In my mind, I have a conception of a tart with a cheese filling that would satisfy someone in the mood for a cheese plate garnished with fruit, nuts, and crackers. The texture of the filling of the tart would be in the ballpark of whipped brie (which is like whipped butter), and berries or pears on top or on the side would round it out with some fruity sweetness. I think that the crust probably shouldn’t be too sweet, veering more towards the backup support of a cracker or nut than that of an assertive sweet cookie. I could see brie, mascarpone, ricotta, goat cheese, or perhaps any soft cheese working in this way.
So, I was intrigued when I saw a Triple Creme Tart in The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern, a cookbook by Claudia Fleming. It calls for St. Andre cheese, which is a favorite of mine. Although similar to brie and other bloomed rind cheeses, it’s a bit more luscious than brie. In fact, it’s a triple cream cheese, and it has 75% milk fat; brie usually has about 45% (and up to 70%)… and butter in the US generally has about 80%.
I was even more intrigued by the technique. The recipe, available here, calls for making pastry cream and stirring in cubes of St. Andre so that they melt, and then grating in some nutmeg. That is set aside, and then you make an Italian Meringue by bringing water, sugar, and corn syrup up to 242 and then whipping that into frothy egg whites until they are just stiff. The Italian Meringue is then folded into the cheesy pastry cream and poured into a par-baked nutty pastry tart shell (the recipe calls for ground toasted hazelnuts and almond flour, but I used ground toasted walnut and almond instead because I don’t like hazelnuts) and baked until it is golden brown on top and puffy. In fact, she describes it as as a souffle anchored in a tart crust.
I have mixed feelings about the end result, though. It puffed up admirably like a souffle should in the oven, and it was supposed to be served shortly after taking it out of the oven — about 5 minutes. At that point, though, it was still quite warm, it tasted a lot like Italian Meringue, and the cheese was a note that came into play part way into the bite, and coated my mouth at the end. It seemed like the cheese and the meringue were battling each other for control of the tart, and the sweetness was winning. The texture was interesting, though — almost foamy. I added chopped cherries on top, but that fed into the sweetness and further obscured the cheese, even if they did add a welcoming density.
I decided to let it cool and chill it overnight. I hoped that the hot sugar would stabilize and mellow in sweetness, and the cheese would intermingle with the crust and the meringue.
It was better today, in increments. When I tasted it just out of the refrigerator, it had more of a muted sweetness and pronounced cheese flavor. When I waited for it to come to room temp, it had a wonderfully full cheese flavor with a just a bit of sweetness and a just foamy enough texture; and it was rather more dense in general.
If I want to serve it hot in the future, I’m considering halving the sugar and taking away an egg white– it was just that sweet and foamy. I think that would firm it up a bit and make it more cheesy straight away.
Also, I really like the appearance of it. When the tart is sliced, the wedges resemble wedges of cheese, but with different colors of rind for the top and bottom.