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Friday, June 10, 2016

Imagining Alsace

I like Alsace. I think I do, though I'm not entirely certain since I have never been to Alsace. Is it possible to like a place without ever setting foot there?

Alsace is on the eastern border of France next to Germany. Places on the edge always appeal to me since they are usually a confluence of cultures and languages. I like fusion.

The wines from Alsace has influences from Germany. I like the fact that French wines have long tapered green bottles that are like the wines in Germany. But unlike the wines in Germany, the wines are not sweet but more dry. I especially enjoy the Riesling and Gewürztraminer for their floral and fruity smells right out of the bottle.

I like the food from Alsace, especially the tarte flambée. The combination of cheese, bacon and oninion on bread dough is just perfect. I used to always order the tarte when I went to the Bar Room at the Modern in New York City, where the chef was from Alsace. One of my favorite Michelin three-star restaurants in New York is also helmed by a chef from Alsace, who successfully fuses French and Asian cuisines to create his own style.

One of my favorite things to make at home is the Alsatian Apple Tart, a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. The tart was the first recipe I tried from the book. The reason for picking this tart is Greenspan wrote this was one of the first French pastries that she learned.

The recipe is simple: start with a partially baked pâte sablée, place slices of apple in a single layer, and add a vanilla flavored mix of eggs, cream and sugar. Bake in 375 F degree oven for almost an hour. Afterwards I like to glaze the tart with some apple jelly or sometimes with apricot jam. The first time I baked the tart was a success and thereafter I have made it many times.

However, I can never quite figure out the geometry of the apple slices – how to lay the apples in perfect circular rings. I can also never get the apples to look right in the middle of the tart. The appearance of the apples used to bother me quite a bit. As an architect I always thought I should be able to do better. But now I no longer fuss over it or attempt to make it "perfect". I have accepted the fact that a more "homey" look is fine.

I love the taste of the Alsatian apple tart. Greenspan wrote in the book that as a beginner baker in New York City, it was remarkable that the flavor and texture could transport her to France. I don't have the experience and memory that Greenspan has to draw on. Yet, making and eating the tart connect me to an Alsace of my imagination that's just as comforting and elegant as the tart.

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