As a pastry chef, I am on and off diets pretty much all the time. Developing dessert recipes is a hard job and many days there are upwards of 10 desserts sitting on my kitchen counter. I have developed the ability to taste small bites and no more. In the last few months, however, there have been many moments when I allow myself to eat more, simply because I can.
We all take certain things for granted – that we will wake up each day well enough to proceed with our plans and be able to eat our daily meals. I have several people in my life who can no longer take eating for granted.
My father has been on a feeding tube for eight months due to a condition in his throat. He has been awaiting surgery since then, but keeps battling other medical challenges that make him too weak to undergo surgery. I grew up watching him consume the two-part breakfast: first a bowl of cereal and then coffee and cake. Every single day. He would come home from the bakery with a stack of boxes, only surpassed by what he could balance in his arms from the Entenmanns’s outlet.
Even diabetes didn’t slow him down as he discovered a world of sugar-free treats in the stores and kosher bakeries enhanced by those I baked for him. Watching him over the months has been painful for me. I used to share with him news about the desserts I was developing. No longer. We pray he will be able to eat again.
A close friend had radiation treatment for cancerous tumors in her neck. The resulting sores in her throat made it painful to eat. It took weeks to heal. A 35-year old friend of a friend died of anorexia this summer after a 20-year battle; she could never develop a joy for food. Just this past month two of my teens had their wisdom teeth removed, and one had complications further delaying his ability to eat what he wanted.
The Jewish religion has never taken eating for granted; there have been times in our history when we starved. We Jews say blessings before we eat, each blessing tailored to the type of food we are consuming, based on how it is grown and prepared. We take a moment to consider the source of the food and then thank g-d for providing it to us.
I am not suggesting you eat everything you want — you may have one serving of a dessert after a meal full of healthy food. I am acutely aware of the obesity epidemic in America, and everyone must see the film “Fed Up” to learn more about how very serious the problem is.
As you approach the upcoming Jewish holidays and the abundance of food it brings, please take a moment to consider how blessed you are to be able to eat. Have a sweet new year.
Serves at least 12
Pastry Dough Crust
To make the crust. put the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and butter or margarine in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process for 10 seconds, or until the mixture resembles sand. Add the egg yolk, cold water, and the vanilla and process until the dough barely comes together. Gather the pieces of dough and place on a large piece of plastic wrap, cover and flatten. Chill in the freezer for 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the hazelnuts on one side of a jelly roll pan and the remaining nuts spread out on the other side. Toast the nuts for 20 minutes, stirring twice, keeping the hazelnuts separated. Let cool until you can handle the hazelnuts. Remove the hazelnuts to another bowl and grab handfuls and rub between your hands to remove the skin. Return the peeled hazelnuts to the other nuts. Use a large knife to roughly chop the nuts so that almost every piece is cut at least in half; some pieces can be smaller. Set aside. May be made one day in advance and nuts stored in a container at room temperature.
Remove the dough from the freezer and let sit at room temperature just until you can press it gently. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place an 8-inch tart pan with or without a removable bottom on a cookie sheet. Place a piece of plastic wrap or parchment larger than the tart pan on the counter and sprinkle generously with flour. Place the dough on top. Sprinkle with a little more flour. Cover with a piece of parchment and roll on top of the parchment to roll out the dough until it is at least 1 inch larger than the tart ring. You will want to peel back the parchment and sprinkle some more flour on the dough 3 to 5 times while you are rolling. Remove the top parchment cover. Place your hand under the plastic or parchment, lift the dough and turn over into the tart pan. Use your fingers to gently press the dough into the corners. Peel off the plastic or parchment and make sure the dough is pressed into the corners and patch any holes. Use a rolling pin to roll over the top to trim off the excess dough.
Freeze for 10 minutes. Line dough with foil and fill with beans or pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes. Lift up the edges of the foil to remove foil and weights and bake the shell for another 8 -10 minutes more, until the crust feels dry to the touch. Remove from oven and leave the oven on.
To make the filling, put the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn the heat up to medium-high and let boil until the mixture turns amber, stirring once or twice. This takes about 8 minutes so be patient.
Turn the heat to low, add the whipping cream, and stir until the caramel is smooth. Whisk in the butter or margarine, honey, vanilla and almond extract and cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add the toasted nuts and use a silicone spatula to mix well. Remove from heat and turn into a bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place the nut mixture and any caramel in the saucepan into the tart shell and spread evenly. Bake for 20 minutes.
Let cool for 1/2 hour. Put the tablespoon of honey and teaspoon water into a small bowl and heat in the microwave for 15 seconds and stir. Use a pastry brush to brush over the nuts. Serve at room temperature. Store for 4 days covered at room temperature.