Berry-Topped White Balsamic Custard Tart (and LA!)
Pulled pork tacos. Mexican cokes in slim, tapered glass. A bowl of kumquats, gem-like, straight from tree to counter. And food trucks selling $21 foie gras PB & J sandwiches – welcome to LA!
It’s not my first time in the city of angels. I came at 15 with a couple friends, but the trip was forgettable. We stuck to downtown, mostly malls, and the Sunset strip. We tried to find celebrities and instead lost the chance to really dig into LA. Where were the farmer’s markets and neighborhood dives? Where were the local vendors? Where was the character? It’s no wonder the state left a bland taste on my tongue. California, that colorless word.
As a result, I spent the last four years telling people, “Oh, I don’t really like LA.” When pressed for reasons, I said the city was superficial, and for good measure, “I like seasons.” But I couldn’t resist when C-, an LA-based friend from college, invited me to stay and visit. I resolved to make this trip different, if I had to eat my way across California to do it.
I admitted defeat two days later, the car parked on a ridge overlooking all of LA. The sun had dipped past the horizon. The palm trees I thought looked so silly became unexpectedly beautiful against the blackening sky. As night fell, millions of lights edged the foothills, the city actually shimmering like a mirage. “Okay,” I told C-, who had known all along that I’d be easy to break. “I kind of love this.”
Maybe it’s naïve to think there’s a “real LA” to discover, but I’ve felt it everywhere. I waited in line for cheap, cheap tacos piled with cheddar in Culver City. In Santa Monica, I fell in love with a fashion designer’s tiny house, decorated with lime green plastic couches and funky glass lights. C- and I had dinner in a Hollywood club with a full jazz/swing orchestra. Unbelievable.
It’s hard to call California bland while you sip watermelon-rosemary lemonade, nibbling the last bit of salted caramel macaron.
When C- goes to work, I take advantage of California produce. His parents graciously opened the whole house to me, saying that every ingredient and kitchen counter was available. When I opened the fridge and saw quality coconut milk, spice flecked pumpkin butter, fresh avocado and more cherries than I could eat, my fingertips began to itch. I found their food processor, pulsed the butter, and had a tart crust chilling in the fridge in a heartbeat.
While I was in school, I bookmarked hundreds of recipes I wanted to try but couldn’t make. No tools, time, or ingredients there – but here the afternoon was mine. Right away I knew I wanted to tackle a white balsamic custard tart, topped with a mosaic of fresh berries.
C-’s kitchen is a lot bigger than mine. I opened almost every cabinet and drawer trying to find white balsamic vinegar. I felt vaguely like I was robbing the house, but they’d specifically said I could look around. Finally, tucked in the corner of a slim cabinet, I found a raspberry blush white balsamic vinegar. It was even better than I could have expected.
A few turns of the whisk, some gentle heat on the stove, and a yolk-colored custard came together. Opening the plastic cartons of raspberries honestly felt like unwrapping rubies. I snuggled the berries around the perimeter of the crust, circling the custard, one plump blackberry topping the center.
I was worried the balsamic vinegar would be too sour, but instead, the custard’s flavor is tangy and elusive. If I hadn’t baked it myself, I’d have no explanations for the mystery ingredient. Not citrusy enough to be lemon or sweet enough to be yogurt, but unusually pleasant. Paired with the fresh berries and buttery crust, the tart didn’t disappoint.
There’s a little less than half the tart remaining, and a full seven days to spend in California. Will there be any leftovers after my trip to the Hollywood farmer’s market? When I get back from Disneyland? Who knows, but I don’t mind. More raspberries magically appeared in C-’s fridge this morning. I can’t wait to see what else LA offers.
No, you don’t need a bottle Italian raspberry blush white balsamic to make this tart. But don’t be tempted to skip out on the balsamic vinegar. It’s just so interesting and unlike anything I’ve ever made. It’s also lovely with the fresh berries.
Next time I might try a different crust recipe. This one was delicious, but a little too crumbly. C- didn’t have any tart pans with removable bottoms, so I used a regular pie dish. Maybe that’s why I had a little trouble nudging each slice out of the pan. Oh well – still delicious.
Berry-Topped White Balsamic Custard Tart
Barely tweaked from Bon Appetit
Makes a 9″ tart
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon whipping cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raspberry blush white balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 (1/2 stick) butter
Fresh berries to top
Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt a couple times in a food processor to combine. Add the cubes of butter and pulse until the mixture forms little balls, like coarse meal. Add the yolk, extract, and cream, and pulse just until a dough comes together.
Press the dough into a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom (I used a ceramic pie dish and it worked out okay.) Prick all over with a fork and chill for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the crust until golden, about 20 minutes. Check carefully – the very edges of mine burned because I wasn’t paying attention! If the crust has bubbled up at all, use the back of a spoon to press it down. Let the crust cool completely.
To make the custard, whisk the cream and cornstarch together until lump-free. Whisk in the eggs, yolks, and vanilla until blended. Boil the vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced by half, to 1/4 cup. Add the water, sugar, and butter, and heat until the butter melts and the mixture returns to a boil.
Working slowly, gradually whisk the vinegar mixture into the egg mixture. Return to the pan and heat until the custard thickens and boils, about a minute. Strain into a bowl and let cool. Spread the custard into the tart crust and smooth with a spatula. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours or up to a day.
Top the tart with fresh berries and chill until ready to serve.
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