You might remember that about a year ago I did something I never thought I’d do – I joined a book club. Fearing that I would find myself sitting cross-legged on a pillow holding hands with someone who was sobbing over Oprah’s latest recommended title, I resisted for awhile. But then my friend Kim said the two things I needed to hear: “You don’t even have to read the book, and really, the whole meeting revolves around the food.” Sold.
Now I look forward to the parties meetings every month. The books have mostly been funny and interesting – some even challenging. The booze flows freely and the company’s great.
And the food? Not only is it always fantastic, but it’s always thematic. I couldn’t even begin to make my way through the insomnia-curing “Paddywhacked,” but I sure enjoyed the hell out of the Shepherd’s Pie and Guinness.
In July our book was the beautiful A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. I read the last few pages sitting cross-legged on a pillow sobbing and grabbing for Mark’s hand.
A Reliable Wife is full of gourmet French food, oysters and champagne – perfect for a book club evening. I signed up for dessert and began to plan my decadent contribution. What would it be – chocolate mousse? Creme brulee? Macarons? Then I remembered a dessert I’d seen in a book once. Martha Stewart, as only Martha Stewart can, had taken sliced nectarines, sculpted them into roses and placed them gently and lovingly into a tart shell. It was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen, and I knew it would be a sublime finale to our book club feast.
The night before the meeting I stopped at Eureka Natural Foods and bought twelve beautiful orange nectarines. I couldn’t wait to make it. As soon as I got home, I sliced the fruit into long pieces and started to arrange the “petals.” An hour later, my hands were covered with sticky goo, and I had what looked like one sad brown starburst sitting on the counter. The slices would not curve. They wouldn’t stick to one another. They slipped out of my hands.
“Jesus H. Christ in a Tart Pan, I hate you Martha Stewart!” I screamed into the air as I flung the slices onto the compost pile. “I am just a mere fucking mortal, and you win!” “And you….” I started while glaring at the still large pile of unsliced nectarines on the counter. Then I realized I was about to yell at fruit and took myself melodramatically to bed.
The next day I went to Ramone’s and bought a pink champagne cake.
Unfortunately, I had let the book club members know that I would be bringing a tart. The cake was a disappointment. “I was so sad when I saw you walk in the door with a box, ” one woman lamented.
“I just lost motivation…” I said haltingly as I looked around at the pouting faces.
“You know,” one woman said, “I’m not going to give you all the details, but the best sex of my life included a shower, a slinky dress, disco and a nectarine.”
Motivation restored, I decided then and there that I would make that damn tart if it killed me. And I’d listen to disco while I did it.
First you make a crust. You can use any old tart crust recipe. I decided to go the easy route and make a cookie crust. For an 11 inch tart pan, you take about 30 sugar cookies and grind them in the food processor. Put on a little Donna Summer, pour them into a bowl, add five tablespoons of melted butter and stir them together. Place this into your tart pan and press it evenly in the bottom and up the sides. Then bake it in a 350 degree oven until it’s brownish – about 10 minutes. Let it cool on a wire rack.
WARNING: Tart pans are tricky little suckers. If you’re taking it out of the oven, and you have your hand on the removable bottom instead of the sides, the rim will hit your forearm causing a mother of a burn. You will then scream, toss the tart onto the world’s ugliest vinyl floor, and your sweet boyfriend will have to go buy you more crust ingredients.
Then comes the real fun – making the roses. After the disaster of the other night, I thought long and hard about those roses. I realized that the reason they wouldn’t curve right or stick together was because the slices were too thick and it might be a good idea to use a mandoline. This helped immensely. So did KC and the Sunshine Band.
Take each nectarine, cut it in half and remove the pit. Then make 1/8 inch slices using the mandoline. You’ll have extra slices that are too big to make into petals. Save these as you can use them to fill in any gaps.
Take one slice and roll it into a small spiral. This will be the center of the rose. Take the other slices and place them around the center, alternating each slice as you go. It takes about five slices to make a nice sized rose. Place the roses on the counter. Ponder how deep your love is with the Bee Gees.
Keep going. You’ll need a lot of roses to fill an 11 inch tart pan. How do you know when you have enough? When you want to take the knife and plunge it into your own heart so that you don’t have to make any more roses, you need to make about 20 more.
Place the roses in the baked tart shell and use the extra pieces of nectarine to fill in any gaps between them.
See what I mean about the gorgeousness? If I ever make this tart again, at this step I will brush it with an apricot glaze and put it into the oven as it is. With a sugar cookie crust, there’s really no need for additional sweetness, but I didn’t know this at the time, so I used a brown butter filling. Take my advice and just smear this sauce warm on an inner thigh instead.
Brown Butter Filling:
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
6 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp Chambord
1/2 tsp salt
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking occasionally until it begins to brown, about 5 mins. Remove from heat, set aside.
In a medium bowl whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, Chambord and salt until the mixture is light in color and doubles in volume. Add flour and reserved brown butter, whisk until well combined.
Pour the filling over the tart and bake in a 375 degree oven until the filling is set and puffy, about 40 minutes.
I took the masterpiece to my parents’ house on Sunday for a barbecue. When Mama Xanax saw it she clasped her hands in excitement and gasped. “Oh! That looks like it has 1,000 calories in every slice. I can’t wait to eat it!” What better compliment could one tart possibly receive?