A Tart and a Riot

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The tart just before it went into the oven.

The tart just before it went into the oven.

All photos/art by Amy Traverso

First, on the matter of last week’s ricotta tart, I did make it and the reviews were mixed. My Aunt Joan said, “This is good enough to make you slap your mother!” (she has collected some great Southern expressions from a Virginia-born friend). But I found the tart too sweet and one-note. I had substituted glazed apricots for the candied citron and in retrospect, this was a mistake. The apricots weren’t tart enough, whereas the bitterness of the citron would’ve played well off the sugar.

Also, the crust was tricky. The recipe called for Cognac as the liquid and I was intrigued. As many of you know, basic pie crust is usually made with just three ingredients (or four, if you count salt): flour, butter (or shortening), and water. Some people add egg yolks or vinegar to make their crust more tender or flaky, but the classic recipe is very simple. And in that trio of ingredients, the water’s job is to make the crust more pliant and easier to roll out and shape. But it’s a balancing act because water combined with flour produces gluten, which is the tough, rubbery protein that gives bread its bounce. You don’t want your crusts to be rubbery or tough, so you have to add that water carefully and sparingly, first coating the flour with butter to inhibit the gluten.

Substituting Cognac for water would eliminate the gluten problem. Genius! Only the dough became very crumbly (you do want some elasticity) and I had to add water anyway to be able to roll it out. If I make this recipe again, I’ll do a half-water/half-Cognac mix and I’ll also add a tablespoon of sugar to the crust to make it tastier and more golden-brown. I’ll cut the amount of sugar in the filling by a third, and toast and puree the pine nuts to boost the flavor.

And that’s a little window into the recipe development process! Maybe I’ll polish this one up and run it in the March/April 2012 issue.

Here’s another window, this time into twenty-something wine culture: My husband (he writes about innovation for the Globe) and I were invited to a Boston wine tasting for the post-collegiate set called Wine Riot. The basic premise is that the wine world is often snobby and stuffy and this keeps young drinkers from taking up the hobby. Why not fill a room with winery reps pouring one-ounce samples of their wares, play cool music, and make it a party? Wine Riot launched 2009 in Boston, but now the organizers have taken it national, with events in New York, DC, and Los Angeles. It’s great to see something so novel and genre-busting take root here in our storied city. The Park Plaza Castle‘s large main hall was filled with an impressive crowd of happy drinkers, diverse in every way but for age, which left me feeling very much like Aunt Amy coming in to see what the young ‘uns are up to. But that’s neither here nor there.

There were food vendors serving ribs, burgers, and savory pies. Taza Chocolate was giving out samples. In one corner, attendees clustered around a booth with costumes and a professional photographer who snapped funny pictures of them and their friends. Not your average wine tasting. The organizers even developed a Wine Riot app, which allowed you to navigate booths, note your favorite wines, and track the most popular pours in real time, which meant that people tended to cluster around the top 3 wineries.

Tracking that popularity contest led to a few revelations: Young drinkers like sweet wine. The consistent favorite was a California dessert winery Quady Winery. Not a big surprise there, as most people’s wine preferences tend to start sweet and go drier with experience. And who, even among seasoned drinkers, doesn’t love a good dessert wine? Young drinkers like inexpensive wine, too, just as you’d expect. Many of the wines had cute, youth-oriented names like Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz and Relax Riesling.

What was surprising was how much interest and enthusiasm there was in the room. Wine marketers take note.


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