The holidays are long gone and over, but that doesn’t mean some of the dishes from those days aren’t just as delicious on an ordinary evening. I go back and forth between wanting to eat all of the cookies or all of the salad. That’s life.I did nothing but cook between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. In November, I was able to serve up a little balance for the holiday, but once Christmas hit, it was all about sugar, butter and flour, including a tart that is one of my new favorite creations. Here’s a quick look at what was on the table.
Back in November, I decided to revamp a few old recipes. One was a version of a savory squash crumble, but this time I used heavy cream in the base, a variety of dried mushrooms in the mix and hazelnuts in the topping. Monster garlic and lemon zest-dusted croutons along with beets, parsnips, carrots and apples were the standout ingredients in a panzanella salad inspired by a roasted squash and apple salad. I also pulled out a batch of brussels sprouts with bacon and almonds that turned a few haters into appreciators after 2014’s Thanksgiving dinner. Finally, there were two desserts–Molasses Pecan Pie and Spiced Pear Crumble Pie. The latter was inspired by one of my favorite apple crumble pies with almond paste.
I got off easy on Christmas Eve. Nothing to make; just an evening to sit back and enjoy someone else’s cooking. That gave me plenty of time to cook for a friend’s Christmas Day dinner. I walked over with a charcuterie board, Triple Chocolate, Espresso and Hazelnut Cookies, Iced Spiced Molasses Cookies, Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and a marshmallow-covered, caramel pastry cream-filled tart. Initially, I wanted it to be something like a s’more tart, but after searching for leftover crumbled graham crackers in my cabinets, I realized I was missing a key ingredient. That idea was a bust, but the final sweet treat did not disappoint.
This is a tart that does require some several steps of preparation, but it can be assembled over a couple of days. The baked tart shell will last several days in the fridge, and the custard will do the same. If you want to make this for a special occasion, break up the to-do list, then assemble at the last minute. It’s a tart that deserves a round of applause. It’s a crunchy, chewy, creamy dessert with tiny bursts of salt thanks to a little flakey garnish. Feel free to add those graham cracker crumbs if you so choose.
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups half and half
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water, plus more for brushing
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Chocolate pastry dough, baked and cooled (recipe below)
- 3 cups mini marshmallows, loosely packed
- Dark chocolate shavings, for garnish
- Flakey salt, for garnish
- For the custard, whisk the cornstarch, sugar, salt and egg yolks until light yellow, thick and ribbony, about 1 minute. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, warm the half and half and vanilla over medium-low flame until it just begins to emit wisps of steam. Remove the saucepan from heat, and ladle about ⅓ of the liquid into the whisked eggs, stirring quickly to combine. Pour everything back into the saucepan, and cook for 5-8 minutes over medium-low flame, whisking continuously, until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in the butter.
- Prepare the caramel by pouring the sugar and water into a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir to combine. Cook, without stirring again, for 10-12 minutes, until the sugar turns a light amber color. Remove the saucepan from heat, and stir in the butter and cream. Return the bubbling mixture to the flame, and cook for another 2-3 minutes, just until the caramel thickens ever so slightly.
- Stir the caramel directly into the warm custard. Transfer to a heat-safe air-tight container. Cool to room temperature, and cover with plastic wrap directly touching the top of the pastry cream until ready to use.*
- Preheat the oven’s broiler.
- Spread the custard evenly over the crust, then arrange the marshmallows on top. Place the tart tin on a sheet tray, and slide it under the broiler to toast the marshmallows. Check often as they will burn quickly.
- Remove from the oven, and garnish with chocolate shavings and salt before serving.
Chocolate Pastry Dough (courtesy of Chef David Guas)
1 cup flour, plus more for rolling
¾ cup powdered sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1. Whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a medium bowl. Incorporate the butter with a pastry cutter or two forks until the mixture is a blend of fine crumbles. Next, add the egg, stirring just until the mixture comes together. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3. Dust a surface with flour, and roll the dough into 12” circle slightly less than ¼” thick. Transfer to a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing evenly along the bottom and sides. If the dough tears, just press it together with your fingers. Trim, and discard excess dough along the sides, and prick the bottom of the dough with a fork. Freeze until hardened, about 15 minutes.
4. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until the crust looks dry and crisp along the bottom and sides. Remove from the oven, and cool completely.