Monday, May 2, 2011



Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes, Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes, Midi le juste y compose de feux, La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée...
Paul Valéry, 1871-1945

This quiet roof, where dove-sails saunter by,
Between the pines, the tombs, throbs visibly.
Impartial noon patterns the sea in flame --
That sea forever starting and re-starting.

Our voices are snatched up and swallowed by the wind as it reaches in through the open windows, the drumming noise barely allowing the music to be heard. We’ve succeeded in escaping once again, just the two of us, and we revel in the escapade as we laughingly watch the paysage, the scenery flow by, the world a blur around us. We feel all alone, together here in the car as we roll south towards sunnier skies and warmer climes, singing loudly to the songs that flutter and sputter out of the radio, and we are never happier than when we are together by ourselves. My hand steals across the space between the seats that separates us and my fingertips brush against the back of his hand, feeling the warmth of his skin and his smile as he glances my way and gives me that special wink he has just for me. The road slips behind us as we try and leave our worries and concerns behind us as well.

We head south, first stop Bordeaux, that majestic, monumental city. Hand in hand, we stroll through this beautiful city the color of pewter and pearls and wonder at the fact that it is, in fact, smaller than Nantes. The wide turbulent river and stunning palaces lining the spacious squares in the guise of government buildings and apartment houses give this city the feel of one so much larger and of greater importance. We stood in awe at the beauty as the cars sped past and we dodged tramway cars as they trundled down the rails. As night fell and the darkness began to envelope us, the restaurants, bars and clubs lit up one by one, strung together by the laughter and babble of clients and passers by. The city comes alive at dusk as Nantes shuts down, Bordeaux bubbles and simmers with life as Nantes slumbers. Yet we stayed only one night as the itch to move, to widen the space between ourselves and home pulled us back out onto the road, our restlessness energized by the sun.

Next stop was Sète. Husband had a conference to attend in Montpellier yet we decided to stay in the seaside “Venice of the Langudoc”, Sète, a bustling port town peninsula on the Mediterranean Sea. Heavily influenced by both the Italians and Moroccans, their languages, cultures and gastronomies, the tiny center is dotted with both Halal butchers and pizza parlors while the main thoroughfares, narrow and packed with cars and people, line and weave along the waterways which themselves are studded with boats and fishing trawlers. A true fishing village in all its connotations, the buildings, now distorted with time, their elegantly decorative balconies rusted in the salty air, the once-bright yellows, pinks, blues and greens of the façades faded with sun and heat, lean towards the water as if searching for their fishermen. The ground level restaurants spill out into the street offering platters of seafood, stuffed mussels and other treasures from the sea, much to our delight! This is a predominantly poor town of immigration and fishing, the doorway to Morocco and back again, and her people’s struggles are shadowed wherever we roam, from the crowded, dingy streets to the faded beauty of her buildings, yet there is something so alive in the noise and activity, a vitality that comes from the water and gathers in the cafés and bars, a vibrancy warmed and nourished by the bright sun and brisk breeze off the water that gives Sète a certain intrigue and fascination.

Thursday, my man leaves me halfheartedly, nay, sadly as he stalks out of the hotel room, leaving his heart with me for the day. I gather my forces (I hate sightseeing on my own) and head to the Musée International des Arts Modestes, The International Museum of Modest Arts, art created from everyday objects, the ordinary infused with emotion, nostalgia and meaning. I then wander over to the town’s covered market which is much more impressive than I had imagined. I purchase the local gastronomic treasure, une Tielle, a very traditional tomato and octopus pie, poor man’s food to be carried to work on the boats to be eaten at lunch. Along with a cold drink and an apple, I wend my way up, up, up to the top of the city and the Fisherman Cemetery, awash in white, brilliant in the blazing sunlight. Tombs old and older, many cracked and askew, each one telling a story of a loved one lost, words engraved in stone, photos of the beloved staring at me from happier times. I wind my way up and up, climbing worn stone steps, letting the sun heat my skin and push away the memories, the thoughts of my own deceased and I come across a beautiful bench of elegant chocolate-hued wood stuck in the middle of all this crude white stone and it welcomes me as the land welcomes her sailors home. I settled in ready to lunch on my Tielle when I lifted my eyes and saw that I was sharing my meager meal with Sète’s own son, Paul Valéry. Poet and writer, his words, though chiseled into the tomb for safekeeping, flew out to me, touched my face, my heart than drifted out to sea.

O récompense après une pensée Qu’un long regard sur le calme des dieux.

When thought has had its hour, oh how rewarding
Are the long vistas of celestial calm!

(poem Le Cimetière Marin by Paul Valéry, translation by C. Day Lewis)

Our trip ended with a stop to see his sister and mother, two sleepy days in the country, then the long drive home. Back to the daily grind, the last days of his job, a son happier to greet us than we usually expect and a Boston Terrier with a cartoon grin spread across his tiny face.

Before leaving on holiday, I created this Baked Custard Tart. Leftover egg yolks on my hands, I knew that I had to do something fast and this was it. Infused with the delicate, subtle flavor of vanilla and Amaretto and the sprinkling of almonds adding a slightly nutty hint, this creamy, rich filling bakes up light and elegant, perfectly nestled in my own tender Sweet Pastry Crust. This is the perfect dessert to serve with spring and summer’s own fresh, fruity, sweet berries as I have with our own local strawberries. I decorated the cooled tart with a fine dusting of finely grated chocolate and topped it with strawberries drizzled with Verlaque’s Wild Flower Honey-Infused Balsamic Reduction (a goodie bag gift from South African Food & Wine Indaba). Fabulous! And while we were basking in the glory days of vacation, this wonderful tart kept Clem excellent company, a reward for his staying behind on Marty Duty, and he finished before I had even phoned home (to check up on Marty) the first time.

I am sharing this with Jeanne of Cook Sister! who is hosting this month’s Monthly Mingle (created by our lovely sister Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey?). Count on Jeanne to Spice it up with a provocative theme: Topless Tarts! And it is!


1 10-inch (23 cm) partially pre-baked Sweet Pastry Crust (recipe follows)

For the custard:
3 whole large eggs + 2 or 3 egg yolks (save the whites for macarons)
½ cup (100 g) sugar
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk or half and half (I used 1 cup heavy cream + 1 cup lowfat milk)
1/8 tsp salt
Dash ground nutmeg
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp Amaretto (or replace with an extra ½ tsp vanilla extract)
1 to 2 Tbs slivered blanched almonds, optional
Fresh fruit, berries or strawberries to serve

Prepare the Sweet Pastry Pie Crust:

1 ¼ cup (175 g) flour
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
7 Tbs (100 grams) unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten

Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl or on a work surface. Using only your thumbs and fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the consistency of damp sand and there are no more large chunks of butter.

Using a fork, vigorously stir in the lightly beaten egg until all the dry ingredients are moistened and a dough starts to pull together

Gather the dough together into a ball and scrape onto a floured surface. Using the heel of one hand, smear the dough little by little away from you in quick, hard strokes in order to make sure that all of the butter is blended in well.

Scrape up the dough together, re-flour the surface lightly and work very briefly and quickly until you have a smooth, homogenous dough. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes until it can be easily rolled out without sticking to your rolling pin.

Lightly butter a 10-inch x 1 ½-inch (23 cm) pie plate or dish (a 9-inch dish will work perfectly and give you a slightly deeper tart, just adjust baking time accordingly if needed).

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a disc, dusting the surface of the dough as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Lift and turn the dough as you roll into a disc, keeping the table underneath the dough floured. When the disc is just larger than the pie plate, gently and lightly roll the dough around the rolling pin, lift the dough and unroll it on top of the prepared pie plate. Gently lift and press the edges of the dough into the pie plate, pressing together to “mend” any rips or holes. Trim the overhanging dough. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Remove the chilled Sweet Pastry Crust from the refrigerator and remove and discard the plastic wrap. Prick all over with a fork then line with a square of parchment paper and fill with pastry weights or dried beans. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes, remove from the oven and, without burning yourself, remove the paper and beans and return the crust to the oven for an additional 5 minutes until set and matte and just beginning to turn golden around the edges.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (165°C).

Prepare the Custard Filling while the Sweet Pastry Shell chills and bakes:

In a medium heatproof mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs, the yolks and the sugar until blended and smooth. Heat the milk or milk and cream over medium-low heat until it just reaches the boil (you will see tiny bubbles around the edges). Very gradually pour/whisk the hot milk into the eggs and sugar, whisking continuously so the eggs don’t cook, until all the hot liquid is blended in. Whisk in the salt, nutmeg, vanilla and Amaretto.

Pour the custard liquid into the hot/warm pastry shell and bake in the 325°F (165°C) oven – or better yet, place the pastry shell on the oven shelf/rack then pour the custard into the shell. This will help you avoid sloshing the custard as you lift and carry the pie dish to the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes then carefully sprinkle the slivered almonds – if using – over the top of the tart. Continue baking for an additional 15 minutes (bake for a total of 30 minutes) until the custard is set all the way to the center and just slightly puffed. If using a clear glass pie dish, you will see that the bottom of the crust is golden brown.

Remove the Baked Custard Tart from the oven and place on a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool to room temperature before chilling. You can serve the Baked Custard Tart at room temperature or chilled, but store any uneaten Tart in the refrigerator. Serve with fresh fruit salad or berries.


Jan said...

I bet the combination of amaretto and nutmeg in the custard must be incredible. I am wowed yet again ;)

A Spoonful of YUMM ! said...

jamie ! your writing is magic...what a lovely description of your holiday and its a yummy post :)

Lana said...

You have me wishing for a vacation like yours! It's been so long since my husband and I went anywhere by ourselves:)
I've never had a custard tart, but it sounds divine.

Lick My Spoon said...

After readin your lovely post. I desperately need a holiday. I loev your descriptions Jamie...the balconies, the spattering of restaurants....felt like I was right there! Tart looks smooth and delicious too.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What a delightful tart! I love anything custardy. Just so delicate tasting...

I seems that you had a lovely holiday "en amoureux".



Brenna [fabuleuxdestin] said...

I'm so excited to hear good things about Bordeaux! I'm going for the first time on Thursday. Also, this tarte looks amazing!

Ivy said...

Jamie, love your descriptions. Have you ever thought of writing novels? The tart sounds delicious and I always make custard when I have leftover egg yolks.

ofagatesandmadeleines said...

I read your first sentence, the quote, and I was immediately transported away to the town of Sète, wandering amongst the tombstones after having climbed a hill to reach the cemetery.

And lo and behold, your post was partially about that very place. How magical, and unexpectedly wonderful. Thank you for bringing me back to this colorful place that holds a special place in my heart.

5 Star Foodie said...

The custard filling sounds wonderful, love the addition of amaretto!

Priya said...

Custard tart looks simply irresistible..

Heavenly Housewife said...

Hey daaaahling,
You must be floating around my head because I had it in mind to make this too. I have rekindled my obsession with the flans at Paul and have ordered my tart pan. I had one but it was too shallow and the tart didn't come out right. I am loving that beautiful creamy texture. Way to go daaahling!
*kisses* HH

Marnely Rodriguez said...

love the amaretto in it. custard is my favorite word, right after bacon ;) said...

Jamie, seems like you and your husband are very much in love :D I really enjoy your writing and agree with Ivy: you should write romantic novels! This tart looks great, like everything that comes out of your oven. xoxo -Yuri

Nina Timm said...

I am so in need of a vacation like this and to make matters worse, I am so in need of a lice of this delicious custard pie!!

natalia said...

How wonderful Jamie ! I love the licking strawberries !

Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

I can only imagine how romantic a person you must be from your writing. It sounds almost magical. Specially the feeling you describe when you go on vacation leaving behind worries :-) A well planned vacation indeed. So glad you had fun and back with this gorgeous topless tart.

Lisa said...

Custard is one of my favorite desserts. It started when I was a kid and a local deli sold baked custard in little foil cups. I always insisted on two! Then came custard pies, coconut custards pies, and soon flan, creme brulee, etc etc. You tart is bringing back my 'former weekly craving' for custard, and I'm not a kid anymore, so I must refrain to protect my body lol Its beautiful, as is your write up, AS always :)

Linda Harding said...

A beautiful story and what a gorgeous custard tart... I can almost taste it from here! I'd love to indulge in a slice right about now...

shaz said...

Sounds like you enjoyed your little break. This sounds like an utterly delightful way to use up those pesky leftover egg-yolks :)

James Brewer said...

Im not usually a fan of custard tarts - but with the amaretto and nutmug in it, it sounds very appealing! Also the balsamic sounds lovely.

How you describe you experience - it's as though you are there while you are reading it.

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

You won't be surprised when I say just how much I LOVE THIS TART!
I rather like sight-seeing on my own...although it's lovely to have someone to share it with too.

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

I love custard tarts.... I wish I'm salivating at your photos and loving the "hand in hand" descriptions of your time with JP.

girlichef said...

So dreamy...the story and your tart :D

A Thought For Food said...

This is such a beautiful, flavorful tart! I wish I could have a big forkful right now!

Barbara Bakes said...

Sounds like a perfect little getaway. And a perfect way to use up those pesky egg yolks. I'm still waiting to hear some news?

Junglefrog said...

What a beautiful custard tart you made Jamie (and I'm so gonna feature this one on the glazen vork too..) and it sounds like your holiday as a nice gettaway!

Rambling Tart said...

I could just hug you, Jamie. Your post has me teary and taking deep breaths. Your description of traveling with your man is so beautiful. I'm in a different country than my man at the moment, working through wretched immigration paperwork, and I miss him so much. Your post today described so perfectly what our road trips are like too. Thank you for that. :-)

Mary Green said...

Can I still indulge in eating like this if I am really worried about only eating health foods

Barbara said...

Jamie a lovely post. Rick Stein did a programme on Sete and a restaurant called Chez Juju which was at the end of a long sand spit and served only fish caught that day. Not long after the show aired on TV the restaurant was closed by the local authorities. It looked really interesting.

Bryan and I have a couple of road trip planned over the next couple of months. We love road trips too.

Soma said...

I need a break, a vacation a long relaxing one:) I can just see it when I read your post. and what a seductive topless tart!!

Yemek Tarifleri said...

Well I love custard too although it is not sold over this part of the world and you have to make it yourself naturally...

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I've stayed in Sete and seen the water jousting event they do in the river, very entertaining. And Tielles are the BUSINESS.

Hope to catch up with you soon, has all been a bit frenetic here!!


lisaiscooking said...

I don't enjoy sightseeing alone either, but the platters of seafood alone make me want to visit Sete! Your custard tart looks fantastic. The dusting of chocolate and strawberry topping sound amazing with it.

Meaghan Luby said...

like everything you do here, this is a truly lovely tart. truly, lovely is the only describer fitting this confection. thanks so much for sharing, love you and your blog :)

nitrous oxide chargers said...

Haven't heard of it before.
But it looks so delicious and good.
Thanks for sharing the recipe

asiangrrl said...

This truly is a work of art, Jamie. And, your prose is lyrical as usual.

Michele AKA 5am Foodie said...

Jamie darling, I'm cooking with my boy's class today. The topic is "the queen of hearts made some tarts". For the custard filling I had to go no further than your blog for a recipe. Thanks!

x Michele

R said...

Hi, tell meplease in here should be 325 C or 325 F???
'Pour the custard liquid into the hot/warm pastry shell and bake in the 325°C oven – or better yet, place the pastry shell on the oven shelf/rack then pour the custard into the shell. This will help you avoid sloshing the custard as you lift and carry the pie dish to the oven.'

Jamie said...

@R: 325°F (165°C) Thanks for pointing out anything that is not clear. I usually try and remember to post the temperature in both F and C. Once in a while I slip up! Thanks for the message and I'll correct right away!

shayma said...

custard is one of my most favourite things for dessert- in fact, i like savoury custards, too. custard w carbs- what a treat. x shayma


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