From the time I learned to cook as a kid until I started culinary school, all my food was cooked and served family style, in big bowls and on big platters. No matter how many I was feeding, that is how it was done. That was how my Mom did it, and thus, so did I.
Then I went to culinary school and my whole cooking and serving world was turned up-side-down. In culinary school you are learning how to cook in a restaurant, where each dish is plated separately and garnished artistically. I threw myself into it enthusiastically, but as a consequence my home cooked meals became hodge-podge. I almost became unable to cook at home, especially using my old tried and true recipes.
Now, the only time I serve family style is for a buffet, BBQ or picnic. If you come to dinner at my house these days, I will plate each course separately in the kitchen and get one of the guests to play waiter.
One of the useful tools I learned to use in culinary school was the bottomless ring mold, which was used for plating savory entrees and also desserts. You can see one way I used it for plating the Chinese Pork and Eggplant Chow recipe. It is good for packing an ingredient so it sticks together, and other ingredients can be stacked upon it. Or if you have a garnish in the middle of a soup plate, you can put it in the ring mold, pour the soup around it, then remove the mold. The garnish stays neatly in the center. It makes such a trick presentation.
I made and photographed this Mascarpone Tart around 1996. I took the photo with a Canon Rebel EOS film camera I had at the time. Thanks to modern electronics, I was able to scan the photo and make it digital. Hooray for technology!
The dough for this tart can get really soft in a warm room, but it is very forgiving, so just press it together with your fingers if it splits. It is the most melt-in-your-mouth dough I have ever eaten.
Mascarpone Tarts with Plum Sauce
Yield: 10 Tarts
Equipment: ten 2″x3″ bottomless ring molds
1 ¼ pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
3 small egg yolks
2 ½ tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups AP flour
1. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and powdered sugar on medium-high until light and smooth.
2. Add egg yolks one at a time. Add milk gradually, stop and scrape down sides.
3. Add the salt and flour gradually on low speed, just until dough forms. Make a 1-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill.
This recipe makes enough dough for 20 tarts. The extra dough can be wrapped in plastic, then aluminum foil and placed on a zip lock freezer bag, and frozen for up to one month.
4 each egg yolks
2 each eggs
1 cup sugar
Zest of one lemon
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cardamom
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces mascarpone
1. In a stand mixer with whip attachment, mix yolks, eggs and sugar on high speed for 5 minutes.
2. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, cardamom, cream cheese and mascarpone. Mix on low speed until smooth. The filling makes enough for 10 tarts.
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Place ten 2”x3” bottomless ring molds on parchment.
3. Sprinkle rolling surface with a little flour. Roll half of chilled dough to 3/8-inch thickness. Cut into 5-6” circles with a small knife. You can use a small plate as a template. Form scraps into a ball, reroll and cut more circles.
4. Line the bottom and sides of each ring mold with a dough circle. Push dough with your finger tips to fit the inside, level with the top of the mold. Pierce the bottom with a fork a few times. Chill until firm. Bake until light golden. Cool.
5. Fill each mold with cheese filling mixture to within ½-inch of top of dough. Bake for 45 minutes.
½ cup + 2 tablespoons brandy
½ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
10 plums, quartered
3 lemons, sliced very thin
1. In a large sauté pan, mix together the brandy and sugar. Bring to a simmer and add the plums and lemon slices. Simmer until soft and syrupy.
Place each tart on a dessert plate. Spoon plum sauce around each tart. Garnish with whipped cream dusted with cinnamon. Mint leaves garnish optional.