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.
- 8 walnut shortbread rectangles (recipe below)
- 1 recipe sautéed apples (recipe below)
- ¼ cup rose petal preserves, lightly puréed
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
- 1 recipe goat cheese mousse (recipe below)
- 1 recipe spiced apple reduction (recipe below)
- 1 teaspoon crushed, food-grade dried rose petals
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (120 grams)
- 1 cup walnuts (about 100 grams)
- 1/3 cup semolina (50 grams)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8t kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup butter (112 grams)
- 2/3 cup 10X (80 grams)
- 3 sweet-tart apples, such as McIntosh, Gala or Cortland
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon apple brandy (optional)
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon powdered gelatin
- 2 ounces fresh goat cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup apple cider or juice
- Ground cayenne pepper, to taste
Place one shortbread in the center of each of 8 dessert plates. Arrange 6 apple wedges on each shortbread.
Drop small dollops of rose petal preserve in a line down the middle of the arranged apples.
Scatter a few toasted walnut pieces over the apples.
Drop a spoonful of mousse near one short end of the tart. Drag the back of the spoon, from the center of the mousse, up along one long side of the tart, in one continuous motion to make a “swoosh”.
Drizzle spiced apple reduction around the tart and mousse.
Lightly sprinkle each plate with petals and serve immediately.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients through cinnamon. Pulse together until mixture is rather fine, with only a few small discernible chunks of walnut remaining.
Paddle butter and 10X until light. Mix in dry ingredients until well combined.
Between two sheets of parchment or waxed paper, roll the dough to about 1/8" thickness. Refrigerate until solid.
Cut dough into rectangles about 2 x 3-inches (scraps may be re-rolled once), and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 325&def;F until rectangles are lightly browned around their edges, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Note: Shortbread may be baked in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.
Peel, halve and core apples. Cut each half into 8 equal slices.
Heat a large sautée pan over high heat. Add oil followed by apples. Stir apples to evenly coat in oil, then allow to sautée until some slices just begin to brown. Stir apples again and cook until most slices become slightly translucent but still hold their shape, about 5 minutes total.
Remove pan from the heat and sprinkle apples with sugar, juice and brandy. Stir apples to evenly distribute ingredients. If necessary (the residual heat of the pan may be enough without additional heating), return pan to heat briefly to reduce liquids to a thick syrup. Take care to stand back as the high-alcohol brandy may catch fire on a gas burner.
Turn apples out onto a plate to cool to room temperature before serving.
Place milk in a small microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle with gelatin and allow to sit for a few minutes. Microwave in 15-second intervals until milk is very warm but not boiling. Stir well until gelatin is completely dissolved.
Place cheese and lemon juice in blender. Add warm milk-gelatin mixture and puree until mixture is smooth. Pour into medium mixing bowl and place in refrigerator for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, whip cream to soft peaks. Remove goat cheese mixture from refrigerator and gently fold in whipped cream. Cover mousse tightly and refrigerate until needed, up to three days.
Place cider in a small sauce pan and reduce over low heat by about 75 percent, until thick and syrupy.
Pour through fine mesh strainer to remove impurities.
Stir in cayenne pepper to taste (just a little of the reduction should be drizzled around the outside of each tart, so the reduction should be pretty spicy). Reduction may be made in advance and kept refrigerated until needed, up to 5 days.