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Friday July 29, 2011

Violetly Happy 'cause I love you

Religion and politics don’t have proprietary rights over polarizing left and right wing ideologies. The “Foodie” emulsion breaks into two parts as well. First, those who serve aboard the culinary U.S.S. Enterprise. Their mission: to explore strange, new foods. To seek out new recipes, new ethnicities. To boldly go where no wok has gone before. The other, those who only follow recipes that require fewer than thirty minutes and come measured not in cups or ounces, but boxes, cans, jars, and packets.

BraveTart doesn’t offer much to either sort. A baking Buddhist, I seek the middle way.

trio of fresh blueberry tarts with custard filling

Most of my recipes have a fairly French approach and an Americana flavor profile; too stodgy for the adventure seeker. Yet I make those same recipes, from high brow Mont Blanc to trailer trash Pop Tarts, entirely from scratch, even down to the sprinkles. Much too involved for the casual baker. I don’t write for people looking to whip up microwave brownies on the fly. I don’t write for those hoping to widen their durian repertoire.

I write about the recipes I develop making desserts for the restaurant where I work. I hate to paint Table 310 into a corner like, “dressy casual French American with nuance of Japan” but that gets the job done. Killer cheese, charcuterie and French bistro noms, a healthy dose of all American comfort foods in their Sunday best, and the occasional wild card because our chef has a crush on Japan.

“Dressy casual French American with nuance of Japan” sums up my desserts fairly well too, considering I’m an American girl who moved to Japan after graduating from a culinary school where she trained in French technique.

French fruit tart with fresh blueberries

Now, if this restaurant opened in New York or Tokyo, I’d interpret those styles in a very different way. I’d aim for the dressier side of French, and use a heavier hand with my washoku pantry. But I find myself back in my hometown, the city I’d abandoned for both New York and Tokyo at different points in my life. The city where I live has tempered my style, not for “better” or for “worse” but for right now.

You could describe the food scene in Lexington, Kentucky as emergent if you felt generous or repressed if cynical. The average restaurant here, whether a total dive or white tablecloth, doesn’t make its own desserts, much have a pastry department. And I don’t mean Lexington isn’t loaded with great restaurants, only that those places make the exception and not the rule.

Lexingtonians have grown accustomed to desserts either straight off the Sysco truck or no more special than they might whip up at home. There’s no dessert culture. No place to go after dinner or a movie to unwind and indulge. (And let’s be clear, I will not in any way shape or form condone desserts coming from any chain or franchised restaurant. Don’t insult me by bringing up chocolate fondue at the Melting Pot as some sort of viable option. You can’t honestly expect someone who makes dessert for a living to embrace mass produced factory crap.)

Given that Lexington doesn’t have any dessert-only restaurants or from-scratch ice cream parlors, I have the privilege of serving my community as a dessert missionary, preaching the good news of, “I actually made this for you.”

With that kind of mandate, technical flourishes and obscure ingredients miss the point. I focus instead on making extremely well executed desserts that don’t stray too far from the familiar, but that still have the ability to surprise.

stained glass blueberry

I have weird and varied tastes. I would love to get all adzuki on this place, use more vegetables, and exercise some of my avante garde leanings.

I don’t, because I see that as nothing but self gratification, “Screw you, Joe Customer. I don’t care that you’ve never had homemade ice cream before, I’m going to make some Szechuan pepper gelato with Watermelon Rind gastrique.” (Crap, that does sound good though….) Some of the clients we have at the restaurant have never had a pie crust or puff pastry that didn’t come from the freezer aisle, much less a homemade Marshmallows or Graham Crackers. At the same time, some ridiculously sophisticated palates come walking through our doors too.

So that is the tightrope I must walk.

Lovers of avante garde, I’m sorry. I only have this blueberry tart. Champions of quick and easy, I apologize.

blueberry violet tart with a fork

But if you came to the restaurant and ordered a Kentucky Blueberry tart with blueberry violette custard in white chocolate yuzu crust, I promise neither of you would be disappointed.

White Chocolate Yuzu Tart Dough

Blueberry Violet Custard

Blueberry reduction

posted byStellaand filed under:  Fruit  Sarah Jane   Tarts

48 comments and counting

Jul 29, 2011 · 10:38 AM

These look gorgeous!! So cute and perfect serving size!

 · Kelly ·

Jul 29, 2011 · 10:47 AM

I love your mentality for all of this. It’s so super refreshing – especially coming from someone who lives in a Sysco/GFS powered town.

I have to get to Lexington at some point. Hope that doesn’t sound creeperish, you just make Table 310 sound so alluring!

 · Kaitlin ·

Jul 29, 2011 · 11:00 AM

Another fabulous post!Can’t wait for the weekend to try this out! Thanks for the great recipe…I am waiting, though for… violet taste.. like violet cream chocolates/ erm.gazpacho..erm.meringue! I would love to see what fabulousness you would be able to come up with. Here in the UK they have violet cream chocolates, but I am sure you could take this to a whole new level!!!
Have a great weekend!

 · Modern Country lady ·

Jul 29, 2011 · 11:05 AM

@Kelly, you’ll never find a slice of anything at the restaurant. Individual portions all the way!

@Kaitlin, not creepers at all! I’ll clean up the guest room and stock the pantry, it would be a helluva weekend!

@Country Lady, violet’s a funny thing. It goes so quickly from an almost savory floral taste to overwhelmingly perfume-y with that classic soapy icky feeling. One definitely has to use with great discretion to avoid disaster.


Jul 29, 2011 · 11:09 AM

Those blueberry tarts look DELICIOUS!

 · Marcela ·

Jul 29, 2011 · 11:49 AM

I just love your principles!

 · Britt ·

Jul 29, 2011 · 11:59 AM

I think there’s something to be said for being an agent provocateur in a subtler sort of way when it comes to dessert. You’ll catch more flies with honey-bourbon ice cream than you will with balsamic vinegar gastrique.
That said… Sichuan pepper gelato with watermelon rind gastrique? Yeah, I’d totally order that.

 · Isabelle @ Crumb ·

Jul 29, 2011 · 12:29 PM

This dessert gave me a major case of swoon. This principle, the dessert Buddhist, is pretty much my ideal. When I’m introducing a friend or stranger to the joy of homemade marshmallows, ice cream, short bread, or just local berries and whipped cream, this middle ground so works. Thank you for articulating this point of view in such a loverly way.

 · Emily | Nomnivorous ·

Jul 29, 2011 · 12:52 PM

I think I ranted about this on my blog too about why americans have mediocre taste. I recently went to a new restaurant here that opened with much fanfare because it’s the first of its kind to serve nose to tail fare…well their chocolate tart was awful and sadly one that used premade crusts that you just fill. This tart looks fantastic!

 · veron ·

Jul 29, 2011 · 12:55 PM

sing it sister! I may be in a dessert friendly locale now but I have been there. and tell me when you’ve got that pepper gelato on the menu, may have to book a ticket…

 · adoxograph · 

Jul 29, 2011 ·  1:16 PM

@Marcela, I definitely have Sarah Jane to thank for that. She’s a great photographer and stylist!

@Britt, thanks for havin’ my back.

@Isabel, right? And how much would I love to be a culinary agent provocateur? XD

@Emily, thanks for the kind words. It is a total pleasure to give someone their first homemade, well, anything, isn’t it? Marshmallows always provoke a great response to homemade newcomers. So fluffy!!

@Veron, ah, my small town sister. Why must desserts always come as an afterthought? It’s so ironic that a nose-to-tail place wouldn’t cover their culinary bases soup to nuts, eh?

@adoxograph, yeah, I have a serious craving right now. I might have to see if I can get Sarah Jane back over here to document such a thing. Start looking at tickets!


Jul 29, 2011 ·  1:41 PM

I think your approach sounds right on. I think experimentation is hugely interesting, but it´s not necessarily what I want to order when I go out to eat (and it often does feel self-indulgent of the chef “look at me I’m going to swap all the sweet ingredients for savory ones to show I’m creative” . On the other side of the coin, I’m writing from South America, and let me tell you, if dessert is an afterthought in some restaurants in the states, it doesn’t even enter into the picture here. Prepackaged flan it is!

 · Eva ·

Jul 29, 2011 ·  1:56 PM

whoa, so didn’t mean for that smiley face to be there. my bad for not checking the preview.

 · Eva ·

Jul 29, 2011 ·  4:18 PM

Stunning photos, and such a great post too!

 · Sasha @ The Procrastobaker ·

Jul 29, 2011 ·  7:10 PM

@Eva, I know! Bizarre ingredients don’t mean you’re clever. Prepackaged flan is the worst, you have my sympathy. And, smiley faces are never an unwelcome sight here on ye ol BraveTart.

@Sasha, thanks so much. I have Sarah Jane to thank for that the lovely photography.


Jul 29, 2011 ·  7:14 PM

Great post and I have a love/hate relationship with the word “nuance”. Love it here though. As for those berries… through my mind crossed the thought of opening my mouth wide enough and see if I could fit the picture in it. I tell you…crazy. Thanks for bringing out the crazy in me!

 · Nelly Rodriguez ·

Jul 29, 2011 ·  7:16 PM

I enjoyed your post thoroughly. It was beautifully photographed and written.

 · urbanstrawberries ·

Jul 29, 2011 ·  8:31 PM

They’re gorgeous. I know what you mean about a repressed food culture—I live in Kansas, and not the liberal bastion that is Lawrence.

I have to say that I appreciate your “middle way.” There’s no reason why familiar flavors can’t be given the respect they deserve with high-quality ingredients and care.

 · Lauren  ·

Jul 29, 2011 ·  8:47 PM

Nice restaurant.. I love that it has French approach with an Americana flavor, I would ask my husband to have us a dinner there. It’s cool that you have a varied taste while I have a simple taste, so excited! Hope to be there.

 · flyer printing ·

Jul 29, 2011 ·  8:49 PM

These are such beautiful tarts – anything with blueberries and I am in love

 · marla  ·

Jul 30, 2011 ·  9:37 AM

It is nice to see that you are still the nerd I knew in school. Nice word play at the start, broken emulsion and all. Mark and I will have to find time to come visit and try the tasty.

 · Kelly · 

Jul 30, 2011 ·  9:44 AM

Love the title of the post…know what I’m going to listen to today! heading to the market to get blueberries…we’ll see if I can hold off from devouring them long enough to make something!

 · Mallowsota · 

Jul 30, 2011 · 10:52 AM

I really appriciate your take on cooking. It’s kind of fun to push yourself to make fantastic food within limitations set by yourself, or those you are cooking for. I am currently cooking with the restrictions of GF, lacto-paleo and struggle with it every day!

 · Kasia ·

Jul 30, 2011 · 10:56 AM

@Nelly, yeah, “nuance” is sooooo abused. I think it can only be used in jest anymore, or, with nuance of irony.

@urbanstrawberries, thank you so much. I’m so blessed to have a friend like Sarah who is such a talented photographer.

@Lauren, oh, I’m sure we could swap stories on the dessert indignities. I’ve never been to Kansas, crummy desserts notwithstanding, I’d like to someday.

@flyer printing, I wish your husband could bring you to 310 too! I know there would be something on the menu perfect for your tastes. Vive la différence!

@marla, so tragically, blueberry season has just drawn to a close here in Kentucky. Wild blackberries are still in, and then…peaches?

@Kelly, seriously, someday you and Mark must make the trek. There are enough good restaurants that I can hold up the illusion that Lexington is an amazing food town for about a week. In fact, I have done exactly that every time @Mallowsota comes for a visit. She lives under the mistaken notion that Lex is jam packed with great places to eat, when there are really only seven. Ha!

@Mallowsota, speaking of that, is first week of Oct still looking iffy for you? Listen to lots of Bjork today!! I feel that song is especially on point, “since I met you (table 310), this small town, hasn’t got room, for my big feelings….” etc. I’m not quite daring people to jump off roofs with me yet, but…

@Kasia, first off, I love your name. Beautiful! But also, I have played a lot with GF and lactose free foods here. At the bottom of the page, there's a tag cloud and you can browse gluten free and lactose free recipes. This pastry cream is really good made with coconut milk; though I haven't perfect a GF crust, I'm working on it. Oh so close. Is paleo more like hunter-gatherer foods? A new term for me!


Jul 30, 2011 · 11:35 AM

Stella, Thanks! My parents were rebels with the first child then got tired of explaining my name so my sisters have more ‘traditional’ names LOL I found when we were strictly GF/CF I spent too much time trying to recreate foods we couldn’t have instead of making new food. Now that we are paleo I don’t even think about trying to recreate it’s more like just trying to make everything taste good. Paleo is meat and veggies essentially. No grains, but I can have nuts! So nut flours! Yay!

 · Kasia ·

Jul 30, 2011 · 11:59 AM

Speaking of blueberries, I started the day with non nuanced toast with loads of blueberry/peach jam and so glad to qualify for father’s day. Freddy King on the spot at just below a really acceptable level.

 · deadly · 

Jul 31, 2011 · 11:18 AM

Good god. That looks outstanding. I love your middle ground philosophy Way to rock that baking Buddism. Buzzed

 · Parsley Sage ·

Jul 31, 2011 · 10:15 PM

As always, looks and sounds delicious! Now to get my hands on some blueberries…

 · cathy ·

Aug 01, 2011 ·  9:57 AM

I love this post. I love your philosophy about food, baking and ingredients. And, I love that you’re doing it in a place I’d never expect to find it in.

 · Gail  ·

Aug 01, 2011 · 11:03 AM

@Kasia, thanks for the explanation! I have recently discovered just how dang useful nut flours are in GF baking, so your diet seems totally doable to me. Interesting…

@deadly, geeze, I’m glad you’re finally crackin’ into that!!

@Parsley Sage, the whole idea of “rocking” any kind of Buddhism is kinda hysterical. Love it!

@cathy, hee hee, good thing you live in the land of perpetual fruit!

@Gail, thank you so much, lady. I never really expected to find myself doing it here either. This job really snuck up on me and I’m so, so grateful.


Aug 01, 2011 ·  1:08 PM

You live in a place like I do. Worded perfectly! Most people here have taken ten years to work up to bad sushi.

I love this tart. Beautiful and yes, exactly, YOU MADE IT!

 · sweetsugarbelle ·

Aug 02, 2011 · 11:46 AM

Oh my. That tart looks STUNNING. Is that a weird way to describe a dessert? Absolutely stunning. And I love your philosophies on food and people and microwaved brownies (ew, even the thought makes me want to gag). I also love that you appreciate and herald the importance of the idea that “I MADE THIS FOR YOU,” something so often lost and unappreciated in favor of “quick” and “cheap.” Such an excellent post, and a lovely, lovely tart.

 · christine [the sugar apothecary] ·

Aug 03, 2011 ·  9:39 AM

@sweetsugarbelle, oh, that bad sushi comment really resonates with me. Yes. That is exactly the case here too.

@christine, thank you so much. I think Sarah’s photography is stunning, at the very least. I wish people could take a look at what they’re eating; they’d realize how much isn’t actually made by someone, but by something. And that’s sad.


Aug 03, 2011 · 10:50 AM

Now I am missing Blueberries a lot and mangoes won’t suffice..hope I get to cook with fresh berries soon..

 · sanjeeta kk ·

Aug 05, 2011 ·  3:51 AM

Perfectly stated!! Utah is similar, everything is pre-packaged, pre made and comes off a sysco truck… It’s really sad!
Thanks you’re my new hero!!

 · Andrea ·

Aug 05, 2011 ·  9:04 AM

1) Looks DELISH!
2)I must take the 2 days to make!
3) I need to get to Lexington!
4) Great pics by SJ!!

 · Janice ·

Aug 05, 2011 · 12:52 PM

Drool!! These look fabulous! So juicy and yummy! Great work on getting the berry design to look just right!

 · Jo Green ·

Aug 05, 2011 ·  2:45 PM

I’d like to make a clarification in regards to the statement made about The Melting Pot’s chocolate fondue. The recipe for the chocolate served in The Melting Pot’s chocolate fondue was specially developed with the assistance of a chocolatier to ensure that the chocolate results in the most consistent, highest quality chocolate fondue when melted.

Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.

Thank you,

Alisha dos Santos
Communications Manager
The Melting Pot Restaurants, Inc.

 · Alisha dos Santos ·

Aug 05, 2011 ·  7:29 PM

@sanjeeta, I wish I could send some your way!

@Andrea, we get sysco deliveries every week! Of toilet paper, dish washing detergent, and sanitizer! XD

@Janice, let me know in 2 days, haha. Isn’t SJ wonderful?

@Jo, thank you much!

@Alisha, easily the most intriguing comment I’ve ever had! Thanks for taking the time to stop by and weigh in. I’d be really intrigued to learn about the ingredients in the Melting Pot’s fondue.


Aug 07, 2011 ·  1:58 AM

I think I’m in love with your style of cooking. You’re amazing.

 · fitzgerald ·

Aug 07, 2011 · 12:07 PM

@fitzgerald, I dunno, it looks like you spelled out “Nerd Fighters” with French fries over on your blog. The feeling’s mutual!


Aug 07, 2011 · 11:33 PM

OK, first you make a reference to one of my favoritest Bjork songs in the title, then you get all TNG in the opening paragraphs…then it’s all blueberries and violet?? You know I adore you but this is almost too much

Shockingly even in NYC I’m walking this tightrope of familiar vs. avant-garde. I don’t have the experience, training, time or equipment to do as much experimenting as I like, but if I get too inventive with my flavors people shy away, too. They have to be coerced to order things like a mango-chili-lime tres leches trifle or a kumquat brulee tart, but I luckily have a small army of very enthusiastic servers who get mandatory tastes of everything.

 · anna ·

Aug 08, 2011 · 10:09 AM

Oh my very small Anna, I adore you. I really felt the title of this blog post was going to be a cool people litmus test, but of course I knew you’d pass. Didn’t know you’d be on board for some TNG references though! Your excellence knows no bounds.

It’s funny, New York is my dream. I think, “Oh if I worked in The City, I could do this and this” or “Oh, if I had a Manhattan clientele, I could try that or that.” On the one hand, I’m genuinely surprised. I would think they’re a more adventurous bunch. On the other, perhaps they’re all subjected to so many restaurants plying them with outrageous flavors that they’ve lost that allure and comfortable flavors call them back. Thank goodness for your thoughtful Army of Anna! I swear, I’m going to come visit you one of these days…

What do regular people call that? A va— vaca? Vacation? Something like that.


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