No apples in it, but you should add love
So often when people plan Valentine’s Day dinners, they want to finish with a big, elaborate dessert. I prefer to go in a different direction. To me, nothing expresses love better than a simple dish that is taken to a new level because you’ve taken extra care in its making.
A perfect example is the very simple custard tart called Pomme d’Amour that is made by Knead Patisserie in San Francisco. Technically, I suppose this should be called a croustade d’oeuf, since it’s nothing more than a custard baked in a crust, but I like Knead’s version enough to call it by its name.
There are only two elements -- the crust and the pastry cream filling -- but by making each as good as it can be, you wind up with a dish that, like all perfect pairings, is greater than the sum of its parts.
There are no special tools involved and it doesn’t call for any exotic ingredients. Instead, what makes this dessert special is taking the appropriate care with each step.
Start with the crust. Instead of the usual short crust ( pate brisee), I prefer to use a slightly different dough called pate a foncer, which is made with milk instead of water, giving it slightly more character and a little better browning.
One thing I’ve found that helps make this dough better is grating the chilled butter into the flour instead of cutting it in cubes. This allows the butter to be incorporated more evenly. Also, be sure to let the dough rest from time to time to relax the gluten, so it will retain its shape during baking.
The crust is filled with a simple pastry cream, but again, a little extra care makes a big difference in quality.
Heating a few coffee beans along with the vanilla in the milk helps round out the flavor but doesn’t leave a trace of coffee flavor.
Make sure you whip the yolks and sugar until they are light and lemon-colored in order to have the lightest custard.
Cooling the custard to around 130 degrees before beating in the butter creates the best texture, binding the fat and dairy for a beautiful mouth feel. And chilling the custard overnight before filling the crust will noticeably deepen and round out the flavors.
Finally, a little flash never hurts, either. Caramelizing the top of the custard right before serving adds another layer of flavor and texture. Plus, it looks really cool when you’re doing it.
It’s easy, though: Sprinkle the top evenly with granulated sugar, then brown it with a small blowtorch. Be sure to keep the torch moving across the top of the tart so that the custard glazes evenly without scorching.
Just like in love, paying close attention to the small things yields a big reward in the end.
Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus chilling and cooling times
Note: Based on a dish at Knead Patisserie in San Francisco. Using a scale for measurements is recommended.
2 cups plus 3 1/2 tablespoons (17.7 ounces, or 500 grams) whole milk
Scant 2/3 cup (4.2 ounces, or 120 grams) sugar, divided
3 to 4 whole coffee beans
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 or 7 (3.9 ounces, or 110 grams) egg yolks
1/4 cup (1.1 ounces, or 32 grams) cornstarch
2 tablespoons (1.1 ounces, or 30 grams) butter (preferably European-style), diced
1. In a saucepan, bring the milk, half of the sugar, coffee beans and vanilla bean to a simmer. Remove from the heat and cover with a piece of plastic wrap, and set aside for 20 minutes at room temperature.
2. Remove the plastic wrap and bring the milk back to a simmer. Meanwhile, beat the remaining sugar and egg yolks in a mixing bowl with a whisk until light and lemon-colored. Pour a little of the simmering milk into the eggs and sugar, mixing constantly. Beat in the cornstarch, a little at a time. Continue to slowly whisk the hot milk mixture into the yolks and sugar until fully incorporated. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the custard thickens, 2 to 4 minutes.
3. Strain the thickened mixture into a mixing bowl and whisk for 2 minutes to cool to about 130 degrees. Whisk in the butter, a piece at a time, until well incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the pastry cream to prevent it forming a skin and refrigerate until needed, preferably overnight. This makes about 2 cups pastry cream, more than is needed for 4 tarts; the pastry cream will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 5 days.
Tart dough and pomme d’amour
7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces, or 100 grams) butter
1 2/3 cups (7.1 ounces, or 200 grams) flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (0.7 ounce, or 20 grams) sugar, plus about 6 tablespoons for spooning over the tarts
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (2.8 ounces, or 80 grams) milk
About 1 cup pastry cream
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the butter in the freezer for 15 minutes. Stir together the flour, 20 grams sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.
2. Using a box grater, grate the chilled butter into the flour mixture, and then rub it into the flour with your fingers until you cannot see the butter anymore. Add the milk to the flour mixture a little at a time, stirring with a fork, until the dough holds together.
3. Place the dough on a dry work surface dusted with flour. Roll it out to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Place the dough into the refrigerator for 10 minutes and allow to rest. Line four small (43/4-inch) tartlet pans with the rolled-out dough and return it to the refrigerator for 10 minutes (if you are short on dough, roll the scraps out to give you enough for the last tartlet).
4. Cut wax paper circles a little bit larger than the tarts. Line the tart shells with the paper and fill them with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 25 minutes to set the crust. Empty the beans and remove the wax paper, and return to the oven for 5 more minutes, until fully baked. Cool completely and reserve until needed.
5. Divide the chilled pastry cream between the tart shells and use a spatula to flatten the top. Sprinkle the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar evenly over the top of the custards, and brown the tops using a small blowtorch.
Each serving: 647 calories; 10 grams protein; 85 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 30 grams fat; 17 grams saturated fat; 218 mg cholesterol; 43 grams sugar; 112 mg sodium.