Got your fill of Christmas cookies and holiday movies yet? So much royal icing. Normally I’d be right there with you. But in a month filled with conventional hours and hours of Christmas music (Sarah’s playlists are the best BTW), this year I’m feeling more and more like I want to break the mold and create some new traditions. Do you get that too? Things are just a little off this year. I feel like I’m not the only one that’s got that funny feeling.
And for me, traditions always begin with the food. As such, we need to add some flair and new flavors. This is just the tart to do that. It takes advantage of the start of winter citrus season, using grapefruit, while adding in a bunch of black pepper that plays really well with the tartness. Oh and something else not so traditional.
Once I was making a meringue topping for a cake and accidentally mucked it up. What transpired was something akin to a marshmallow crème. Sweeter than a meringue because of the reduced amount of whipped air, the meringue “crème” also had a light, silkier texture. Almost like what I picture as a pastry-chef version of winter in a bowl. So you want to know a secret? I’ve started making most of my meringue toppings this way!
As such, I thought it would be a great unconventional way to end (or begin? Which would the topper be?) this rather unconventional holiday dessert! Toasted with a blowtorch, the flavor gets amped up—hello browning—and we can do a happy dance with each bite.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, remember that grapefruit I mentioned earlier? Well I make use of my favorite grapefruit curd from way-back-when. You can just skip the photos and go right to the recipe…yikes. (Although there are some interesting tidbits on bitter taste, so don’t miss that!) What is the science regarding the curd I wonder? Well I’m going to refer to the words of wisdom I typed out when I featured lemon curd on the blog.
First step? You mix the sugar and eggs together.
The acid begins to unfold or denature the proteins of the egg. After unfolding, the protein strands begin to reach out and connect with other proteins capturing liquid called coagulation. This slightly thickens the mixture, but the sugar acts as a sort of buffer to prevent them from curdling. That’s why you always you want to make sure that the egg yolks and sugar are well-mixed before adding the juice.
Next you heat the mixture gently.
This continues to thicken the mixture by denaturing the proteins further. It also acts in conjunction with the [grapefruit] juice to kill any unwanted bacteria such as Salmonella. The sugar plays a vital role here as well. Remember how it prevented curdling in the first step? It also prevents the eggs from cooking too quickly and becoming gross scrambled eggs. It keeps the protein strands far enough apart from one another to increase the denaturation temperature window. In other words, it makes it much easier to get the right texture. After gently cooking the curd, it will begin to coat the back of a spoon more thickly than prior to heating.
The final step is slowly adding butter. It…adds flavor and adds to the creamy texture of the curd.
So guyssss. The holidays are here! And this tart will add some flavorful dessert panache to that big spread of food. While also mixing up the traditions a bit which is very much needed I think. Except that tradition of snow…I’m looking forward to heading back to the Minnesota tundra to get my lungful of crisp, snowfall air! That tradition should never be messed with. But seriously make this tart. Now. Okay, bye! And may your holidays be only slightly stressful.
Grapefruit Curd and Black Pepper Meringue Crème Tart
Adapted from The Little Paris Kitchen
Makes 1-10inch tart or 6 small tartlets
1 batch of grapefruit curd, chilled (recipe here)
For the Cookie Base:
5 ½ tablespoons softened butter
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
A big pinch of kosher salt
Finely grated zest from half of a medium lemon
2 egg yolks (retain the whites for the meringue topping)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
For the Meringue Crème:
½ cup granulated sugar
2 ½ tablespoons water
2 egg whites (retained from the cookie base)
A pinch of kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
- Make the cookie base. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F and butter/flour a 10-inch tart pan. A 9-inch pan works as well. Set aside.
- Combine the butter, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream together until fluffy and pale in color. While the mixer is running, sift or whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
- Add the egg yolks to the mixture in the stand mixer and continue to beat until fully combined.
- Add the flour/baking powder mixture to the stand mixer and beat together on medium until smooth.
- Put the dough into a piping bag with a 3/8-inch round nozzle or a Ziploc bag with the corner cut out. Pipe the dough into the prepped tart pan. Start on the outside edge and work your way in creating concentric circles. Work slowly, and don’t squeeze the circles too high—there is only enough dough to just cover the bottom of the tart pan.
- When finished, dip the back of a spoon in hot water and smooth the dough ridge-circles out gently.
- Bake for 28-30 minutes or until the cookie is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes.
- Run a sharp knife along the inside edge around the outside of the cookie. Gently (be careful, it’s fragile!) release the cookie by tipping it out onto your cooling rack and let cool completely.
- Make the Italian Meringue Crème. Put the sugar in a small saucepan with the water and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, and then start to measure the temperature. Heat until it reaches 245⁰F (soft ball stage).
- While you wait for the sugar solution to boil, whip your eggs. Put the egg whites, pinch of salt, and black pepper in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk until the egg whites froth all over. If you want a real stiff meringue topper, at this point you want to whisk until medium-soft peaks form.
- Once the sugar syrup has reached temperature, turn the mixer up to high and begin to pour the sugar syrup down the side of the inside of the bowl in a thin stream. Try to add it beginning near the middle of the side of the bowl. Once all the sugar syrup has been added continue to run the mixer until the egg whites are room temperature, about 10 minutes. If you’re trying to accomplish the classical meringue, beat until the egg whites are glossy and stiff.
- Assembly: Place the cookie on top of your serving plate of choice. Spread the grapefruit curd on top of the cookie evenly. Spread the meringue crème on top of that. Toast the top gently with a blowtorch to brown the meringue crème. If you don’t have a blowtorch, assemble the tart on an oven-safe pan and broil for 30 seconds in the oven to brown.
- Serve! And enjoy.