Open sourcing the tart

A lot of my ideas for cooking come from visual cues. I “see” ingredients rather than first “tasting” them, although I think the trigger to see them is the result of some sort of gustatory memory. I think of pretty much everything in visual terms, including sound.

So, and without delving too deeply into the cognitive basis for my menu planning, I started to see some alternative ingredients in response to the other week’s orange custard tart mishap. Figs, or possibly prunes, but finally I saw the little seeds and figs it was. I also timidly saw rosemary, although I wasn’t sure how to incorporate it til reading a recipe on the Mélanger blog that detailed instructions for making rosemary infused crème brûlée. Once I’ve seen some ingredients I generally check in cookbooks or on the web for recipes that contain the ingredients and either use the recipes without modification or merely as pointers. I assume this is how most people approach cooking.

The custard for the original tart came from a recipe for Portugese custard tarts on the BBC’s website.  For the second iteration of the tart I cut the amount of sugar to just under 4 oz as I found the original too sugary. And the baking time was vastly increased to account for the fact that I was making one big tart as opposed to 12 small ones. The tart cooked for around 35 minutes. I cut the figs into eighths and arranged them in a concentric pattern on the surface of the custard once the tart had been in the oven for 10-15 minutes (eg, once the custard has started to solidify a bit). Prior to ladling the custard into the puff pastry filling I toasted some pinenuts and laid them on top of the puff pastry shell; the figs were on top and the pinenuts on the bottom. Finally when the tart was nearly cooked (after about 25 minutes) I took the leftover sprigs of rosemary that I’d infused in the milk and arranged them in a circular pattern on a non-figged area of the tart.

I’ve learned alot about cooking from reading other people’s blogs and its strikes me that there’s a spirit of culinary generosity that mimics that of the Open Source (software) community. I think we’re in the midst of a web-driven culinary renaissance, fueled greatly by the efficacy of search engines. Yes you can look at Jamie Oliver’s site (which I like) or read and watch Bitten (kind of like) but you can also find a ton of content from people who are doing what they love, sharing it, and making a strong community. I see less of this in the art world . . .


Petunia the culinarily inclined skunk started her career making jams. But she tends to shy away from big messy fruits (see “sugar and its effects on fur”).

My project for today involved some relatively large juicy fruits: Valencia and Blood Oranges. My plan was to skin and slice them and then somehow “burn” them, although this is somewhat of a gastronomical overstatement. I wanted “burnt oranges” rather than “burned” or “charred” (or “ruined”) citrus. They were to be toppings for a version of Portuguese Custard Tart. As I had no recipes for Portuguese Custard Tart with burnt oranges I made one large tart (instead of individual tartlets as advised) with different test toppings dependant on quadrant /sector. My inspiration for this layout  was the design of desert bombing targets, images of which I’ve seen in google maps aerial photos.

Oh too too relevant metaphor. I failed. I bombed.

Ultimately there was too much custard. The custard was too sweet (and too runny). And the Valencia oranges didn’t really work out either, although they look rather nice.

I think I know how to fix the custard (not as much sugar, for a start, and make less of it, too). But I have to research the orange part more. Thrill seeker that she is Petunia suggests dipping the orange slices in some sugar and then blasting them with a blow torch. W. suggests a marmalade-like approach.

As I think about it more I realize I’m trying to mimic the marvelous Ines Rosales brand Seville Orange tortas that I’ve been eating for breakfast recently. They’re wonderful with a slice of St. Augur or some nice Talleggio, so I think less sugar is definitely the way to go. The tarts are sweet but marvelously bitter, in the way of Sevilles, too, and even with the cheese they don’t break Petunia’s rule of triangulation.