Two Fruit Pizzas with a Cookie Crust and a Tale of Two Restaurants
by Victoria Challancin
Most of my regular readers know that I teach almost on-going courses of international cuisine to Mexican cooks in San Miguel de Allende, where I live. The cooks, who mainly work for foreigners, come to me to learn to prepare food other than their native cuisine, with which they are proficient. It is about job security. It is about life learning. It is about increasing skills. It is about love of cooking. For the cooks, it is all those things and more. For me, it is about love. I can say from the depths of my heart that I love this part of my work and always learn far more from them than I teach in return. Through this work I continue to grow in my appreciation of the sheer generosity of the Mexican people, about which I have written before. I continue to be in awe of women struggling to make a better life for their families by capitalizing on what they do best. Yes, for me it is about love--and empowerment for these (mainly) women who have become so very dear to me.
One of the things that continues to fascinate me about these Mexican cooks is their love of decorating. Sure, I can give them plating ideas, more modern presentation, suggestions for garnishing...but I can't teach them a thing about decoration--not of cakes, not of desserts in general, and certainly not about such dishes as these fruit pizzas or a basic fruit tart. Once I have shown them a few images of similar decorations as these online, I put out the fruit and stand back--not offering a single word of advice, never interfering. And without fail, I am dazzled by their efforts. Far better than my own would be, I'm certain.
Having seen a number of fruit pizzas on the internet lately, I decide to teach the cooks how to make one in class. When I spotted this one on The Cooking Channel, I knew it would be perfect for my students. And my mind continues to whirl with other possibilities: Chocolate sugar cookie crust or a thin brownie? Chocolate chip cookies? Oatmeal cookies? I would think any cookie dough would work fine for this without any real adjustments.
Cook's notes: If you have never tried to cut strawberries with a slicer designed for hard cooked eggs, you should do so! It works perfectly. You know the kind--with wires and a plastic base? Also, don't omit the herbes de Provence in the glaze--they give it a subtle taste and a feeling of je ne sais pas. I
Recipe: Fruit Pizza with a Cookie Crust
(Recipe by Kelsey Nixon from The Cooking Channel)
Nonstick cooking spray
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
One 8-oz/227g package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1 cup blueberries
1 cup sliced kiwi
1 cup sliced nectarines (I used mango)
1 cup raspberries (I used blackberries)
1 cup strawberries
For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 10-inch tart pan or pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray (I used a baking sheet with parchment, upon which we traced a 10-inch circle).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth using a handheld mixer. Add in the egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture into the creamed butter, and mix until blended. Remove the dough from the bowl and press it into the prepared pan or onto the prepared cookie or pizza pan. (You may need to dust your hands with some flour to prevent the dough from sticking to them; it is a wet dough when it comes together). Bake until the edges just start to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
For the spread: In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt until smooth. Spread evenly on the cooled crust.
For the glaze: Add the marmalade, 2 tablespoons water and the herbs de Provence to a small pot and cook over medium heat until loosened and warm.
To assemble: Arrange the fresh fruit in the desired pattern on top of the pizza. Brush the fruit with the glaze. Slice and serve.
A note from the author of the recipe: An offset spatula is a great tool for spreading the cookie dough. If dough is too soft to work with, chill it in the refrigerator before proceeding.
Part I: A Tale of Two Restaurants
When it comes to restaurants, I am nondiscriminatory. Well...let me clarify. I do discriminate when it comes to the quality of the food. Definitely, I do that. I mean, who wants to waste time on culinary mediocrity, right? But when it comes to my surroundings, be they humble, elegant, or somewhere in between, I absolutely do not care. Let there be cleanliness and good food, and I am a happy camper. And with this caveat, let me tell you a tale of two favorite restaurants in San Miguel de Allende and environs.
In no particular order let me begin with Las Cazuelas, a family-run restaurant in the nearby town of Comonfort, about 20 minutes outside of San Miguel. This restaurant, which has indoor and outdoor seating is a gem--and this is from one who swore she wouldn't write restaurant reviews. If you are looking for honest, authentic Mexican fare at a shockingly low price, you just can't do better than this. Open 7 days a week, it is almost always packed both for breakfast and comida, with the dishes changing according to the time of day.
Why do I love Las Cazuelas, you ask? Let me count the ways.
Why do I love Las Cazuelas, you ask? Let me count the ways.
Is it because it costs only the equivalent of US$3.19 with a drink of fresh orange juice, (morning only), fruit water (agua fresca), soft drink or bottled water? No.
No, it is not the cost. And anyway, it went up 20% last week and now costs about $3.83. A bargain, no doubt, for an all-you-can-eat buffet. But that is not why I love it.
Is it because I and my family or friends are always the only non-Mexicans eating there? No. That has its charms, mind you. But that isn't why either.
Is it the wide variety of dishes offered freshly prepared, piping hot, and ever-changing? Nope.
Is it because they use Mexican clay cazuelas and frankly, almost everything tastes better when prepared in one? Not that either.
Could it be the impossibly non-greasy and extra-crunchy taquitos or flautas? Close, but not really.
Is it the live music? Charming, but no (please excuse this dark photo).
Could it be the perfectly-executed red and green salsas? No...but we are getting close.
Pickled chiles? Necessary to a meal, yes. Why I go there? Certainly not.
Is it because of the on-going process of making fresh corn tortillas made on a huge metal comal--and the mere whiff of the nixtamal dough makes me want to faint from delight? No.
Is it because you can get a basket of soft or crunchy tortillas on your table at no extra cost and because they taste sooooo much better than they look in this fuzzy photo??? No.
Is it because someone, probably a family member, sells special Mexican sweets on occasion: fruit paste, fruit leather, coconut cake, and more? Nah. Not that either.
Is it the chiles rellenos capeados? Could it possibly be just for the fire-roasted poblano chiles stuffed with panela cheese and gently coated in a fine egg batter, then fried, then topped with a tomato caldillo? Could it be because I am half Southern and can't help but love something fried, even if I don't fry in my own kitchen? Does it help that they aren't greasy at all? Could it be that poblano chiles are probably my favorite vegetable in a wide world of vegetables that I love? Is it because panela, a non-melting cheese squeaks when you eat it, is low-fat, and reminds me of halloumi cheese that I adore but can't find yet in Mexico? Could it be one or all of these things? Yes, you have your answer. I have driven there four times in little over two weeks just for the these chiles. And if there are none yet out on display andI ask the friendly staff when they will be ready, he or she always tells me they won't tardar mucho (i.e. they won't be late) and then a plate of them magically appears on my table because they know, they just know that I can eat several. And do. Yes, you have your answer. Chles Rellenos Capeados. Probably my favorite Mexican dish.
So there you have it: delicious authentic food, perfect chiles, charming people, and a nice setting. A perfect formula for dining if I have ever seen one. Stay tuned for Part II next week--we will take a peek at an altogether different dining experience, but equally good.
And here is a sample of what my plates have looked like of late:
Steamed veggies, ripe tomatoes, and the ubiquitous salsa pico de gallo wioth tomato, onion, chile, cilantro and lime juice
An unbelievably light home-made tater tot, a bit of macaroni salad, a half-eaten crisp chicken taquito, green salsa, Mexican red rice, and more
Two chiles rellenos with a glob of perfect guacamole
Chiles rellenos bathed in a tomato caldillo and topped with a güero chile and the most delicious garbanzo beans ever. Ever!
The same as above but with some strips of cooked nopal cactus.
More rice, new-crop beans, chille relleno, two "tater tots," and nopales. More. More. More.
And finally a glimpse inside one of those perfect rellenos where you can actually see the both the deep green chile and the cheese. Oh my. I am hungry just looking at them. If I didn't have class tomorrow, I might just pop over and have one. Well, two.
What else can be found inside those lovely clay cazuela dishes? Scrambled eggs in red sauce, pork skins in green sauce. a lovely mole poblano, chicken (plainly cooked to be eaten with the mole), cooked purslane, raw salads, slaw, quelites (greens--various types), beans (necessary--charro style, refried, plain--pintos and/or garbanzos), Mexican rices of different colors, and more. Much more. Just writing this makes me realize how much I love this country, its culture, its food, and most of all, its people.
Parting Shot: (Ok. Bad photo of the musicians because even though I had their permission to take a picture, I was embarrassed to jump out in front of them to do so)
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, México