A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, we were invited out to dinner. I offered to make a dessert, and planned to make the lemon tart from Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking, because every time I have made it, it's been perfect. And I love a lemon dessert. That tart calls for a pâte sablée crust, which is kind of like a sugar cookie and a great foil for the quite tart lemon custard filling. Alas, that day, the crust failed, epically. It cracked all over the place, and wouldn't even come out of the pan. I switched gears and made something else, but I still don't know why that pâte sablée didn't work.
For Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to make the cranberry curd tart that had been in the Times food section in a Thanksgiving round up. That recipe uses a hazelnut crust - a loose mix of ground hazelnuts pressed into the tart pan like you would a graham cracker crust. It was okay - the hazelnut crust was nice by itself, but we thought it competed indecorously with the cranberry filling.
Not being able to leave behind the failed pâte sablée, I did a bunch of googling. Butter in visible chunks? Butter thoroughly amalgamated with the flour? Somehow, I stumbled on a tart shell recipe on David Lebovitz's blog that blew all of that away - it was a 2009 recipe that started with a lump of butter and a splash of water and a spoonful of sugar, all dumped in a bowl and put in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Boiled butter! Then you add the flour. Intrigued, I had to try it. We'd been invited to a Boxing Day party so I thought I'd re-engineer the cranberry curd tart by putting it in Lebovitz's shell.
The crust is fascinating. It comes together almost like a roux, a wet looking ball of flour & butter, which you smush into a tart shell, gingerly because it's fiercely hot. It gets baked, while you make the curd, then both cool to room temperature. Then, you spoon the curd in the tart shell and bake it together for another 10 minutes. [Naturally, I wonder why everything has to be cooled down before that final run through the oven, but that's an experiment for another day.]
The boiled butter crust was delightful with the cranberry curd. A keeper, if you will. I decided that David Lebovitz was onto something.
Last night, I climbed into bed with a Christmas present: a copy of Food52 Genius Recipes. I wasn't reading it straight through, but jumping around looking for things that I need to make right now. You read cookbooks in bed, right? It's a compilation cookbook - 100 recipes from 100 sources - all alleged to be "the best". The reason I wanted the book is because there were enough recipes that I knew already, and knew to be good - the bar nuts from the Union Square Cafe, Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread, Kim Boyce's Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, that butter & onion tomato sauce from Marcella Hazan, Marion Cunningham's Raised Waffles. I figured with that kind of track record, there were probably other great recipes. I turned to page 236, curious about the "eggless lemon curd", because it sounds like a non-sequitur, eggs being pretty essential to curd, in my experience. [It uses agar, in case you're wondering.] But what to my wondering eyes turns up in the book, on page 235, as a vehicle for the lemon curd? "Brown Butter Tart Crust, from Paule Caillat" - in other words, the Lebovitz boiled butter crust. I confess to being both dumbfounded and even happier to have the cookbook in the first place.
There really is nothing new under the sun, is there?