Remember when I told you to ignore the USDA and cook your duck to 130? I take it all back! I didn’t mean it! I’m sorry, USDA! I’ll do whatever you say, just stop the green shits.
I mean, I’m glad I’m not puking, because I fucking HATE vomiting. But I’ve spent the last four days living on saltines and Cheerios and shitting a horrific green slurry with such force and frequency that it is LITERALLY a pain in my ass.
To appease the vengeful USDA gods, I will purchase a dry-aged prime tenderloin and roast it to an internal temperature of 175, and I will do it with a smile on my face and joy in my heart.
To appease you for making you read that, I offer this brown butter thyme-infused tart crust filled with sweetened mascarpone subtly flavored with Angostura bitters and topped with fresh blackberries macerated in sugar and lime juice.
If you ever find yourself wandering down 19th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in Manhattan on a Saturday night thinking, “Goddamn, but I could use an expertly crafted Prohibition-era cocktail with a wacky name* in a classy yet laid-back setting,” then I suggest you duck into the Flatiron Lounge.
*Current favorite: The Defenestration of Prague.
Wrangle yourself a seat at the bar so you can chat with the eminently knowledgeable bartenders. We’ve already established that it’s Saturday, which means my favorite bartender KJ is working. It’s wintertime, so ask for for a Trinidad Especial, an Angostura bitters and Pisco-based drink that tastes so much like Christmas it’s as though you put Santa and Burl Ives in the blender with a gingerbread house.
While you’re talking to KJ about the wonders of bitters, he will offer that Angostura bitters present a special delight when drizzled over vanilla ice cream and urge you to try this at home.
Despite the fact that KJ has plied you with wonderfully balanced, delicious yet potent cocktails all night, you may actually remember this suggestion the next day. You’ll have to go out anyway to get some coffee and sausage, egg and cheese on a biscuit – I’m assuming that you have a mild hangover and you’ll need these key items – so you might as well pick up some ice cream and bitters for later.
You’ll try it – just a dash or two of bitters at first, then more as you realize how very good it is. Almost like you’re eating eggnog ice cream, but way more richly flavored and complex, with a hint of, um, bitterness.
The next time you’re at the Flatiron – for you WILL return; oh yes, you will return – you will mention to KJ that you tried and loved and bitters/ice cream combo. He’ll reply excitedly, “Right? So good! Did you put the berries on top?” Which you didn’t, because hell, you can’t remember EVERYTHING everyone told you that night. Blame the Brambles, which are FAR too easy to drink.
Since you’re all into cooking and baking and shit, perhaps you’ll think about a more interesting way to integrate those flavors and decide on a tart. “Yes, yes; a tart,” you’ll say to yourself as you drum your fingers together, stroke your white Persian cat and chuckle. Do you live in a hyper-modern lair built into the side of a dormant volcano? Because that would really complete the scene.
I’m not sure why you turn into a supervillain at this point. Just go with it.
Oh, also, you’ve promised your significant other that you would create a really spectacular tart after you casually tossed a new rectangular tart pan into the cart at the restaurant supply store where everything is super-cheap without bothering to look at the price tag, which your other later informs you was thirty-five dollars. Whoops.
For the tart shell, you’ll adapt a Gina DePalma Babbo recipe you’ve used and liked. To add some additional layers of flavor, you’ll brown the butter with a sprig of fresh thyme.
While the shell bakes, you’ll whisk some vanilla extract, honey and bitters into a luscious bowl of mascarpone and toss a few cups of fresh blackberries with sugar and fresh lime juice. Once the shell is baked and cooled, there is little more to do than heap everything into it.
And you know what? Huzzah! Such a good dessert, especially for those who are not into the super-sweet. The shell is not overly sweet, with the nutty brown butter and faintest hint of thyme bringing in a savory note. The mascarpone – also just sweet enough – doesn’t scream either “vanilla” or “bitters”, but simply tastes deep and rich. The berries bring 1-2 punches of red-hot color and bright flavor. A bite with all three: perfection.
And people say excessive drinking is bad. Pah!
PS: I don’t really think it was the duck; more likely the tuna salad I had for lunch from that deli on 8th Avenue that had been sitting out for an undetermined amount of time. Take that, USDA!
adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen
13 tbsp. unsalted butter
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 1/3 c. AP flour
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
big pinch of salt
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. ice water, if needed
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. honey
6-8 big dashes Angostura bitters
8 oz. fresh blackberries
2 tbsp. sugar
juice of one lime
Make the tart shell: Put the butter and thyme into a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the milk solids in the butter darken and drop to the bottom of the pot and the butter is brown and smells nutty; keep an eye on the butter as it starts to darken so you don’t end up with black butter. Remove and discard the thyme and pour the brown butter into a small bowl, being careful to leave as many of the darkened solids behind as possible. Chill until firm, then scrape it out of the bowl and cut it into small chunks. Put the chunks in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a FoPro and pulse once or twice to combine. Add all the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like course sand and the butter is no bigger than pea-sized.
Add the egg and egg yolk and pulse 3-4 times. Pour in the cream and pulse until the dough starts to pull together into one mass; if the dough remains too dry and crumbly, add small amounts of ice water as needed.
Turn the dough – which should NOT be one smooth mass; check out the photo above – out onto a floured board and knead it together, handling it as little as possible. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Flour your work surface again. Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness to whatever shaped tart pan you have – you can use a 10-inch round or a 14×4.5 inch rectangle. Gently transfer the dough into the tart pan, press it into the corners and trim off the excess. Prick holes all over the shell with a fork, including up the sides, and chill for another 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350. Bake the shell for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Set it on a wire rack to cool.
Make the filling: Whisk the mascarpone, vanilla, honey and bitters together. Start with the lesser amount of bitters, adding more to taste. Stash the finished cream in the fridge.
Macerate the berries: Toss the berries with the sugar and lime juice. Set them aside on the counter for 45 minutes, stirring ocassionally.
Assemble the tart: Remove the shell from the tart pan. Spread the mascarpone evenly across the bottom. Top with the berries, drizzing some of their accumulated juices as well. Serve immediately.