This recipe had a starring role at the Kitchen of the Year in Rockefeller Center this summer! Click for video. For a real mind-blowing read don't miss Cooking for Kings: Antonin Carême, The Life of the First Celebrity Chef by Ian Kelly. It takes you on a mind-blowing journey back in time to the dizzying heights of extraordinary cuisine of the early 19th century. The wonderfully detailed descriptions of the opulent feasts and elaborate centerpieces created to dazzle kings, emperors and tzars will leave you day dreaming of these splendors past.
The creations would be unimaginable if Kelly weren't so adept at explaining how these feats of glory were achieved through diaries, menus, original diagrams and recipes.
Of course I wanted to try my hand at some of these magnificent dishes. But where to start? Salmon à la Rothschild could be fun though the called-for pound of truffles would be a little dear. And I don't know if I'll ever get around to forcing a raw pigeon breast through a horse-hair sieve by hand — mightn't a minute or so in the food processor achieve the same result?
But there was one little nugget of an idea I immediately knew I could master — dipping the edges of vol-au-vent cases in caramel and then rolling them in chopped pistachios. A perfect upgrade for my Blueberry Tartlettes! (Click her for that recipe.)
Carême was a braver man than I. He tested his caramel with his fingers, dipping them into water first but still, that I'm not going to try.
So here's my secret: take your baked tartlette shells and run a thin skewer through the bottom. Secure the skewer with a little disk of sliced baby carrot. This way you can lower the shell upside-down into hellishly-hot caramel without risking erasing your finger prints. Pop immediately into chopped nuts and there you have it.
BYW my very own tartlettes are destined for fame: we're using them for the two-story high banners on Rockefeller Center announcing House Beautiful's Kitchen of the Year. Pictures of that to follow soon.
But back to the tartlettes where the sweetness of the crackling caramel and the tasty crunch of pistachios take them to a higher plane. I confess I was originally just going for the look, but I'll return for the taste. Worth it! You can almost see the ghost of a dowager countess plucking one of these little treats from a lapis lazuli Sévres plate…A tiny bite of temps perdu.