Serious Eats: Recipes
An Uncommon Apple Tart Featuring Goat Cheese and Rose
As much as I’m loath to admit it, dessert was never meant as sustenance. Rather, it is the non-essential flourish, a luxury that one allows—perhaps occasionally, perhaps daily—once the primal necessity of nourishment has taken place with the rest of the meal. Dessert extends the experience of a meal into the realm of the purely sensual and enjoyable.
In devising new dishes, my primary focus is, of course, to make something delicious, but I also believe it is important to make dishes that are multi-faceted, thus triggering a variety of sensations and making the indulgence that is dessert as interesting, satisfying, and worthwhile as possible. For the opening dessert menu at No. 7, where the savory menu runs to classic favorites with thoughtful twists, I wanted to tow that line by creating dishes that would be fairly familiar, but also satisfy in unexpected and varied ways.
Having already settled on a chocolate cake and a vanilla pudding, an apple pie seemed like the next logical addition, especially with apples coming into full swing. But individual pie pans were not an option, as our prep kitchen was literally 100°F at the time—rendering a flakey pie crust all but impossible—our ovens were (and are) a bit idiosyncratic, and we had to work with a fairly tight remaining budget for opening. An apple tart, though, just a shade or two removed from pie, seemed doable.
The Advantages of Tart Dough
Tart doughs tend to be more like cookie doughs, their purpose often being crumbly crusts, rather than flaky, crisp ones sought for pies. Since cookie-like textures can—and generally should be—created with softer butter, the extreme ambient temperature of our kitchen was less of an issue.
Unlike fruit pies, which almost universally require the fruit to be baked along with the pie shell, tarts are often created by completely pre-baking a shell before filling and layering it with pre-cooked ingredients. Going the tart route freed me to cook the crust separately from the apples and bring the two together at the last minute so that the crust wouldn’t become soggy after sitting beneath the moist fruit. Combining crust and fruit to order also meant that my crust could be flat, with no rim needed in order to retain the juices of a filling as it cooked. This eliminated the need for special tart shell molds and allowed me to consider dough varieties that might not have the structure to hold their shape during or after baking in a traditional, rimmed shell form.
Beyond Walnuts and Apples
One of my favorite combinations is the natural pairing of walnuts and apples—the bitter, fatty, crunchy qualities of the nuts play beautifully against the tart, sweet, sometimes crisp, sometimes soft character of apples. I was pleased with some tests I’d done pairing a walnut shortbread, flecked with coarse semolina flour for extra crunch crust, with lightly sautéed apples. Though our wonky ovens left some of the shortbread considerably darker and verging on, but not quite achieving, over-baked status—no matter how small the batch or how often I rotated the trays—the darkness actually served to enhance the flavor of the walnuts. Still, the dish needed more.
With ginger and sesame playing roles in one of the two desserts currently on the menu and miso in the other, I aimed to steer clear of East Asian ingredients for this, my third dessert. While picking up more walnuts at a local Middle Eastern market, I spied a display of Turkish Delight, a chewy confection—somewhat similar to a gumdrop —of sugar and corn starch flavored variously with nuts, including pistachio and walnut, lemon, orange blossom, and rose. Rose, I thought, could be a welcome addition. The perfume of the flower would draw out the natural floral character of the apples and play the delicate foil to the assertive, bitter earthiness of the walnuts, and the petals would add color and interest to a plate with a less-than-exciting palate of pale browns.
Where to Get Rose Flavor
Rose, however, is a tricky ingredient. Too little, and the ethereal flavor of the flower is readily lost in the midst of other flavors; too much, and you have a dish tasting of Grandma’s perfume. Flavoring with actual roses is possible, but food-grade roses (those that have not been sprayed with toxic pesticides and preservatives) are expensive and difficult to come by, and it takes a great deal of roses to derive a small amount of rose flavor.
Rose water is the most accessible, affordable option for imparting rose flavor. I probably would have used it—perhaps to create a rose-flavored gelatin or syrup—had it not been for the beautiful jar of rose petal jam that I knew was waiting in my refrigerator. Composed of nothing more than rose petals, lemon juice, sugar, and pectin (a natural thickener, most commonly derived from apples or citrus peels), the jam was well-balanced straight out of the jar, with just enough rose flavor to stand up to the apples and walnuts, but not too much.
Goat Cheese for a Creamy and Flavorful Addition
With this, the dish was coming right along, but there was still something missing—perhaps a creamy element to bridge the tart, partially cooked apples and the crumbly, slightly bitter shortbread. Crème fraiche, Greek yogurt, or ricotta? Maybe, but with little flavor of their own, they seemed like relatively meaningless additions.
Then goat cheese came to mind. With its tangy, slightly funky-barnyardy character, it brought more than creaminess to the table: it was a lovely complement to each individual element and a worthwhile enhancement to the whole. Still, goat cheese in its natural form—a bit mealy and dense—felt a little overpowering.
Tyler Kord, the chef-owner of the restaurant, was excited about the idea of a smooth, light goat cheese-based mousse or froth, so I gave it a shot, and it worked perfectly. With the addition of a spicy, cayenne-flecked cider reduction the dish was complete. More than a sweet treat, it is a sensual experience. As one guest recently put it, the dish “hits (you) in five different ways.”
Apple-Walnut Tart with Goat Cheese Mousse and Rose Petal Jam
- serves 8 (with extra shortbread for snacking) -
I use Mymoune rose petal preserves for this dish. Though the preserves are not available directly through their site, they do provide a list of retailers by location. Edible dried rose petals are available through some Middle Eastern and Asian markets as well as some tea and spice retailers. If you cannot find them, the dish will still be tasty, though a bit less nuanced, without them.
About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.