College applications sent. Apartment Promise signed. Articles written and submitted. Those interminable two weeks between le premier et le deuxième tours. Now we are in between, in that god-awful place of limbo, a purgatory of waiting. And as one season wanes and the next not quite sure that it is ready to arrive and assert itself, outside our windows seem some netherworld of uncertainty, a lingering pause, as well. Anticipation in gray. Fingers drum on tabletops or nervously flick from button to button on the remote control or the pages of a magazine; feet pace back and forth across carpets; others stand forlornly at the window, arms crossed, eyes glazed over, staring out into gloomy nothingness until the next ray of sunshine sharply awakens them from their in between stupor.
So while some of us study design books and play with color and others arrange and rearrange imaginary furniture in paper apartments, others cook or bake. We pass the time as best we can, anticipating future events, our imaginations running through all possible solutions; we try with all of our might to play out success all around while stealing ourselves for rejection and failure. Clouds pass, shades of drab, rain glitters on the pavement while the birds twitter and chirp in expectation. Distant laughter like promises float up from below, emails checked, son and husband huddle over the computer to search for possibilities, the clicking of fingers across keyboards, the whirring of the printer…. and we wait.
These periods of waiting, anticipation, impatience are crowded with events. Storm clouds gathering or a garden bursting into bloom, so many milestones arrive all at once, piling one on top of the next, leaving us out of breath, standing in some wild, desolate landscape of contemplation. And I stroll through the market with cooking and baking on my mind and see another wilderness, that midseason void of tightly shut stalls and barren spaces during this long, long month or so of school vacation and string of holiday weekends. And the midseason gulf in between as the produce of autumn and winter shifts to spring.
My basket is abnormally light, swinging at my side, mouth gaping to be filled with fresh produce more enticing than bruised apples and soft, flavorless tomatoes. One season’s fruit and vegetables ebb well before my appetite for one or the other does, yet each craving the impending season excites is left in suspense, unsatisfied in the chasm before the harvest. My hunger is left hovering in midair as the sweetness of pears wanes, clementines and grapefruit sour well before lusty strawberries and bright raspberries wend their way from neighboring gardens to my market; the orange brilliance of plump autumn pumpkins fades before the sugary peaches and nectarines burst onto the scene. Sweet potatoes disappear, exotic pomegranates are no longer mine for the taking yet their absence has welcomed no rich, tart cherries, no rosy rhubarb. And berries. Ah, berries. It will be months before tiny cardboard boats brimming over with buxom blueberries, voluptuous blackberries, glistening, jewel-like currents find themselves nestled among the ever-present apples and bananas now flown in from some faraway place.
So with what am I to bake in the interlude? In between? This time of year, with the weather morose and the apartment still a tad chilly, we long for a satisfying snack, crave something homey, the perfect comfort food to nibble on while sipping a mug of steaming tea or with hands cupped around a warming bowl of coffee. Yet in the anticipation of a bright, warm spring, I no longer want rich, heavy snacks, nor gooey, sticky desserts. Light and delicate yet with gratifying toothsome bite, the tang of berries, the sweetness of fruit would be perfect, balanced out with a mildly nutty warmth, all cupped in a tender pastry shell. Not too sweet, neither too bland, a tasty treat to wile away the time.
As soon as I saw the photo of these Almond JamTartlets in a recent issue of Elle à Table, I knew that I had to make them. Simple to execute, big in flavor and satisfaction, these Mirlitons – oddly enough, kazoo in French (why are these called kazoos?) – were the perfect midseason snack, getting their big fruity flavor from my favorite jam or jelly (in my case, cherry and blueberry), something always on hand, no matter the season. A handful of finely ground almonds or hazelnuts creates a dense yet tender filling, all nestled in my favorite, delicate Sweet Pastry Crust.
So as we pace ourselves through this interminable period of waiting and anticipation, these tiny treats – made any size you like – surely have a hand in tiding us over and infusing the days with sweetness. As Plate to Page approaches at a quick clip, I look forward to jars of Sunchowder’s Emporia jam, a wonderful, generous sponsor of our workshop, whose amazing array of flavors will jazz up these Tartlets – I’m hoping to bring home her Raspberry Chocolate, one of the jams I tasted during my recent breakfast at Petrossian in New York.
ALMOND JAM TARTLETS – MIRLITONS aux amandes et confiture
Recipe from the May-June 2011 issue of Elle à Table
1 recipe Sweet Pastry Crust
Jams or jellies of your choice (approximately 12 teaspoons)
3 oz (90) g ground almonds or hazelnuts
4.2 oz (120 g) sugar
2 large eggs
¼ tsp vanilla
Scant 1/3 cup (70 ml) heavy, full fat or half fat cream
Prepare the Sweet Pastry Crust:
Make the Sweet Pastry Crust as instructed here. Roll out to approximately 1/8-inch thickness. Line lightly buttered tartlet shells – I lined 12 tiny, shallow 2 ¼ inch wide molds (in something like a cupcake tin) + 6 individual 2 ¾ inch wide tartlet molds for 18 tartelts in two sizes. Chill in the refrigerator while the oven preheats and the filling is prepared.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Whisk together the ground almonds and the sugar. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until thoroughly blended, then whisk them into the almonds and sugar until the mixture is well-blended, thick and smooth. Whisk in the vanilla and the cream until smooth.
Remove the pastry shells from the refrigerator. Place a dollop – ¾ to 1 teaspoon depending upon the size of tartlet molds you use – of jam or jelly in the center of each pastry shell. Carefully spoon or pour just enough of the batter around the jam to fill the shells up ¾ of the way.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until each tartlet is puffed slightly, set and a light golden in color.
Remove from the oven, gently remove the tartlets from the tins or the molds and allow to cool on racks before serving.