Sunday, May 12, 2024

Ispahan Tart

After a long time, I got to experience May in Belgrade.

It’s been an uncommonly quiet week. Perhaps it was the Easter Holiday. Or the Feast of St. George. Djurdevdan... Ederlezi...  The time we make flower wreaths. The time when linden and roses bloom.

As I walk through the empty streets, sunshine dispensing through the linden canopies, this town, entirely new and unfamiliar to me -- the town of glass skyscrapers, shopping malls, and glitzy waterfront cafes -- begins to dissolve and, once again, becomes the city of my childhood. The way I remember it to be...  It’s been a while, yet the recollections are more vivid than ever, so vivid in fact, that I begin to worry. Memory is a jester, and perhaps, in my mind’s eye, I’ve made it all up out of loneliness and nostalgia. 

The wrought-iron gated gardens in Belgrade’s Old Town. The scent of roses hoovering around, barely detectable at first, then opening into an explosion of perfumes. Wild and bewitching. Almost cloying sometimes. 

Albanian pastry shop on Balkanska Street. The last bastion of Turkish Delight in Belgrade. I loved those super-sweet gooey cubes of starch and sugar, flavored with rosewater and bright, exotic colors of one thousand and one nights. They reminded me of stories of Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin, and Ali Baba. I could stand at the doorstep of the pastry shop forever, peeking into the dimly lit kitchen in the back, watching the workers stir the pot of cornstarch on the stove, breathing in the aromas of rosewater, vanilla, and Arabian Nights. 

The scent of Grandmother Persida's cabinet after I spilled her carefully hidden rose oil. 

The stalls at Kalenić Market in Belgrade, where Dad stopped after work to buy raspberries, fresh peas for the Turkish pilaf, and a bouquet of blushed garden roses. If trusted farmers failed to show up, Dad would give up on peas and raspberries, but no matter what, he always brought the roses. Come May, roses were in every corner of our apartment. While Dad sat in his armchair, shelling the peas, and sipping cold beer, Mom lovingly arranged the roses in a vase. She tended to them every day, and in turn, they rewarded her with beautiful, long-lasting blooms. 

I wrote down and practiced this recipe several weeks ago thinking of Mom. Roses and raspberries were her thing. I figured that I would make it for Mother’s Day and that I would call Dad to tell him about it. He would tell me to take care and not work too hard. He would ask about the Boss, and about his little one, even though she is 17 now. He would tell me that he loved me. 

It’s my last day here in Belgrade. One week, seven days, 168 hours, 10080 minutes, 17 walks. 

I’ve cleaned and organized the apartment. I took the hospital bed out, but I left his herringbone jacket. I left his checkered shirts and the Italian moccasins. On the nightstand, next to Mom’s picture, I left the pencil he drew the Gazela Bridge with. I rearranged the furniture back to how it used to be before the diseases and hospital beds crept in. The apartment is quiet now. Almost peaceful. The pain is yet to come.

As I am packing my suitcase, I open the windows wide so that I can hear birds chirp. I hear children on the playground downstairs laugh, their tiny voices echoing in the empty apartment like crystal. I can almost hear the wind. It brings in the scents of linden and imaginary roses because there are no roses on the playground anymore. 

I wait for the scents to fill in the room and begin to cry.

Ispahan Tart

for the tart shell:
180 grams (6.3 ounces) raw almonds
125 grams (4.4 ounces) white rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
110 (3.9 ounces) grams sugar
100 grams (3.5 ounces) softened butter

for the ispahan marmalade:
340 grams (12 ounces) lychees (from 1 1/2 20 oz cans), drained
170 grams (6 ounces) raspberries
200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
a stripe of lemon peel from ½ lemon
1 teaspoon rose water (I use Cortas)

for the raspberry crème diplomat:
500 grams milk 17.6 oz
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tablespoon vanilla powder, I use Nielson Massey)
70 grams egg yolks (2.5 ounces),  4 large or 5 small egg yolks
100 grams sugar 
40 grams (1.4 ounces) cornstarch 
2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter
1 gelatin sheet
70 grams freeze dried raspberries
180 grams (6.3 ounces) whipping cream 
1 tablespoon rose water (or up to taste)

to decorate:
fresh raspberries
meringue, white chocolate pearls, and edible flowers (optional)

9-inch tart pan

Make the tart shell: Heat the oven to 350°F (325°F convection). Roast the almonds for 10 to 12 minutes, until they begin to acquire color (they should not be toasty, so watch carefully). Let the almonds cool before grounding.

In a food processor, grind the almonds with half the rice flour. Add the salt and the remaining rice flour and pulse several times to fully combine.

Using a mixer cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and almost white. Add the almond mixture and combine until dough comes together. 

Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch tart pan; use about two thirds of the dough for the bottom and about one third for the side. Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork. Chill for at least two hours or overnight. 

Heat the oven to 350°F. Cover the dough with parchment paper. (Avoid using aluminum foil, as it may stick to the dough.) Fill to the top with pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and the paper and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the shell is beginning to turn golden. Let the shell cool completely before filling. 

Make the marmalade: Drain the lychees from the syrup. Reserve the syrup for another use. (Lychee lemonade comes to mind.) Chop the lychees and raspberries into ¼-inch dice. Cover with sugar, set aside, and let macerate for an hour. Pour the fruit mixture in a pot and mash with a fork. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Stir from time to time to prevent the marmalade from sticking. When the marmalade begins to thicken, reduce the heat to medium and add the lemon juice and the lemon peel. Keep stirring at a gentle boil until the marmalade has reduced by half. It will take about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.  Remove the lemon peel and stir in the rose water.

Refrigerate for at least two hours, ideally overnight, before adding to the tart. 

Make raspberry crème diplomat: In a medium sized bowl combine the sugar and the cornstarch. Add the egg yolks and whisk until pale and creamy.

In a medium sized saucepan, combine the milk with the vanilla powder. (If using vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, scrape the seeds and add both the seeds and the remaining vanilla bean to the milk.) Bring to a boil over medium heat. 

Add the milk slowly to the egg mixture. Add carefully in batches to avoid cooking the eggs. Mix constantly. Once fully combined, pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Return the saucepan to the stove on medium heat. Whisk continuously until the cream thickens. It will take about 3 minutes.

Remove the cream from heat and push through a sieve into a clean bowl. Add the butter and mix until fully combined.

Soak the gelatin sheet in cold water until soft. Remove the gelatin from water, squeeze the water out and add to the cream. 
Stir to dissolve. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight.

In a spice or coffee grinder, grind the raspberries into a fine powder. Add the raspberry powder to the cream. Push through a sieve again. 

Whip the heavy cream to firm consistency. Fold in the whipped cream into the raspberry cream gently. Transfer the into a pastry bag with a large round tip and refrigerate for two hours. 

Assemble the tart: Spread the marmalade on top of the tart shell. (You may have about a tablespoon or two left.) 

Remove the pastry bag with crème diplomat from the fridge and pipe over the marmalade in a pattern of your choosing. If you don’t feel like using the pastry bag, just spread the cream on top of the marmalade and flatten with a knife. (You may have some leftover cream.)

Decorate with fresh raspberries, and chill before serving.

Note: I usually make the tart over two days. On day one, I make the shell (without baking), the marmalade and the egg cream (without the raspberry powder). On the second day, I bake the shell, complete the crème diplomate, and assemble the tart.