I was at dinner with some family friends the other night, doing what we do best, eating and talking about food, when one of them brought up the topic of custard desserts. She described how she loved custard in desserts like éclairs rather than tarts. She’s not a fan of the shortbread crusts, and instead prefers custard when it’s enveloped in “bread-ier” options, such as a tarte tropézienne. I looked at her with a quizzical stare…tarte tropézienne? What kind of tart was that, and how come I had never tried or seen it before? She told me it was Brigitte Bardot’s favorite French pastry; it was famous! After dinner, I did a quick search online and found that it was indeed Bardot’s favorite pastry to order when she was filming a movie in St. Tropez back in the day. Apparently the movie set was across the street from a patisserie where this tart was made, and Bardot insisted the pastry chef create a unique name for the tart, as she loved it so very much. And so the name tarte tropézienne was born, and the world of pastry became a little bit more special.
This tart is not your typical tart. A tarte tropézienne is more akin to a baked doughnut that’s been filled with custard. The cake-y part of the tart is made with a brioche-like dough, so it’s not necessarily sweet. The custard filling is of course sweet, which is what makes this some kind of dessert, although the French eat this tart as a snack or afternoon pick-me-up as well. I could honestly eat this tart any time of the day. The brioche layer is incredibly light and fluffy, so much so that I initially cut myself a small sliver, thinking it would be decadent enough to suffice, and ended up going back for seconds because the slice was quite literally gone in seconds. I couldn’t believe how light and airy the tart was.
The custard filling for a tarte tropézienne is thick, creamy, and sweet with the taste of vanilla. It’s a wonderful contrast to the cake layer, both in texture and flavor. I remember eating something similar to this tart in Paris, however, it had been fried and looked more like a jelly doughnut. The cake-y part of it had been just like this, an unsweetened brioche-type dough, and had been filled with custard. I thought it tasted wonderful then, and eating this tart version has just reaffirmed that memory.
One thing that I was apprehensive about was the pearl sugar topping. Pearl sugar is essentially crushed sugar, which is literally what I did (I chopped up some sugar cubes). I wasn’t sure how I would like the chunks of sugar on top because I thought the crunch would be just a little too much of a crunch. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sugar had softened a bit and was not at all as hard as I imagined. Admittedly, this is not the quickest pastry to make, but if you’ve made brioche, then you can understand that. I would imagine this tarte tropézienne to be a wonderful dish for a special brunch or afternoon high-tea as it’s a beautiful sight to see and an absolutely lovely treat to eat!
for the cake
- 1 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
- 2 1/2 tbsp whole milk, warmed to 110°F-115°F
- 1 c all-purpose flour, plus more as needed and for dusting
- 1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into tablespoon-size slices
for the custard
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 large egg for glazing
- pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes for topping
To create the cake
- In a small bowl, add the dry yeast, then follow with the warmed milk. Make sure the milk is exactly the right temperature as this is what will activate the yeast. Do not stir; let the mixture rest for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix the flour and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed with a paddle attachment. Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl of flour and sugar using a spatula (the yeast mixture may or may not look bubbly/frothy). Turn the mixer on to low speed and mix just until the yeast is mixed in.
- Add in the egg, salt, and vanilla. Continue mixing on medium speed for 5 to 8 minutes, stopping every once in awhile to scrape the batter off the sides of the bowl. Drop in the butter slices, one piece at a time, and raise the speed of the mixer to medium-high speed. Continue mixing until the dough comes together, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Use your spatula to incorporated any unmixed butter into the dough better. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Roll the dough into the flour and flatten it out into a disc shape. Place the dough in a large bowl and cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap. Then turn on your oven's warm/hold setting on for 30 seconds. Turn off the oven and then place the bowl in the oven for its first rising phase; about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
To create the custard
- Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the milk begins to simmer. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt. Slowly stream in 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking vigorously as you do. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the hot milk, then whisk this mixture continuously over medium-low heat until it thickens into a pudding-like consistency.
- Pour the custard into a bowl, then add the vanilla extract; stir to combine. Cover the custard with a sheet of plastic wrap, placing the plastic directly onto the custard. Refrigerate the custard until chilled and ready to use.
Back to the dough
- After the dough has finished rising, take off the plastic wrap lift up the dough from each of its sides to slightly stretch it out. Again, place back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This time, place the dough in the freezer to stop the dough's development; freeze for 30 minutes. Then, transfer the dough to the fridge to chill for an hour.
- Place your dough onto a floured surface and roll out the dough until it's 5 to 6 inches wide in diameter. Place this dough circle on a baking sheet fitted with a piece of parchment paper. Cover loosely with a sheet of plastic wrap. Turn on the oven's warm/hold setting for 30 seconds before turning the oven off and placing the baking sheet in the oven for the dough to rise; about 1 hour.
- Take the dough out of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Create an egg wash by adding a splash of water to a small bowl containing 1 egg. Beat the water and egg together before brushing this egg wash onto the dough. Add the crushed sugar to the top. Place the dough in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top and edges of the cake are a deep golden brown. Transfer the cake to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.
- Once the cake is cool, finish your custard. Whip the heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. User a rubber spatula to fold the whipped cream into the custard until the custard is loosened up a bit. The custard should be creamy, but should not fall off your spatula easily.
- Use a sharp, serrated knife to horizontally cut into the cake and split it into two layers. Cut the cake so that the bottom layer is thicker than the top layer.
- Use a spatula or a pastry bag to apply the custard onto the bottom layer of cake. Gently press the top layer onto the filling. Refrigerate until cool and ready to serve.