Gina DePalma's Honey and Pine nut Tart

 
Seeing as how I grew up in a family of excellent cooks, live in Italy, and travel often, I'm fortunate in that I've been exposed to quite a bit of good food in my day. That being said -- and not to play favorites here -- there are certain food memories that stand out more than others, meals or dishes I've tried that have stayed in my memory as particularly special. For example, there were the pici with ragù di salsiccia and braised beef with roast potatoes that my Zia Marcella served us my first time visiting her in Turin, particularly delicious after 11+ hours of travel; the luxurious, cream-filled fastelavnsboller I tried in Aarhus, Denmark; the crispy, addictive rock shrimp tempura with spicy sauce I ate at the fancy Nobu restaurant in Miami; my first bowl of bucatini all'amatriciana in Rome. If I'm going back further, all the way to 2000, I think of a trip to New York City. I was 11 years oldand my dad had treated my sister and me to a weekend in the Big Apple and dinner at Babbo, an Italian restaurant run by the famed American/Italian Chef Mario Batali. The restaurant had opened not long ago, and getting a reservation was easy (now, a table at Babbo needs to be reserved at least 1 month in advance, and even that's no guarantee). I remember being completely enchanted by the homemade pappardelle with ragù, grilled fennel (I had never tried fennel before) and chocolate hazelnut cake we ordered that evening. It was love at first bite, perhaps my very first gourmet dining experience, one that has stayed with me 17 years later. 

Not long after, perusing my mom's collection of Bon Appetit Magazine, I read about the head pastry chef at Babbo (they'd published her recipe for Maple Mascarpone Cheesecakes in a 1999 issue). Her name was Gina DePalma, and she was only 33. As I read through her recipe, I remember thinking that Gina DePalma clearly had the best job in the world. Indeed, during a time in my life where I had just just started to discover cooking and baking, preparing delicious desserts in a fabulous restaurant like Babbo, located in NYC, no less, seemed ideal. It still seems that way, actually.

As I got older and continued to develop my own skills in the kitchen, I found I had a certain kinship with Gina DePalma. A fellow Italo-American, she too had family who emigrated to the U.S from Calabria. She also spent time in Rome, and did her own food writing with a column, “Serious Italian” for www.seriouseats.com. I admired her dessert philosophy, which was based on simplicity and gave little importance to extravagance -- evident in desserts like strawberries in Chianti with ricotta cream and black pepper, fresh fig tart, and saffron panna cotta with poached pears -- and her use of savory ingredients, like polenta, olive oil, and cheese in her desserts. I loved her writing style, which while informative and authoritative, was also dotted with quotes like these: "...when you feel like your hurtling down a mountain at breakneck speed, your favorite version of a budino can provide a perfectly soft landing spot!" and "...Medjool dates contribute a deep caramel flavor to this pudding that holds hands with the chocolate like a smitten teenager." Along with Julia Child and Deb Perelman, she is one of my culinary idols, a provider of consistent inspiration and superb recipes that immediately become a part of your repertory. The news that she had lost her battle with cancer last year at only 49 left me shocked and deeply saddened, the loss of a childhood hero who had been a point of reference as I learned to bake and cook (the New York Times summed up her career and work beautifully here). Every time I make and share a Gina DePalma recipe, go to reference her cookbook for the umpteenth time, or read one of her articles, I like to think however that I'm carrying on her culinary legacy in my own small way.

This recipe for honey and pine nut tart is from Gina’s cookbook, Dolce Italiano. True to DePalma form, it is fairly simple  no fancy layers, ganache, or frosting in sight  and is one of the most delicious things to ever come out of my kitchen. Here Gina has concocted a gooey, buttery, salty honey caramel, bejeweled with a layer of mild, toasty pine nuts -- whose crunch contrasts beautifully with the soft caramel -- all contained in a crisp, perfectly sweet pie crust (a recipe she took years to develop and get just right -- she succeeded). It is especially good warm out of the oven, dreamy served with a dollop of whipped cream, and never lasts long in my house (or office for that metter). It is truly one of the best things I have ever baked, not at all surprising given who created it. I think you'll agree.

A couple of notes: I find that tarts with a liquid filling such as this can be a bit tricky, as you pour it in to the crust, then have to transport the whole thing to the oven, where it takes the balance and care of a trapeze artist to not spill the filling everywhere. If you can, place the tart shell (with the pine nuts in it) and pan on a baking sheet, transport that baking sheet to the oven rack, and pour the filling in directly, then close the oven. Problem solved! Make sure you let your caramel cool at least 20 minutes when it comes off the stove -- if its too hot, then it will cook the eggs that are whisked in, making scrambled eggs. Note that the dough scraps can be put together and will be enough dough to make another small tart (I used them to make 5 or so mini lemon tarts). Tips, as written by Gina herself in her cookbook: We recommend mild honeys, such as acacia, orange blossom, eucalyptus, or millifiore (“a thousand flowers”); buckwheat and sage are also fine choices. The recipe may make just slightly more liquid custard than you need to fill the 10-inch tart shell; simply discard the extra custard rather than trying to overfill the shell.

Looking for other tarts? Check out this Chocolate Peppermint Tart, this Pear and Chocolate Custard Tart, these Berry Tartlets, this Strawberry Jam Tartor these savory ZucchiniCherry Tomato, or Butternut Squash tarts. Also from Gina DePalma on this blog: these taralli, this ricotta pound cake, and this spaghetti alla gricia.

GINA DEPALMA'S HONEY AND PINE NUT TART

Ingredients for the dough:
2 1/3 (305 grams) cups flour
1/3 cup (65 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons, 168 grams or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup (60 grams) heavy cream

Ingredients for the filling:
2/3 cup (206 grams) honey
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (250 grams, or 2 sticks) unsalted butter 
1/2 cup (120 grams) heavy cream
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups (about 150 grams) pine nuts

Directions:
To make the tart crust: Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and citrus zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to combine the dry ingredients. Add all of the cold, cubed butter to the bowl and pulse to process the mixture until it is sandy and there are no visible lumps of butter. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and cream. Add the wet ingredients to the food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times, or until the dough comes together. If necessary, add some ice water, a few drops at a time to make the dough come together.

Alternatively, if you don't have a food processor, you could do this by hand -- simply whisk together the dry ingredients, cut in the butter with your fingertips (which takes a little time, but is doable) then whisk together the wet ingredients as indicated above, and stir into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until a dough begins to form.

Remove the dough from the food processor (or your bowl if you don't have a food processor) and turn it out on to a lightly floured surface. Knead it a few times until the dough becomes more compact, and then roll it into a ball, flatten the ball in to a disk, and wrap the disk in plastic wrap. Chill for 1-2 hours before rolling out.

On a floured board, roll the tart dough into an 11-inch circle 1/8-inch thick.  Transfer the dough to a lightly buttered 10-inch tart pan with fluted sides and a removable bottom by rolling the dough around the pin like a carpet and then unrolling it onto the pan.  Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan, then trim it so it is flush with the top of the pan.  Chill the tart shell while you make the filling.
 
To make the filling: Place the honey, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir to combine them.  Add the butter, place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often.  
Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl; allow it to cool for 20 minutes.  Whisk in the heavy cream, followed by the egg and egg yolk.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and position a rack in the center.  
 
Distribute the pine nuts evenly over the bottom of the tart shell and pour the custard into the shell until it reaches the top of the crust.  Place the tart on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake for 30 – 55 minutes, or until both the crust and the filling have turned light golden brown and the custard is set but still jiggly.  Allow the tart to cool completely on a rack before carefully removing the sides of the pan. 
Serve the tart while still slightly warm, or cool it and serve at room temperature. Serves 8-10. 



2 comments :

  1. I have to buy this cookbook! I love simple, un-fussy desserts--they're always the best kind. This tart looks wonderful! Thanks for sharing it!

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