nancy silverton's creme fraiche brioche tart
This is the tart that made Julia Child cry. In 1997, Nancy Silverton baked this tart on Baking with Julia, a TV series that featured guest pastry chefs who were—at the time—just emerging as stars. In the half-hour episode, Julia towers over a young Nancy as Nancy shows how to make her signature pastry from Campanile, her first restaurant. At the end of the episode, Julia takes a bite and there's a long, pregnant silence. "A good combination...?" Nancy asks, hopefully. More silence. Then Julia pats Nancy on the back, places her other hand over her own chest, and says, between tears, "It's a dessert to cry over." Her voice quivers. "That's a triumph. This is the best dessert I've ever eaten."
Maybe I'm just a sucker, but every time I watch that clip, I lose it. It's more than the joy of cooking—it's the joy of making something for someone and the simple joy of eating. And maybe I'm impressionable or sentimental, but the first time I made this tart, I cried too.
It starts with a brioche dough. I have strong feelings about brioche. Brioche is my undoing. It makes me weak in the knees. The buttery dough is rolled into a rustic tart, filled with a simple creme fraiche custard (which is just creme fraiche mixed with an egg), and topped with sugar. Then things get fancy. Nancy caramelizes sugar and vanilla beans, drowns the caramel with enough white wine to get two of me drunk, and uses some of that caramel-wine syrup to make a luxurious sabayon which she folds into whipped cream. She calls this her "white secret sauce" (you're welcome, twelve-year-old readers). Finally, to finish the tart, she slices fresh peaches, plums, and nectarines and quick-poaches them in the rest of the caramel-wine syrup.
The heart of this recipe is the trifecta of brioche, creme fraiche, and fruit. Of these, the real work here is the brioche, which is a project in itself and one that requires patience and a stand mixer (although you could attempt it by hand with a lot of elbow grease). Nancy's brioche recipe happens to be my favorite; it's made with a sponge that's covered in flour and allowed to proof. The flour coating insulates the sponge and protects it from drying out; it also serves as a useful indicator, cracking open like an earthquake when the yeast starts to work its magic. All this helps the brioche to develop a deep flavor and lacy texture and makes for a heavenly dough that's easy to work with.
Which leaves us to discuss that shady white secret sauce. Listen: that sauce is something special. It's boozy and creamy and caramel-y—it's you in a silk robe in a posh hotel with a glass of champagne, feeling yourself. But like most posh hotels, it also isn't necessary. Especially because the cost comes in added time and effort. And here's the thing: you don't even need the syrup for the fruit. You can just as easily macerate your plums or apricots or berries with a little bit of sugar and call it a day. I often even prefer it this way. Don't get me wrong, I'll absolutely make that sauce when I want something lavish because I'm worth it, and if you're a maniac like me and want to spend that extra time in your kitchen, you won't regret it. What I'm trying to say is there's no need to be a hero—or rather, you're still a hero if you skip the sauce.
Regardless, I'm certain this is the best recipe I'll ever post on here, which is definitely ill advised because this is only my third blog post. But whatever, I never promised I'd be good at this.
Nancy Silverton’s Creme fraiche BRIOCHE TART
Adapted from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan (with an introduction by Julia Child and Nancy Silverton as a contributing baker).
No other than Dorie Greenspan wrote the companion cookbook to Julia Child's baking show; along with Nancy Silverton, that's a dream trifecta of its own. In the book, the recipe for the brioche and tart is a full six pages long. I've edited the method to try to make everything more clear and concise without losing the integrity of the original instructions. I've also made the white secret sauce optional and have included the alternative ending of macerated fruit. If you do make the sauce and syrup, you'll have more than you'll need; you can also poach dried fruits in place of fresh ones, but should soak them in hot water to plump them first. The brioche dough recipe will make double what you need, but you can freeze the rest for another use. Nancy uses crystal sugar for the crimped edge because it looks prettier and has a higher melting point than granulated sugar. If you have some, use it. She also finishes the tart with toasted almonds and powdered sugar, and you certainly can too, but I don't think it needs it. A note on timing: the brioche dough takes at least seven hours to proof and rise (if not an overnight rest); once assembled, it requires another rise of about an hour. The sauce can be made a day ahead of time.
1/3 cup warm-to-the-touch whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
5 large eggs, divided
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided, plus more as needed
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
CREME FRAICHE FILLING AND TART ASSEMBLY
1 cup crème fraiche
1 large egg
1 large egg white, beaten
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
WHITE SECRET SAUCE (optional)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans
1/3 cup water
2 1/4 cups dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
Sliced stone-fruits (plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and/or berries)
Sugar to taste (if using macerated fruit)
MAKE THE BRIOCHE DOUGH:
Put the milk, yeast, 1 egg, and 1 cup flour in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Make a sponge by mixing everything with a rubber spatula until it just comes together and sprinkle this with 1 more cup of flour. Leave the bowl uncovered for 30-40 minutes until the flour coating cracks.
Lightly beat the remaining 4 eggs and add them—along with the sugar, salt, and 1 more cup of flour—to the sponge. Set the bowl into the mixer, attach the dough hook, and mix on low speed for a minute or two, until everything just comes together. Sprinkle in remaining 1/2 cup of flour, increase the mixer to medium, and beat for a full 15 minutes (this is what will turn brioche into brioche). Pause to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed. The dough will eventually come together, wrap itself around the hook, and slap the sides of the bowl. If this doesn't happen after 7-10 minutes, add up to 3 tablespoons of flour. Also, your mixer will become very hot; a heavy-duty mixer can handle the heat, but let it cool completely when you finish making the dough.
Use a rolling pin to beat the butter or use a bench scraper to smear it around so that it's the same consistency as the dough. The butter should be smooth, soft, and still cool—not warm or oily. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the butter a few tablespoons at a time until all of it has been added. The dough will break at first, and that's okay. Raise the speed to medium-high for a minute, then reduce it to medium and beat for 5 minutes until the dough comes back together and once again slaps the sides of the bowl. If the dough doesn't look like it's coming together after the first minute, add up to 1 tablespoon more flour. When you're done, the dough should still be cool and sticky.
FIRST RISE: Transfer to a large buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
SECOND RISE: Deflate the dough by lifting a section with your fingers and letting it fall back down, working your way around the circumference. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least 4 to 6 hours.
After the second rise, divide the dough in two (about 1 pound 2 ounces each). You will only need half of the dough for this recipe, and you can store the other half in the freezer, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and placed in a ziplock bag, for up to 1 month. Thaw the wrapped dough overnight in the refrigerator when ready to use.
MAKE CREME FRAICHE FILLING, ASSEMBLE AND BAKE THE TART:
Work the remaining half batch of dough into a ball and flatten to a disk. On a floured surface, roll it into an 11 1/2-inch circle. Center the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan on top of the dough, and press it down to make an indentation. Remove the pan and use this circular line as your crimping guide—fold the dough so that it falls about a quarter-inch inside the line, crimping the edges inward by pinching and twisting on a slight diagonal. Assemble and butter the springform pan before lifting the dough into it. Work your fingers around the crimped edge (where the single layer of tart meets the double layer), pressing your fingers into the dough so that you simultaneously press down the base and slightly lift up the crimped edge.
THIRD RISE: Let rise, uncovered until doubled in size, 45 minutes to an hour.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 275°F. In a small bowl, whisk together the creme fraiche and the egg and set aside. The tart dough will have puffed after the last rise—leave the crimped edge nice and puffed, but make a space for the creme fraiche filling by pressing your fingertips into the base of the tart, creating multiple deep, crater-like dimples. Spread the creme fraiche filling evenly over the dimpled base. Brush the edge of the tart with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle 1/2 to 1/3 cup sugar over the creme fraiche. The custard will only absorb a certain amount; stop when it looks like it can't absorb anymore. Sprinkle the crimped edge with a few more tablespoons of sugar.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the custard is almost set (it should jiggle slightly when you shake the pan). Transfer to a cooling rack. After a few minutes, remove the tart from the pan.
MAKE THE WHITE SECRET SAUCE (optional):
First make a caramel-wine syrup: Put the sugar in a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, scrape the seeds into the pan, and add the pods. Pour in the water; it should just be enough to cover the sugar. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Wash down any sugar that crystallizes on the sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. When the sugar starts to caramelize, gently swirl the pan over the heat. Keep cooking and swirling until the caramel is a deep gold color, about 7-10 minutes total. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the wine. The caramel will bubble and seize. To melt the caramel, return the pan to the heat and bring the syrup to a boil. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the syrup through a strainer into a heatproof measuring cup, and reserve the remaining syrup to poach the plums.
Whisk the heavy cream to soft peaks and set aside.
Put the yolks into the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a heatproof bowl) and, whisking constantly, drizzle in the hot syrup. Put the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water—the bowl should not touch the water—and whisk constantly for 5 minutes or until the yolks are hand-hot and voluminous. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium-low for 10-15 minutes or until cool, pale, and tripled in volume. (It should look like whipped mayonnaise.) Gently fold in the whipped cream.
The sauce can be kept covered in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.
FINISH AND SERVE:
Bring the reserved caramel-wine syrup to a boil, and add the fruit. Swirl the pan and stir until the fruit softens a bit—but does not turn to mush—just a couple of minutes. If using macerated fruit instead, mix fresh fruit with about a tablespoon of sugar (or to taste) and allow to sit at least 30 minutes before serving. To serve, place a slice of tart on each plate and top with the sauce and fruit.