The Cold Season And A Black Sesame Caramel Tart

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The frost is on the leaves, the leaves are on the ground, and bare branches begin to pierce the clear, cold sky. I saw my first French chickadee this morning. They’re fatter than the chickadees I have known in Arizona mountains and New England woodlands. It must be all the cheese. 😉

Oh wait, it’s just me that dosing on delicious French dairy these days. If you live near a decent cheese shop, go ask for roquefort, morbier, and tomme catalan straightaway. Eat the roquefort with golden delicious apples, the morbier with grilled mushrooms, and the tomme catalan with quince jelly and toasted almonds.

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I’m a bit giddy and heady these days. Happy Thanksgiving and Chanukah, by the way, to all the other Americans and Jews out there. In lieu of celebrating proper Thanksgiving today, I’m commemorating my own favorite version of the holiday this weekend: Friendsgiving! It’s Thanksgiving with your friends, when you want, how you want, in whatever country you want, and one step further removed from the massacre of America’s indigenous people that Thanksgiving so handily sweeps under the rug. Hehe.

And then I am heading into a week of retreat at Kundreul Ling, the monastic sister center of the Buddhist center where I live. And then I’m heading to Bordeaux to get my visa properly validated. And then to Paris to visit my French family, the incredible people who put up with me when I was a headstrong, naive teenager (now I’m a headstrong, moderately-less naive young adult…it makes all the difference). And then to Cal-i-for-nigh-ay to visit my actual family.

For all my heartache and sadness and frustration, I am very, very happy to get to see my family. My faaaamily. My fambly. The folks who hold my heart close to their own, who have done so as long as I’ve been present in this world. The folks who know what I like to eat on Christmas morning, what the feel of sand under my toes does for me on blue days, what color shoes to get (and not to get) me for Christmas. Who know to look for good museum shows when I’m in town, to plan our schedules around the restaurants we want to try, and to not hesitate to invite me to this year’s super cheesy, hilarious kids Christmas movie (but only if it’s animated).

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When the weather gets cold and the air smells like ice, I start to think of things like hearth fires and the scent of cinnamon. These things are awesome, but they are also mostly cultural proxies drilled into me by American holiday culture. What all that actually stands for is the comfort of home, wherever that may be.

I am lucky to have and have known many loving homes in this life. Home is the invisible ties to the people who color my life. It is profound love expressed through the everyday. Cinnamon is cozy and I’m as much a sucker for that as every other American, but actually, the taste of black sesame renders me much more nostalgic. Not homesick but home-well, heart-happy, for memories of basement Chinese restaurants, my mom’s favorite brittle candy, sharing chocolate halvah with my dad, and not wanting to say the word “furikake” (my favorite condiment on earth; comprised of salt, sugar, seaweed, and sesame) at four years old because it sounded too much like “kaka.” Oh yes, I was refined as a toddler.

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Enough years in the woods has worn down my modesty for bodily-functions, but I try to keep my culinary tastes at least a little refined. Though I can’t deny having a serious weakness for snack food; in France we have these peanut flavored corn puffs that are basically like peanut-butter flavored Cheetos, which sounds weird, but is actually delicious and addictive. Ahem, anyway, all that to say that, unlike my strange ramblings today, the recipe that follows is reliable, sophisticated, and complex. It’s a bit of East-meets-West, which I guess I am too, with Oriental flavors of black sesame and orange flower meeting classic French caramel and flaky pastry crust. While the feeling of home this tart brings about may be particular to me, its deliciousness expresses love under any roof.

Recipe follows…

Black Sesame Caramel Tart

For the flaky pastry dough (adapted from Tartine):

1 1/2 cups plus one tablespoon (195 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt

1 tablespoon (12 grams) sugar

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons/150 grams) butter, very cold

1/3 cup (73 mL) ice cold water

For the sesame mousse:

1 1/4 cups (280 mL) heavy cream

1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon orange flower water

3 tablespoons black sesame tahini or six tablespoons black sesame seeds ground in a spice or coffee-grinder

For the caramel:

Use Deb’s recipe. It’s the best–the one I always use (and I don’t feel like writing it out, since she does such a lovely job anyway).

Place flour, salt, and sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Process fifteen seconds to combine. Cut butter into 1/2-inch chunks. Add to food processor and pulse several times until butter is reduced to pea-sized (still visible! chunks). While running the food processor, add water in a slow stream to form a crumbly dough. Knead into a ball. Flatten into a disc. Refrigerate for one hour. You can make the caramel now, if you haven’t already done so.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F (180˚ C). Roll the dough out to a ten-inch (22 cm) circle. Fold one-inch (2 cm) of the border towards the center. Bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes, or until deep golden brown. Set aside to cool.

While the crust is cooling, combine cream, sugar, and orange blossom water in a large bowl. Whip to medium peaks. Use a spatula to fold in the black sesame (paste or ground seeds). Spread evenly over cooled crust. In a small pan or the microwave, warm caramel just until fluid (warm but not hot or it will melt your mousse!) and drizzle over tart in a pretty pattern. For a firm mousse, chill one hour. Otherwise, serve fresh but suffer slight risk of sliding mousse. All my love to all your homes!

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