Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, and her cookbooks are already a source of guidance for basic recipes but her show serves as my inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts. I’ll follow along with an episode of the Barefoot Contessa and choose a recipe to try in my tiny New York kitchen. We’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Keep It Sweet”
The Set-up: Ina is sharing her favorite dessert ideas and schooling her business partner, Frank Newbold, on how it’s done.
0:47 – We start with Ina preparing the Peach and Blueberry Crumble while Frank perches at the end of the counter like an attentive school boy; spiral notepad in hand.
1:17 – Frank and Ina laugh over the fact that the first ingredient is butter and the pounds and pounds of butter they used at Barefoot Contessa. Butter is no laughing matter.
2:01 – It’s been approximately 2 minutes since the cooking lesson began and Frank has asked like 4 questions about the brown sugar, cinnamon, crumble depth. Dude, you know this class is pass/fail right?
3:32 – The crumble part of the crumble is done and now we get a quick tutorial on the fruit filling. Pro Tip #1: to get the skins off the peaches poach in boiling water for 1 minute, then plunge into ice water for a minute and they slip right off. Magic!
4:14 – Now Frank as audience-participation-ringer asks what other crumbles we could make? Well, Frank I’m glad you asked! Over a cup of coffee Ina makes some suggestions interspersed with scenes from shows past: apple with Eli Zabar, apple & pear with Jeffrey; apple, pear & cranberry for the barn warming; peach & raspberry for card night all without Frank….hmm.
5:17 – Frank realizes that his non-card playing reputation has interfered with his access to crumble-related dinners. (Cue feverish memorization of bridge strategy…) Ina soothes him with his own little crumble a la mode and the promise of Lime Meringue Tart once he finishes his homework. Crisis averted.
9:25 – Lime Meringue Tart time. Ina explains that when she wants to revisit a classic recipe she’ll just replace an ingredient (limes for lemons in this case) and see how good it is.
10:59 – Lime curd is pretty disturbing before it’s cooked - I’m glad she warned us that it would look like something went wrong! Citrus acid + eggs = oh dear.
11:32 – Ina is also disturbed by the idea of a “skin” from forming on the cooked lime curd while it chills – her expression is classic. Pro Tip #2: pressing a piece of plastic wrap right on to the surface will prevent that from happening.
12:19 – Ina’s quick tutorial on sweet pastry for the tart shell can be summarized in one Pro Tip #3 (a tip for the ages): to get crisp flaky pastry keep everything freezing cold. Flour, butter, Crisco, water. You’ve been warned.
14:45 – Next we get a lesson on rolling out the dough, prepping it in the tart pan, and blind baking. I learned about 70 things in 90 seconds - where are Frank and his notepad when I need them?
15:07 – This is a lot to take in, but here’s a quick run down of the Pro Tips I picked up: #4 when rolling out dough shift it periodically to make sure it isn’t sticking to the counter. #5: fold the dough over the rolling pin to help move it into the pan. #6: never stretch the dough; just settle it into the edges of the pan. #7: dried beans make great pie weights.
19:43 – Now for the meringue part and Ina has some great recommendations. (I think this is a new record) Pro Tip #8: Room temperature eggs are necessary to get the volume you want in meringue.
20:13 – After dropping some serious pastry knowledge Ina tries to comfort us that each step in the process can be done individually, so it doesn’t feel daunting. Perhaps I’d feel better if some of those limes were added to a margarita….
22:21 – Tart is assembled (baked shell + chilled lime curd) and next it’s time to pipe the meringue. Hmm, which pattern to use? Shell? Swirl? I swear she’s messing with me.
23:02 – The tart is out of the oven and it looks awesome. New life goal: learn to pipe meringue from a pastry bag.
26:11 – Next, Chocolate Dipped Strawberries which Ina claims is her back up dessert when she has a ‘disaster.’ I’d love to have some stories of recipes gone awry…
27:28 – Mmm. Melted chocolate with orange zest and orange liqueur stirred in – forget the strawberries, just a spoon would do nicely.
29:06 – Frank is back for the required taste test. Dessert and he secures an invitation to the next party? This man is so lucky.
Ina’s approach to riffing on classic recipes by changing one ingredient is really smart. Clever girl.
Who knew that temperatures were so critical to baking success – cold butter, room temperature eggs, etc?
Lord, I love dessert. It really is the most important, err memorable, part of a meal.
The fruit in the produce section has been calling my name and since both peaches and blueberries are in season right now I just had to make the Peach and Blueberry Crumble. This really is a fairly simple recipe with essentially two components – the fruit filling and the crumble topping, neither of which requires much other than measuring and mixing a little – and prep time is relatively short.
Poaching the peaches is a little bit of an ‘extra step’ but once the water is boiling it only takes about 2 minutes total and the skins really do come right off. One note – I never realized how slippery a naked peach could be, so take your time with the slicing. Sharp knife + peach juice = danger. I do recommend the parchment lined sheet tray step too – my little ramekins definitely bubbled over a little and it was nice not to have to clean up a mess in the oven.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Sorta. You will need a large pot, three bowls (ice water bath, fruit filling, and crumble mixture), plus 4-6 ramekins, and a sheet pan. I also used a slotted spoon, spatula, pastry cutter, measuring cups and spoons, and a bird beak paring knife to cut the peaches. (I like that knife best for cutting sections out of stone fruit, but a regular paring knife would work too.)
That’s a fair amount of ‘stuff’ but neither the pot or the ice water bowl need to be washed afterward, so there’s that.
I made the Peach and Blueberry Crumble for Mike and I on a moody, rainy day this week and it was awesome. Excellent flavors (don’t skip the lemon!) and a ramekin-sized portion with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream is the perfect amount. Sweet, but tangy, warm fruit and cold ice cream. Make this for a summer barbeque or for a little treat on a grumpy weather day – you won’t be sorry!