Cream of tartar (Recipe: poppy seed torte)
Do you have any potassium bitartrate on your spice rack?
Any potassium hydrogen tartrate?
Any potassium 2,3,4-trihydroxy-4-oxo-butanoate?
Or, go to the supermarket and get some: all three are cream of tartar, by any other name.
While potassium bitartrate sounds like rocket fuel, and cream of tartar sounds like a version of tartar sauce, neither is true. There's no cream in cream of tartar, either (like that other famous "fraud", the egg cream — no egg, no cream).
Cream of tartar is an acid produced naturally as a biproduct of the fermentation of wine. The crude form, known as beeswing, is collected from the sediment inside wine barrels, and purified to produce the powder that's most commonly used in baking to stabilize egg whites and help them "mount" (increase in volume).
And, best of all, it's the secret ingredient in play dough.
Poppy seed torte
A rich dessert, adapted slightly from Teens Cook Dessert, by Megan and Jill Carle with Judi Carle. Serves 12.
For the crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup ground walnuts
For the filling:
5 large eggs
2 cups whole or 2% milk
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot
1-1/2 Tbsp (2 packets) powdered gelatin
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
For the topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. In an ungreased 9x13-inch pan, stir together the crust ingredients and pat firmly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
To prepare the filling: Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a large saucepan and the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the milk and 1 cup of sugar to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved. Add the poppy seeds, salt, and cornstarch and cook, stirring constantly, 7-8 minutes or until it just begins to bubble and thicken. (Do not allow the mixture to boil, or the eggs will curdle.) Remove the pan from heat.
Combine the gelatin and water and let stand for 5 minutes, or until the gelatin is dissolved. Stir the gelatin into the warm egg yolk mixture.
Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat for 2 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the custard. Carefully pour the filling over the crust and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
To prepare the topping: Place the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high speed for 3 minutes, or until soft peaks form. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat until combined. Spread the whipped cream over the filling, and refrigerate the torte until ready to serve.