Friday, 30 September 2011

Textural Tastes in Bacon, Apple, and Brie

For the past week or two, I have been especially craving bacon (in actuality, when is this never the case?). And with an apple I still had sitting around from Bloomington, and leftover brie and puff pastry from last week's Paving the Way dinner, I finally got around to mixing all the textural tastes of bacon, apple, and brie in a tartlet form on two days ago.

As noted in the second link above, I used only five puff pastry rectangles for last Tuesday's dinner; it then made since to divide the remaining third and reform them into more of a squarish figure, beneath which I put some ground cornbread crumbs. With the oven preheating to 350 °F, I began to crisp up four slices of bacon; while that was getting underway, I got to dicing half a granny smith apple. I then moved onto the 1/4 medium-size brie wheel and diced that to mimic the same size of the diced apple.

By this point, the bacon should be crisped and at this juncture do two things. First, if you can't tell from the photo on the left, I've rested my bacon on a crinkled paper napkin. This may seem like the simplest thing in the world, but that's why it's so brilliant! A quick aside: this week saw the premiere of "The Chew," a new daytime talk show centered around... wait for it... food. Unfortunately it's on while I'm at work, but many clips abound on YouTube and you can typically watch the previous day's show on Hulu. In any case, one video clip not found on YouTube is of Carla Hall's fried green beans. As part of that segment, she shared this very practical crinkling tip: by crinkling the paper napkin/towel and then laying the food on top, the excess grease soaks down and away from the food, allowing the food to cool and not get soggy cooling in that excess. Again, simplicity at its finest.

As for the second aside, I wonder how many often save rendered bacon fat. If you don't already, you should. Growing up, I remember seeing bottles of old cooking oil but more so for reasons of not wanting the grease to congeal and clog up the kitchen pipes. Doing the same thing to rendered bacon fat serves this purpose, but saving bacon fat for later use means saving flavour to impart later onto other dishes. If the above photo does not explain how I save rendered bacon fat, maybe one of these links will be helpful to you: click here or here. And for some inspiration on how to use rendered bacon fat, click here.

Now those asides aside, it's now time to pile on the ingredients. First goes the bacon broken into thirds or fourths (don't forget to also add any stray bits) onto the puff pastry, followed by as much of the diced apple as will fit in one layer and then as much of the brie as will stay put as a second layer. Next, get the baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 22 minutes or until the puff pastry has risen and is starting to brown.

While the puff pastry is cooking and the ingredients are doing their thing, get some dishes done and then gather ingredients for the orange balsamic reduction sauce. After the 22 minutes are up, turn the oven to broiler mode. As the broiler is browning the edges and adding some crispy textures, heat in a small pan a few tablespoons of orange juice (no pulp), a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and one teaspoon of sugar. When the sauce ingredients start to simmer and slowly reduce, the tartlet should be ready. (This is a three-minute window.) Take out the tartlet and set it aside to cool; you'll know when it's cool after the moisture (in the form of bubbles on the surface as shown above) have died down.

By the time that happens, the sauce should be nearing it's 50% reduction stage. When it has reached that stage, it should have a similar consistent as expressed in this photo.

The sauce now complete, it's time to plate the dish. Carefully transfer the tartlet onto a plate (the cornbread crumbs help this process; you could also use flour or even lightly grease the pan with non-stick cooking spray, etc.) and then sauce the tartlet with the reduction. As you can see above, the colour of my initial plate (the left one) matched too well with the color of the tartlet itself and as such I moved it onto a green plate for some colour contrast. (I think it's also a bit more photogenic against the green, helping it stand out against the canvas.)

And then it's of course time for the tasting. With a buttery, flaky crust from the puff pastry, and added richness from the creamy brie and salt content from the bacon, the textural crunch and savoury quality is cut by the soft diced apple (which has still retained most of its shape) and the added sweetness from the reduction sauce. It doesn't border a dessert at all, but instead this sweetness again counterbalances the salt and fat content from the other ingredients.

Ah, and speaking of dessert, I finally ate the first of my birthday chocolates on Wednesday. For the rest of the photos from Wednesday, click here.

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