When your parents come to dinner at the house where your fiancé grew up, it is a very good idea to volunteer to cook. The thing to do is to buy a new cookbook that day, and get very excited about a recipe or two, and then disappear to the store and finally into the kitchen for the afternoon. That way, the fathers and mothers can all pour themselves a glass of wine and head into the living room, leaving you and your fiancé to work happily on a marinade while they do the work of getting to know each other for a bit.
At least this is what I decided yesterday. The book I found was The Food of France, part of a Williams Sonoma collection. I found it in the city, and we decided on a menu of salt and pepper crusted rib-eye, braised endive, gratin dauphinos (a fancy term for scalloped potatoes), and an apple tart for dessert. The apple tart was especially important, as it required quite a bit of concentration and everyone shooed out of the kitchen for a bit.
It also, incidentally, is one of my absolute favorite things to eat for both for dessert, and for breakfast in the car the next day. I first had it in Spain, and spent many evenings sneaking into the kitchen (which very handily had glass doors, closing out the creak of the refrigerator and the noisy scraping of forks on china) with my host sister late at night, after everyone else was asleep. Of course we were chastised in the morning when our mother noticed the edges of the tart slowly creeping in, but we did it every time she made it all the same.
Now this tart is not quite like that one (I am still trying to get the recipe, and translate it, as the measurements are in grams and that sort of thing) but for now it is a very, very good attempt. Maybe it's because it is French, but the pastry cream seems a bit softer, and the crust a little bit less dense, but the apples and the apricot glaze are just the same.
It is also just as delicious the next day, if not better, especially if you have a drive to make. I recommend setting it up on your lap on a bit of tupperware, and without even bothering with forks, eating up every last bit. Just watch out for the pastry cream, as it tends to sneak out and mess things up a bit.
Other than that, I don't have too many tips. I do recommend making it for family gatherings, as it goes very well with wine, and seems to make everyone sort of drowsy and content, always handy for squashing familial discontent. If there are politics or other dire subjects to discuss, I think it would be an especially good bet. I know the election is over and all, but you might want to start practicing for next time, so as to have it in your bag of tricks.
from The Food of France, Williams Sonoma collection
for the crust:
2 and 3/4 cup flour
small pinch of salt
1 stick plus 2 and 1/2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 eggs, beaten
Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix butter with your fingers, until soft. Then add sugar, followed by eggs. Gradually incorporate dry ingredients into wet. Knead to make a smooth dough, warp in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
for the pastry cream:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons flour
2 and 1/4 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla or rum
1 tablespoon butter
Whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, and flour in a medium sized mixing bowl. In a medium sized heavy bottomed saucepan, mix milk and remaining sugar. Bring just to a boil, and pour a small amount of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the pot of milk, and whisking constantly, bring back to a boil. Once it begins to thicken, cook for two minutes longer. Stir in butter and vanilla and scrape the cream into a mixing bowl. So that it doesn't form a skin, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream, and put the bowl into the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
for the tart:
4 sweet apples
1/4 cup apricot jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out pastry dough. Press into a greased 10 inch tart pan, trimming excess dough from top. Line dough with tinfoil or parchment paper, and fill tart center with rice, coffee, or other dry beans. Prebake for 10 minutes, remove weights and foil or paper, and bake several minutes more, or until just cooked through.
Remove from oven and fill with pastry cream. Peel and core apples, and cut into very thin slices. Layer around the top of the tart into two circles. Cook tart 25 to 30 minutes, or until apples are golden and pastry is dry and cooked. Let cool completely, then melt apricot jam in a pot with a bit of water, and spread with a pastry brush over top. Chill or serve immediately. This tart is just as good, if not better, eaten the next day.