I had planned to make a veal roast in the manner suggested in A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes (cream, cream, morels, you get the idea, it was amazing), saffron carrots, a green salad courtesy of our CSA box, and his absolute favorite item in the world, the humble potato. Who says he isn't of Irish descent?!
For dessert, I briefly considered a cake, but with the weather so hot and the dinner party so small, it just seemed to be altogether too much.
Now I have quite vivid memories of the fruit pies, tarts and crisps my mother made when I was growing up...we just about lived on them during the summer when peaches and nectarines were plentiful and in the fall when our apple trees were prolific. Due partially to the steamy weather and partially to the good associations with baked fruit desserts, my imagination rushed to that realm almost immediately. How perfect would a birthday pie be?
But you see, I did have to be careful. Paul has many wonderful traits, but his tendency towards finicky eating is one that I occasionally find difficult. But this being his birthday, I honored his abhorrence of large pieces of onion (very small is acceptable), anything involving asparagus and his wariness of stone fruits. What to fill the pie with? I felt raspberries were a safe bet, I'd seen him request a raspberry cocktail at a restaurant recently.
I recalled a recipe that I had found to be intriguing in Serena Bass's delightful cookbook Serena, Food & Stories (you simply must try the meatloaf and accompanying sauce, I insist...it was somewhat of a revelation) for a Raspberry Frangipane Pie. Her introduction described a meeting she held with a group of fashionistas to discuss party menus for Fashion Week. Assuming no one would eat anything, she set the pie out as a token offering. By the end of the meeting it was gone. How could I resist trying such a magical confection?
The pie essentially consists of a crust, fruit, and an almond cream . It was, as I hoped, delicious. The tart edge of the raspberries (I didn't add any sugar) was a perfect foil for the richness of the frangipane. It was lively, unexpected, summery...everything you want in a warm weather dessert. And then the pie got me to thinking...I've had something like this before...what was it...aha! Last summer Clotilde inspired me with the idea of a walnut cream under Italian plums in a tart. And I was obsessed with it until plum season ended. And a year later had totally forgotten about it.
Now I recall what a wonderful guiding principal the idea of nut cream and a complementary fruit is for pies and tarts. The options are endless...peaches with hazelnut cream, strawberries with almond cream, apricots with pistachio cream...and on and on and on.
As my mother counsels, I stick with Martha Stewart's pate brisee for the crust, but I tend to be less strict with the concoctions that fill the tart. I've provided both Clotilde's and Serena's recipes for nut cream here (I love the heavy does of liqueur that Serena advises and the creme fraiche that Clotilde suggests), but they are of course just starting points. Assemble you tart (blind bake your crust first) or pie with a thin layer of cream on the bottom and a generous dose of fruit on top (sprinkle with sugar or don't, I leave it up to you and your fruit), throw it in a preheated oven (375 perhaps?) for as long as it takes for things to bubble, and you'll have perfection on a plate.
From Serena, Food & Stories by Serena Bass
Yields enough for one pie or tart
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup sugar
2 extra large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon whiskey, cognac or rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract (I omit this)
Put all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and blend for 30 seconds. Scrape around the base with a rubber spatula and blend for another 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and set aside.
From Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier
Yields enough for one pie or tart
1 1/4 cup walnut halves
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 teaspoon vanilla, rum or other flavoring of your choice
Combine walnuts and sugar together in a food processor and grind to a coarse powder. Add egg, creme fraiche and flavoring and mix again. Mixture may be prepared up to a day ahead.