sweets

grapefruit curd tart + how to plan your perfect birthday

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

I had a birthday over the holidays. In honor of which I made myself this grapefruit curd tart. Because grapefruit is one of my favorite flavors. And because grapefruit goes really well with champagne. And because I love champagne.

Some people might think a person shouldn’t have to bake her own birthday dessert. I have to disagree.

We live in an age of endless to-do lists. Tsunamis of work obligations. The creeping suspicion (developed after too many hours on Instagram) that our ass is too big. Or too small. Or not clad in the right brand of aggressively tight workout gear. Or too often glued to our couch as we binge-watch Netflix.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Which is why we need a day set aside to remember that everything about us is OK. Beautiful even. Regardless of how few items we’ve checked off our productivity app. Or how our boss feels about our TPS reports. Or the size of our backside.

And what better occasion to proclaim “fuck it” to all the obligations of adulthood and spend the day doing exactly what you want than your birthday?

Yes, it is impractical. Yes, you might feel like you don’t deserve it. Yes, it might even feel a little sinful. And yes, it will be 100% WORTH IT.

To help you fully celebrate yourself, I’ve put together a list of the 10 Birthday Commandments. As someone with a Christmas birthday who still manages to make the day her own, I consider myself something of an expert. Consider this your modern self-care manifesto.

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The 10 Birthday Commandments

  1. Sleep in. Ask your partner to get the kids ready for school. Tell your roommates to wake you under absolutely no circumstances. Because you need plenty of delicious sleep to wake up feeling like the goddess that you are.

  2. Skip work. Yes, I mean it. Take a personal day. Call in sick. Bribe your boss with cronuts for a month. I don’t care. Do whatever it takes to get the whole day to yourself. Remember: work is highly detrimental to the art of celebrating yourself.

  3. Start the day out by eating your favorite things. Chicken and waffles? Pancakes? Leftover pizza? Birthday cake? Yup. Kick that diet mindset to the curb. Nothing is verboten on your b-day. To make your birthday morning extra delightful, make sure you have what you need for said breakfast on hand. Hangry is no way to start the day.

  4. Wear your favorite outfit. Feel like zipping into a skin-tight dress and super high heels that make you feel sexy AF? Do it. Prefer to spend the day in your softest tights and hoodie? It’s all good. Today is a day for living your best life.

  5. Proclaim yourself queen for the day. Seriously. This is a thing we do in my family. When it’s your birthday, you get to choose the food, the music, the pace, the movie. Make sure your friends and fam are on board beforehand though or things could get a little heated.

  6. As Your Royal Highness, you now have permission to fill your day with things you love to do. Get a massage. Take in an art exhibit solo. Hit a spin class to get yourself energized. Have lunch with your best friends at your favorite restaurant. Make it happen!

  7. Buy yourself a present. As nice as it is to receive presents from others, your friends and family are not mind-readers. Only you can buy yourself exactly what you want. Right color. Right size. Right details. Buy yourself something that brings you joy, and feel no guilt.

  8. Let your squad celebrate you. Even if you aren’t used to being the center of attention. Letting your friends and family shower you with love is one of the best parts of having friends and family.

  9. But don’t expect anyone to make your day unforgettable. Don’t get me wrong--a perfectly executed surprise party or a bottle of champagne for two by firelight are pretty special. But unless you are supremely lucky, they aren’t going to happen every single year. Which is why I’m a big fan of taking matters into your own hands. Communication is key. Let those around you know what you want and need on your special day. Then plan some (or all) of the festivities yourself. It’s your day; you get to live it however you like.

  10. Disregard any (or all) of these commandments if they don’t fit your personality. Add your own birthday commandments if you want. The most important thing is that you fill your day with all the things and people you love most. And that you create a moment to celebrate your beautiful, amazing, perfect self.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Grapefruit Curd Tart

  • 1/2 recipe pâte sucrée (see below)
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 160g (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) granulated sugar
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 160mL (2/3 cup) freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated grapefruit zest
  • Pinch kosher or sea salt
  • A few drops red food coloring (optional)
  • 70g (5 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
  • 240mL (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional)
  • Few thin slices grapefruit to decorate the tart (optional)

Pâte Sucrée

  • 320g (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or flaky sea salt
  • 220g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 60mL (1/4 cup) ice water, plus more if needed

*Notes: The pâte sucrée can be frozen up to 1 month. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding with the recipe.

- The tart shell can be baked a day in advance. Cool it completely in the pan then wrap tightly in plastic wrap until you’re ready to fill it.

- I prefer to top the tart with the whipped cream just before serving. But it can be assembled and topped with the whipped cream up to a day in advance without losing much in terms of texture. If you go this route, be sure to use powdered sugar in the whipped cream as it helps stabilize it. Place the tart on a large plate and invert a large bowl over the top to protect the whipped cream before putting it in the fridge. (This is also how I stored the leftovers.)

- Remove the tart from the fridge 30 minutes before serving.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

For the crust: Pulse the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Add the yolks and pulse to just combine. With the machine running, add the ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube until the dough just holds together (no longer than 20 seconds). Check the dough by stopping the machine then pinching some of the dough together in your hand. It should come together into a ball when you squeeze it. Don’t wait for the dough to come together in the machine.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Gather it together into a ball then divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour (and up to 2 days).

Roll out one disk of dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Transfer the dough to an 8-inch shallow, removable-bottom tart pan. Lift and press it into the edges of the pan. Do not stretch the dough into the edges as this will make your crust shrink as it bakes. Trim the edges of the crust. One trick I use is to press the sides down into the flutes of the tart pan to make them a little thicker then the bottom. I use a rolling pin to roll over the top of the tart, trimming off any excess dough. Then I use my fingers to push the sides up just slightly past the top edge of the pan. Use a fork to prick holes evenly over the bottom of the tart (this is called docking). Place the tart pan in the freezer until the dough is frozen solid (15-20 minutes).

When you are ready to bake the tart shell, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 400°F (205°C). Line the frozen shell with parchment paper and then fill it with pie weights (I use beans. You can also use rice.)

Bake the shell until the edges are starting to brown, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and pie weights (they will be very hot), reduce the oven to 375°F (190°C) and continue to bake until the center is golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes more. (Cover the edges with aluminum foil if they are darkening too quickly.) Transfer the tart shell to a wire rack and cool completely in the pan. When you’re ready to fill the cooled tart shell, carefully remove it from the tart pan and place it on a serving plate.

For the curd: Whisk together the gelatin and cold water in a small bowl, and set aside to let the gelatin absorb the water. Set a fine mesh sieve over a medium bowl and set aside.

Place the sugar, eggs, juices, zest and salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Whisk well to combine. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until just warm to the touch. Add 1 piece of the butter and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula to prevent scorching, until the butter is almost melted. Repeat with the remaining pieces of butter. If using, add food coloring 1 drop at a time, stirring well after each addition, until you reach your desired color.

Cook the mixture, whisking frequently, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. If you want to use a candy thermometer, cook the curd until it reaches 175° F (79°C).

Once the curd thickens, remove the pan from the heat and pour the curd through the fine mesh strainer into the bowl to remove any bits of cooked egg. Microwave the small bowl of gelatin for 10 seconds, until it is liquid. Add the liquefied gelatin to the bowl of grapefruit curd and whisk well.

Pour the curd into the baked and cooled tart shell and transfer it to the refrigerator. Chill until the curd is set, at least an hour.

To serve: Place the cream and powdered sugar (if using) in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat at medium-high speed until firm peaks form. Take care not to overwhip the cream. Mound the whipped cream in the middle of the chilled tart and spread with the back of a spoon to make decorative swoops. Arrange the grapefruit slices over the whipped cream and serve.

Makes 1 8-inch tart

Pâte Sucrée recipe from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School. Curd recipe adapted from SugarHero!

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

tahini shortbreads with apricots, pistachios and dark chocolate

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

People. I’m going to level with you—I don’t have much to say today. I’ve been traveling like a crazy person this month to see friends and family (and for mental-health-preserving sun breaks to the desert of course). Beau left his corporate job to work with me full time. We just launched our first retreat of 2019. Plus, you know, THE HOLIDAYS.

It’s been a big month and we’re not even halfway through.

Though my brain is a bit on the fried side, I didn’t want to leave you without a holiday cookie this year! I’ve cut back on a lot of holiday hoopla and obligations, but baking holiday cookies is a tradition I cherish. It means time to be alone in the kitchen with a podcast or a favorite album spinning on the record player. It’s a few hours of chopping and measuring and mixing and standing in front of a warm oven that always restores a little of my sanity during this overfull time of year.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

I got the idea for these shortbreads after making this Red Rice with Coriander, Apricots and Herbs. I had half a bag of my favorite dried apricots sitting in the pantry next to my favorite bar of dark chocolate. Which meant that every time I opened the pantry door, I broke off a piece of chocolate, fished a couple pieces of apricot out of the bag and made myself a tiny “sandwich”. As one does.

The sweet-tart apricots were absolutely perfect against the dark chocolate and the flavor combination got stuck in my head (like a Justin Bieber song, but better). When I sat down to brainstorm what sort of cookies I wanted to bake this year, I already knew it was going to involve apricots and chocolate. I remembered I had a bag of Iranian pistachios in my freezer from my last trip to Paris. Then I asked myself what flavor goes with chocolate, apricots and pistachios? And voilà—these tahini shortbreads were born.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

We leave town again in two days. I have a mountain of laundry to do. Suitcases to pack. A grumpy old cat to transport to the neighbors’ house. But somehow I don’t mind at all. I’ve given in to the chaos of the month and I’m feeling like everything will turn out how it’s supposed to. We’ll see family and friends and listen to cheesy Christmas music and spend way too much time in line at the post office and probably drink too much holiday punch before it’s all said and done.

So I guess I do have something to say after all: This month, try not to worry if things feel a little hectic and out of hand. If you’ve got presents to wrap and dinners to attend and you maybe hit the eggnog a little harder than you’d intended at your office Christmas party. It’s all par for the course. The perfectly imperfect chaos that makes the season bright. Just remember to breathe. (And maybe bake yourself some cookies.)

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

P.S. If you're looking to for an extra-special gift for that extra-special someone in your life (or even your own extra-special self), registration just opened for our May 2019 retreat in Alentejo, Portugal!


Tahini Shortbreads with Apricots, Pistachios and Dark Chocolate

  • 1 1/4 sticks (140g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (95g) powdered sugar
  • 1 cup (240 mL) well-stirred tahini
  • 1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or flaky sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (90g) roughly chopped dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup (50g) roughly chopped pistachios
  • 1/2 cup (75g) roughly chopped dried apricots

*Notes: Blenheim apricots from Trader Joe’s are my absolute favorites and the only one’s I use for baking. They have beautiful color and the perfect balance of sweet and tartness. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, it looks like you can buy them on Amazon.

- This is my favorite baking chocolate. But any dark chocolate will work. I recommend chopping your own chocolate over using chips since chips are formulated to hold their shape when baked and are harder to slice.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Combine the butter, powdered sugar and tahini in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until smooth, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Add the chocolate, pistachios and apricots and mix by hand until just incorporated.

Divide the dough in half. Using a piece of parchment paper, roll each piece of dough into a log approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Once the dough is firm, you can also tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap, seal it in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use. Thaw the dough slightly before slicing.

When you're ready to bake off your cookies, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Slice the logs into coins just under 1/2-inch thick and place them on a sheet pan or large plate. (These can be a bit tricky to slice due to the chocolate. If you hit a chunk of chocolate, just saw back and forth until you get through it. If that slice falls apart a bit, just press it back into shape before freezing. This dough is very forgiving.) Place the sliced cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes while the oven preheats (this ensures they don't slump or spread in the oven).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the frozen cookies on it, leaving at least an inch between cookies. Bake until firm around the edges and light golden brown on the bottom, 16-20 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Adapted from Soframiz by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

italian plum pie

Image & styling: Olaiya Land

Hello!

I’m writing you this week from Brussels. Beau and I are staying with friends and recharging between the Paris photography workshop we hosted and the retreat we’re leading in Portugal. Since we arrived, our days have mostly involved sleeping late, cooking with all the gorgeous fall produce, leisurely meals with friends and long walks through the forest. Needless to say, I do not want to leave.

Where Paris was cosmopolitan, sexy, hectic and loud, Brussels is slow and quiet. It’s a city of austere northern architecture and moody blue-grey skies and daily rain showers that necessitate frequent stops for coffee or tea. Our friends live in a lovely, rambling old house with creaky floorboards and cozy reading nooks and two friendly cats (who have been known simply as Le Blanc and Le Noir for as long as I can remember).

Image: Olaiya Land

All this comfort and sleep and home-cooked food makes me feel like a new person. The woman who obsesses about going to the gym and cleaning the house and Instagram analytics has vacated the premises. In her place is someone who sleeps until 11am, thinks walking is exercise enough and dips her French fries in mayonnaise (because, Belgium).

I’ve traveled enough to know that this supremely relaxed, well-rested version of myself won’t stick around forever. But that’s not the point. The important thing is stepping outside my day-to-day stresses and tribulations for long enough to gain perspective on what really matters.

This is the main reason I travel.

Image: Olaiya Land

Don’t get me wrong: the museums and wine and pains au chocolat are pretty compelling reasons, too. But the main thing is how foreign places create a space for me to slow down, reconnect with myself and do more of the things that bring me pleasure. Which in turn allows me to have more creative ideas, be inspired to head in new directions and be a better human, all around.

In this vein of taking time to recharge and do more things that bring us joy, I have a pie recipe for you this week.

Image & styling: Olaiya Land

There’s a sensual pleasure to baking a pie from scratch. Mixing the dough by hand and rolling it out evenly. Smelling and tasting the tart, floral fruit as you season the filling. The satisfaction of weaving the top into place and crimping the edges in whatever pattern pleases you most. Arguably the best part is sitting down to eat the first still-warm slice with a melty scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Seen from this vantage point, a home-baked pie is like a work of art and a mini-vacation rolled into one; a space to slow down and settle into yourself that can be achieved within the four walls of your own kitchen.

Image & styling: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

Italian Plum Pie

  • 1 recipe flaky pie dough (see below)
  • 2 lbs (900g) firm-ripe Italian prune plums (or other plums, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 lb (450g) firm-ripe peaches (this is roughly 2 medium peaches)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 9 tablespoons (120g) sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Flaky Pie Dough

  • 1 lb + 2 oz (4 cups) all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 8 oz (2 sticks) butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

  • 5 oz (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) lard, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

  • 3/4 cup cold water

  • 1 whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water (or 3 tablespoons cream or milk), to glaze

  • 1-2 tablespoons turbinado, demerara or sanding sugar (regular old sugar will work, too)

*Notes: If peaches aren’t available when you get around to baking this pie, you can use all plums or substitute figs for the peaches.

- I have a step-by-step tutorial for making pie dough with pictures here. (Scroll to the bottom of the post.)

- I also tried this pie with this Easiest Pie Crust Ever from Yossy over at Apt 2B Baking Co. This crust uses only flour, butter and cream cheese and comes together quickly and easily in a food processor. The tang of the cream cheese is a nice compliment to stone fruit. It’s a great option if you need to save time or are nervous about making the crust 100% by hand.

Image & styling: Olaiya Land

For the crust: Before you begin, make sure your butter, lard and cold water have been in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If the weather is warm or your kitchen tends to be toasty, chill your flour as well.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Separate the pieces of chilled butter and toss them in the flour mixture to coat. Do the same with the lard. When all the pieces of fat have been coated in flour, pick up a piece of butter or lard between your thumb and first two fingers. Slide your thumb over the butter or lard while pressing down on it in order to form a long, thin strip. Drop this strip back into the bowl so it becomes coated with flour. Continue until all the pieces of butter and lard have been flattened. Some of the flakes will break and the dough will take on a slightly crumbly or sandy appearance, which is just fine. Place the bowl in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to re-chill the fat.

Drizzle the cold water and vinegar onto the chilled flour and fat mixture, tossing constantly with a flexible silicone or rubber spatula or a large spoon. Continue adding water until the mixture is moist enough to form a dough when you pinch it together. If you have used ¾ cup of water and the dough seems dry, give it a few more turns with your spatula or spoon and then pinch off a golf ball sized piece of dough. Squeeze it and see if it wants to come together into a dough.  If it is too crumbly and won’t form a dough, add a bit more water, a couple teaspoons at a time, until the mixture forms a dough when you pinch it together.

Turn out the dough (it will be shaggy) onto a large work surface and gather it together into a ball. Do not knead it as this will toughen the dough. Divide it in half with a bench scraper or knife. Form each half into a ball and then flatten each ball into a disk about 3/4-inch thick. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap or parchement and chill for at least an hour before rolling. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, or placed in a resealable bag and frozen for up to 2 months.  If frozen, thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight and soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Roll out one disk of dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Place the dough into a pie plate. Lift and press it into the edges of the plate.  Do not stretch the dough into the edges as this will make your crust shrink as it bakes. Trim and crimp the edges of your crust and place the pan in the freezer for at least 15 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the other disk of dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut out a circle roughly 1 inch larger than the top diameter of your pie plate.  For a latticed pie, cut this circle into wide strips.  Place the strips on a plate and refrigerate while you make the filling.

When you are ready to bake the pie, arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat it to 425°F.  

For the filling: Cut the plums into quarters if they're large or halves if they're small, discarding the pits. Cut the peaches into 1-inch thick slices. Place the fruit in a large mixing bowl and toss gently with the lemon juice, sugar, cardamom and a pinch of salt. Set aside to rest for 20 minutes. Toss the fruit and any juices that have collected in the bowl with the cornstarch, mixing well to break up any clumps of cornstarch.

Baking the pie: Pour the fruit mixture into your well-chilled or frozen bottom crust. Place the dough strips from the refrigerator on top of the fruit, weaving them into a lattice pattern. Trim the edges to overhang by ¾ inch. Fold the top edges of the lattice over the bottom crust, tuck the edges under and crimp to seal the edges. Place the filled and topped pie back in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes. 

(I know. There’s a lot of chilling and freezing and waiting around. But taking the time to par-freeze your pie will help keep your crust from slumping in the oven.)

Brush the top crust with the egg wash (or cream or milk) and then sprinkle with the sugar. Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking until the crust is dark golden brown, about 45-60 minutes longer. You want to make sure you can see the filling bubbling up through the lattice or the cornstarch won’t set the filling and it will be runny. The top crust should be deep golden-brown when the pie is done. If you feel like it’s starting to burn, loosely tent aluminum foil over the pie and continue to bake until the juices bubble.

Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool before serving. (The longer you let it cool, the easier it will be to slice.)

Serves 6-8.