So this last week has been a whirlwind. The tradition in my house is to put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving. What started out as a simple holiday tradition, turned into an all-out clean-fest of the garage which had been sorely neglected in the last year. A week later, we have a *moderately* clean garage and festive house covered in lights, at least on the inside. I’ve been all over creation looking for the right *priced* extension cords to aid in trimming the outside of the house in jolly luminosity only to find after purchasing my prized extension stakes that 1. they aren’t long enough and I don’t have a three prong extension cord to extend the extender and 2. there’s no switch, something lazy me wanted. So, like Scrooge, I’m in the dark…though only on the outside.
But that’s not why you’re here! You want mouth-watering recipes that celebrate those spices I mentioned earlier. Believe it or not, I’ve been planning this little theme for a while, and I had baked this wonderful Cinnamon Milk Tart some time ago. I found this recipe in Nancy Silverton’s Pastries From The La Brea Bakery, which is a seriously good book despite it’s loathsome lack of bakers porn.
This is the same book where Nancy Silverton proclaimed, “Once you’ve tasted freshly ground cinnamon sticks, you’ll never settle for preground cinnamon from a supermarket jar.” Unfortunately, though I had the cinnamon sticks, I do not have a spice grinder. I do have a mortar and pestle though, and took an inordinate amount of time grinding up maybe 1/2 teaspoon worth by hand. Did it make a difference? Honestly I can’t be sure, because thankfully due to some strange celestial alignment, I had the foresight to buy some ground cinnamon as well. If I hadn’t had the ground stuff on hand it would have been more of a milk tart instead of a cinnamon milk tart.
One thing I can say for sure is the specialty cinnamon from a real spice purveyor TOTALLY makes a difference. While I only had a limited amount of the fresh ground stuff, the other ground cinnamon I used was fab! Admittedly I was never a big fan of cinnamon, but after using a more premium cinnamon I might become a cinnamon junkie. If you can scratch some pennies together, it really is worth buying your spices from a specialty store rather than the mass produced brands found in the supermarket. When you start to check the numbers, the cost isn’t much more, especially if you have a local shop. Remember when buying cinnamon, or any other spices for that matter, plan on buying only about a years worth of ground or up to a two years for whole. This is a moderate guideline for the shelf life of any spice. Regardless of any timetable, use your nose. If you get a whiff that’s strong and fragrant, you’re good to go.
That said, this tart is crazy good and it really highlights cinnamon. Apparently this is a traditional South African treat. The crust technique of smearing the dough to mix it, struck me as a bit odd considering everything I’ve read hammers in the desire to keep the butter as solid as possible when creating any kind of crust. But hey, that’s why those experts and pastry chefs get paid the big bucks. They know what the heck they’re doing. Now I know the smear technique creates a tasty crust with the texture of a crunchy cookie. So no more worries of creating something that requires a chainsaw to cut!
With the light waning the day I baked this and wanting to take a picture of it (along with craving to gobble it immediately!), I unfortunately didn’t have the time to get more creative with the cinnamon dusted design. I made do with the traditional circle template in the middle…well sort of in the middle. If you want to get creative, you could cut out any number of shapes or words to fit any occasion.
What is really wonderful about this dessert is that it’s a sweet and satisfying treat without being too heavy. Ms. Silverton also offers a Cinnamon Custard Tart in her La Brea Bakery book, but I was looking for something a little lighter to enjoy the cinnamon flavor. You get a light, sweet taste that is creamy, crunchy, and full of flavor. This really was one of the best things I’ve made. While you can keep this tart covered in the fridge for a day or two, it does start to get a bit…not soggy so much as…moist maybe? It’s FANTASTIC the first day! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Don’t forget to enter my spice giveaway before the 15th!
Cinnamon Milk Tart
my notes are in bold
10-inch flan ring, lightly coated with melted butter (I used an 8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and ate the leftover filling.)
3-inch diameter cardboard guide or paper plate (I made mine out of a plastic page protector. It worked great!)
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 extra-large egg
1 extra-large egg yolk
For the filling:
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
For the crust:
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and sugar and pulse, or mix on low, to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off or mix on low, until it’s the consistency of a coarse meal. I (at the time) had neither of these wonders of engineering, and was forced to make do with my trusty pastry blender, and frankly, I can’t imagine using a standing mixer for this. If you don’t have a food processor, get your pastry blender out. If you don’t have a food processor or a pastry blender, get a beater from your hand mixer out. If you don’t have a food processor, pastry blender, or a hand mixer….I guess you’ll have to bare knuckle it, which apparently my Grandmother used to do when she made her family-famous pie dough. Oh, and yes, you can use a beater from a hand mixer like a pastry blender. It’s been done in my own test kitchen
In a small bowl, whisk together the whole egg and egg yolk, and pour into the flour mixture. Pulse or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dip the hell of your hand in flour and working with small sections, smear the dough away from you to blend it together. When the dough has been all smeared out, use a metal scraper or spatula to scrape and gather it together.
Divide the dough in half and gently knead each half and gather into a ball. Flatten into 2 discs and wrap in plastic. Chill one piece until firm, at least 2 hours, and freeze the other for later use. (I actually halved the recipe because I wasn’t sure it was going to turn out. I wish I could tell you the exact amounts, but I used a scale to halve the eggs and powdered sugar. If you want to do the same, you need a scale to measure it out.)
On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to at least 2 inches larger in diameter than the pan you are using, 1/4 inch thick, flouring the surface of the dough as necessary. Gently fold the dough into quarters, placing the point into the center of the pan, carefully unfold the dough. Press lightly into the corners, and see that the dough comes up slightly above the top of the rim. Make sure you don’t stretch the dough to fit the pan (like I did), otherwise it will shrink during baking (like mine did). Trim any excess dough. Chill or freeze until firm, from 30 minutes to an hour. Line your crust with parchment paper or coffee filters, and fill the lining up to the rim of the pan with dried beans or metal pie weights (or rice which I foolishly, and cheaply use. It’s a b**** though and I’d suggest going with the beans. I went with rice because it was cheaper, but it’s soooo difficult to get back in the bag!). Make sure that whatever you use fits snugly into the corners of the dough. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, until the top of the crust is golden brown. Cool completely and remove the weights and parchment. If the bottom of the pastry is not uniformly browned, return it unlined to the oven for a few minutes until fully cooked. (I don’t know why, but this took FOREVER to brown properly. I was worried it had browned too much, but it actually turned out perfectly *except for the shrinking*)
In a deep stainless-steel saucepan over low heat, warm 3 1/2 cups of the milk with the granulated sugar. Using a small knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise. With the back of the knife, scrape out the pulp and the seeds and add the scrapings and the pod to the milk. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the remaining milk and the cornstarch. When the milk comes to a boil, pour it into the cornstarch mixture and whisk together. Return it to the saucepan and bring it back to a boil over medium heat, stirring (not whisking! Use a wooden spoon here) occasionally, so it doesn’t color. Continue cooking, allowing it to bubble and thicken, about 2 minutes (I stirred constantly not occasionally. You do want this to cook a bit without it burning on the bottom.) Remove the vanilla bean and pour the filling into the baked tart shell. Chill until set and cold, about 45 minutes.
Place the circle template (or any other you were planning on using) in the center of the tart and sift and even layer of cinnamon over the top of the tart. Enjoy!