the egg white, and process for another 30 seconds. The egg white should be thoroughly emulsified into the butter and look smooth. Add the bread crumbs, flour, and walnut pieces all at once. Pulse until the walnuts are fine and the dough comes together into a ball, about 1 minute. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead briefly. Press into a disc about 1″ thick, and wrap in plastic film. Refrigerate for 15 minutes while preparing the filling.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and place a 9″ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom on a flat baking sheet.

Prepare the filling: Put the cheese, egg yolks, cream, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour the filling into a container with a spout to make it easy for pouring.

Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and place on a well-floured surface. Dust the top of the dough generously with flour. Using a rolling pin, carefully roll the dough into a 12″ circle about 1/8″ thick. Dust more flour under and on top of the dough to keep it from sticking to the surface while rolling, if needed. Slide a flat, rimless baking sheet under the dough and transfer it to the tart pan. Center the dough and press it gently into the bottom and sides of the pan. Patch any tears with dough scraps. Trim the top edge of the crust with your fingers or a small knife. Bake until the crust is medium golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. Stand the pear upright on a cutting board. With a small paring knife, cut off one side of the pear close to the core. Turn the pear around to the opposite side and cut off the other side. Then cut off the 2 small sides of the pear and discard the core. Lay the cut sides on the cutting board and cut each piece of pear into 1/4″ slices. Place the slices on the bottom of the baked shell, overlapping them like shingles. Carefully pour the custard over the pears and return the pan to the center of the oven. Bake until the custard is set, about 25 minutes. The top should just start to turn light golden and the filling will jiggle slightly in the center. Remove it to a cooling rack and let cool slightly. Remove the tart from the ring, transfer to a serving platter, and serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be wrapped in plastic film and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Remove the tart from the refrigerator, place on a baking sheet, and warm for 15 minutes at 300°F.

Note: Cambozola cheese has a creamy white interior with a white rind. It is a soft-ripened cheese that tastes like a cross between Camembert and Gorgonzola.


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