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The Tradition and The Torte

by Melissa d'Arabian

recipes

December 6, 2013

The Tradition and The Torte

Our family’s Mother-Daughter Holiday Tea is a tradition that dates back to when I was five.  My mom, sister and I would have our friends and their moms over at Christmas to sing carols, drink hot chocolate and nibble on cookies.  My mom passed away when I was twenty, but I carry on the tradition with my own daughters. We spend weeks planning and cooking for our annual celebration of women. What also became a tradition was my Potato Bacon Torte – it has become  the signature dish of the Mother-Daughter Tea.

At the start of my second year in MOPS, I gave birth to my twins Margaux and Oceane (Valentine was 2; Charlotte was 1).  About a month after the twins came home from the NICU, it was time to send invitations to Mother-Daughter Tea. There was no way I could reasonably make the usual spread, so I almost cancelled. But my husband, Philippe, assured me that the tradition and the people were more important than the food. He was right. Still, I couldn’t imagine not having the torte. So we compromised.   Philippe bought pre-made crusts from the grocery store, and the two of us stayed up late one night in around Halloween, slicing potatoes and baking up six tortes together. We froze them and popped in the oven the morning of the tea. Was the crust as buttery and flaky as the homemade crust I usually make?  No. But you know what?  I think my guests were too busy cooing over the new babies to notice.

Here’s the recipe. The butter crust is actually super easy to make, and takes the torte over the top. (But no guilt allowed if you use a prepared crust; we’ve all been there!)  Whip up one or two now, bake, then freeze for last-minute holiday gatherings. 

A few slits in the top crust of a pie or torte helps allow steam to escape so the hot filling doesn’t elbow through the top crust and leak out the sides. My mom used to carve steam vents in the shape of a guest’s initials into the top crust of her pies and tortes. Another heartfelt tradition that I proudly carry forth in my kitchen and you may want to adopt it, too.

And a bonus note about the Potato-Bacon Torte: This is not just my signature dish, but may actually be the recipe on “The Next Food Network Star” that won me my own cooking show. The contestants were challenged to cook the ultimate dinner party meal for some of the world’s best chefs. There were three finalists remaining, and we had a sky-high budget to execute our menu. What did I make? My humble fifty-cents-a-serving Potato-Bacon Torte! It proved definitively that you can create something special enough to serve the country’s finest chefs while not spending an arm and a leg to make it.

POTATO-BACON TORTE

Reprinted from the book Ten Dollar Dinners. Copyright © 2012 by Melissa d’Arabian. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.

Serves 8

Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus 30 minutes to rest and 30 minutes to cool)
Cooking time: 1 hour
From frozen: Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until hot in middle.  Cover with foil if crust gets too brown

For the crust

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled

8 to 10 tablespoons ice water

For the torte

2 large russet potatoes

2 teaspoons dried tarragon

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 bacon strips, halved crosswise

1/2 to 2/3 cup heavy cream, plus 1 tablespoon for the crust

To make the crust: Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and process just until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 6 seconds. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition, until the dough begins to come together in large clumps. Divide the dough evenly between two quart-sized resealable bags, seal, and gently knead and pat each into a flat disk. Refrigerate the dough disks for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Lightly dust your work surface with some flour. Remove one dough disk from the refrigerator, take it out of the bag, and set it on the floured surface. Roll the dough into a 10-inch circle that’s between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick. Gently drape the dough over the rolling pin and lift it over and into a 9-inch pie plate. Fit the dough into the edges of the pan and set aside.

To make the torte: Place the potatoes on a cutting board, peel them and halve them lengthwise, and then slice into 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick half moons. Begin arranging the potatoes in the pie crust, rounded edges facing out, until you have a single layer of potatoes around the edges of the crust. Add another circle of potatoes in the center of the crust so you end up with a single layer of sliced potatoes that completely covers the bottom of the crust. Season the potatoes with one third of the tarragon, one third of the salt, and one third of the pepper. Repeat, seasoning between each layer, until you use all of the potatoes (you’ll probably have about 3 layers of potatoes).

Season the top layer with the remaining tarragon, salt, and pepper and lay the bacon strips over the final layer of potatoes. Slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of the cream evenly over the top layer, letting it seep down before adding more, if needed (add enough cream so the liquid nears the top of the potatoes—you don’t want it to overflow). Set aside.

Roll the second dough disk into a 10-inch circle that’s between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick, drape it over the rolling pin, and gently lay it over the top of the torte. Press down on the edges to seal and then crimp the edges by pinching them with your thumb and forefinger. Use a paring knife to make two or three small slits at the center of the top crust and place the torte on a rimmed baking sheet.

Brush the top crust with the remaining 1 tablespoon cream. Bake until the top crust is golden brown, about 1 hour, tenting the torte with a sheet of aluminum foil if it looks like it’s getting too dark. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the torte on a wire rack to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.


 

Melissa d’Arabian is the host of Food Network’s “Ten Dollar Dinners” and Cooking Channel’s “Drop 5 lbs. with Good Housekeeping,” and a New York Times best-selling cookbook author. But first and foremost, she is a wife and mother to four young daughters and a passionate woman of faith. She’s also a MOPS enthusiast, a member for three years when she lived in Keller, Texas. Stay in touch with Melissa on Facebook and Twitter(@MelissadArabian). And, visit Melissa’s website to access her delicious, affordable, family-friendly recipes.

Plus, get a sneak peek into Melissa's new FoodNetwork.com web series, The Picky Eaters Project, an 8-week strategic workshop she created to tackle picky eating -- one step at a time.


 

What are your most special treasured traditions with your own mom?

 

Share your thoughts

Grabbing a Starbucks and heading out to the thrift stores, garage sales, and Goodwill. Good times!!

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Making and eating the cookies my great grandmother used to make. Don't know what they actually are as we always just called them Italian cookies. :) Another tradition, though not Christmas exactly, was to go to the Mummer's Parade in Philadelphia.

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I loved decorating the tree with cassette recordings of me and my sister singing Christmas songs. The cinnamon tea on the stove made the house smell AMAZING!!

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What a beautiful family! My mom has four daughters, too (I'm the baby). Our Christmas Eve tradition is what I think of the most. My mom would make "snack tray," which was really a kitchen-full of appetizers - pepperoni rolls, sweet-and-sour meatballs, cheese trays, and cookies. My dad sometimes made us Shirley Temples to drink, too. We'd eat and celebrate all night, sometimes watch Christmas special on TV, welcome friends, open one present, and then go to midnight mass. I'm so grateful for those memories.

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Each year, on Christmas eve, Mom and I would begin the preparation of a breakfast casserole to be served Christmas morning. The recipe is written in my childlike script from many years ago, and stowed away in a little red recipe binder. We'd bake the casserole while we opened gifts, and then enjoy a nice meal together. Now that we alternate where we spend Christmas from year to year, I have to admit, it doesn't feel quite like Christmas when I'm not in the kitchen with mom.

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I love making monkey bread with my mom on Christmas morning. She has been a pure example of Christ's love and I cherish her more and more the older I get.

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My mom and I use to make homemade fudge together when she was still alive, I now carry the tradition on with my own daughter.

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Making sugar cookies together.

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Her hiding presents!

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Making Christmas cookies together!

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Baking and cooking Christmas dinner together.

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Even though we no longer live near each other, each year we plan a day near the holidays to get together and do holiday baking, just like we did as kids. My mom, sister and I work together to make 6-8 different kinds of treats (each recipe doubled) and take home a third of all the goodies. Its also become a special day for my son and Grandpa :)

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My mom always makes fudge and buckeye balls for Christmas Eve and lasagna for Christmas Day.

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Christmas eve candlelight service at our church and preparing the food for the family get together the next day.

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Trying to out do the previous years creative decorating and crafts.

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My mom and I share the same birthday so we always spend the day together. This year we attended a holiday tea which benefited 5 local mental health organizations. So we got to celebrate our special day and give back to the community at the same time. WIN WIN!

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Baking and shopping together on Black Friday and the day after Christmas

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I don't really have any traditions with my mom. I wish we did.

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Don't really have any specifically with my mom...hmmm, makes me ponder what to do with my own daughters.

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Baking Christmas cookies together. LOTS of them. Always the weekend after Thanksgiving.

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Decorating and baking together.

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Decorating the Christmas tree

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Decorating the house. I have such a sense of nostalgia this time of year of those memories. I remember the way the house looked, but also the music, the way the house smelled, the cookies......As she gets older, decorating has become a difficult task. I always try to make room in my schedule to help her. She thinks I'm doing HER a favor. ;)

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Oh yes....we also always had pots of chili and oyster stew on Christmas Eve....yum.

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I don't have any Christmas traditions with my mom, but I have made Christmas candy to give as gifts with my grandmother every year for 18 years. She passed away this past summer, so I'm on my own this year, making candy in her honor.

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My mom has passed and I miss her dearly! I just loved to spend time with her. She was my best friend. It really didn't matter what we did but I remember her baking cookies and getting to eat some toll houses before they went in the cookies.

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Decorating Sandtarts and all other holiday baking. We used to make gingerbread houses and use up all of my leftover Halloween Candy :)

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That's a great idea!

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My mom and I really don't have any traditions together, so I am trying to be intentional about creating them with my own daughters. We have lots of tea parties, including an annual Mother Daughter tea with close friends. Baking cookies, painting toenails and watching American Girl movies are all at the top of the list right now.

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Baking cookies!

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My mom used to put out an appetizer spread for dinner on Christmas Eve which was a lot of fun. The she would read us How the Grinch Stole Christmas right before bed.

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Tea with my mom, and now my daughter joins in! I'm not sure I can remember one conversation we have, but the time is so special.

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We always go to the midnight service on Christmas Eve. Even now that I am married, I still take my family in to church to spend time with my mom on Christmas Eve.

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Making cookies and holiday candies with my mom

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Decorating sugar cookies with her.

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