Catherine hefted the bag off her back and it slid to her feet, hitting the cobblestones with a thud.
She was more tired than she wanted to admit. She had thought, hoped, that the more she carried the bag, the lighter it would feel, like her body would get used to the weight somehow. But after three weeks on the road, it did not feel like an extension of her as she’d naively hoped. She stared down at the graying canvas, streaked with dirt and stray bits of rubble, containing all of her worldly possessions or what remained of them. She dreaded having to pick it up again.
The small village in Belgium where the bus had dropped her was still sleepy. In the early morning haze, it looked forgotten, like it had slipped through the cracks of time and managed to remain unchanged for centuries. Small, stone cottages, thatched roofs, cobblestone streets. The vendors of the main street had started to move behind their windows. Catherine watched as a man with a big belly and a grim expression carried a tray of bread loaves across the street to where a little woman clasped her hands together in delight, ushering him into her shop. It was ridiculous, Catherine thought with a sigh, like walking into a Disney movie.
When she turned around, to pick up that blasted bag, there was a boy there. She stopped short of stepping on him.
He was about her nephew’s age, six or seven, and wore a pair of round, thick glasses. He blinked up at her. Catherine smiled uncertainly. She shrugged her shoulders and tried to tell him that she did not speak French or German. When he replied, in a tumble of words, it was in Dutch. She sighed again.
The boy looked like he had slipped through time too. He wore gray shorts, long at the knee, and a simple shirt. He blinked at her again. He held out his hand, palm up.
Catherine wanted to be annoyed but the kid knew what he was doing; he nudged his glasses up on his nose and flashed her a smile, lifting his hand higher. She found herself smiling despite herself, despite the ache in her back and the filth beneath her fingernails. With a sigh, she reached around him and grabbed the damn bag. He watched her dig through the side pockets, so many of them, and began chattering to her in Dutch once more. She found what she was looking for and flashed him a universal sign of her own- she put her finger to her lips. He quieted.
With a heaving sigh and a look down the empty street, Catherine sat down on the stones. She revealed the candy bar she’d stashed away, aware of his eyes on her as she pulled back the wrapper and snapped it into two. She handed him half, the larger half, and wondered what the Dutch word was for “breakfast.”
He sat down across from her, cross-legged, knobby knees bumping hers and, together, they munched on the chocolate, in the middle of the cobblestone street, in the hazy morning light, Catherine leaned up against her bag, which had been made just the smallest, tiniest bit lighter.
“…kissing George was a little like rolling in caramel after spending years surviving off rice sticks.” Aimee Bender, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
I’ve never been particularly good at pairing things. If you want to be technical and all foodie about it, you could say that my palette isn’t all that refined. Or skilled. I have a crappy palette, okay? There, I said it. It’s lazy. It does not want me to “discern” things. If we’re at a wine tasting and you’re pulling out hints of plum and fairy dust, my response is going to be more along the lines of, “Yes, this is good. And red. It’s definitely red.” And then I’ll panic and check the glass in my hand to make sure the wine is in fact red.
I want to be good at this. I want to be able to take a bite of something and tell you that there’s flecks of rosemary in it and that’s why the blend works so nicely with the saltiness of the pork. I want to tell you I’ll bring the wine for dinner because the, you know, the STUFF in this wine will go really well with your chicken piccata. Or just know, instinctively, that I should put lemon in the salad because there’s salmon in the salad and they like each other and here’s why…
Instead, I cheat.
I know thyme works with lemon because Giada told me so (has she ever picked up a sprig of thyme without telling you it smells “woodsy and lemony”? ) I know melon wrapped in prosciutto works because I had it once and it was amazing so I made a mental note. I know what to put in a frittata to make it taste good because I once had all of the same ingredients on a pizza (roasted tomatoes, goat cheese and slivers of basil) or in risotto (asparagus, spring peas, bits of onion, shaved parmesan).
I know that if you have a crunchy, cookie base and smooth caramel and a soft bite of chocolate with some salt, it will be good. Because it will taste like a Twix candy bar. And they are good. This is a tactic we’ve applied before– looking to popular candy for our baking needs. And now you know why.
The Twix Tart
Pâte Sablée (so fun to say!):
10 TBsp (5 ounces) of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 Cup (3 and 1/2 ounces) of sugar
2 Eggs, room temperature
2 Cups (8 and 1/2 ounces) of all-purpose flour
1 TSP of salt
1/2 Cup of heavy cream
1 Cup of sugar
Pinch of Maldon sea salt
12 Ounces of bittersweet (60%-66%) chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 Cups of heavy cream
For the pâte sablée (still fun to say!):
1. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together.
2. Add eggs and mix just until incorporated.
3. Add flour and salt and mix on low just until incorporated.
4. Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Wrap fully and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
5. Flour work surface and roll out dough to 1/4″ thick.
6. Lay into a 9″ tart pan or tart rings of your choosing and trim excess dough with a knife.
7. Refrigerate for an hour before baking.
8. Preheat oven to 350° F.
9. Line tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 30 minutes (check earlier if you are baking individual tarts), turning halfway through.
10. Remove foil and weight and bake for 10 more minutes (individual tarts may not need additional baking time).
11. Tart shells should be lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool fully on wire rack before filling.
For the caramel:
12. Place cream in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Set aside while you cook the sugar.
13. Combine sugar with 5 tablespoons of water in a heavy saucepan.
14. Cook over high heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves.
15. Bring mixture to boil and cook without stirring for about 4 minutes until it turns dark amber. Swirl saucepan to ensure it cooks evenly. Do not stir.
16. Take mixture off stove and pour cream slowly into the sugar (it will boil up so don’t pour in all at once.)
17. Stir until incorporated and smooth. Add in salt. If caramel has cooled too much and become thick, place over heat and warm until it is liquid enough to pour.
18. Pour the caramel into the tart shell, covering the bottom evenly. Let cool until it firms and is no longer shiny. You can place the tart shell in the refrigerator to speed up the process.
For the ganache:
19. Place chocolate and salt in a heatproof bowl.
20. Place cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat on the stove.
21. Pour cream over the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes.
22. Then whisk slowly and gently to combine.
23. Do not stir too vigorously as this incorporates air into the ganache and gives it a less smooth and velvety texture.
24. Pour the ganache into the tart shell over the caramel. Let set at room temperature for at least 3 hours or up to 12 hours.
25. Sprinkle with sea salt before serving.
Use pre-made caramel! It will be more runny and won’t firm up as much (see photos) but it’s a good timesaver, especially if you are terrified of making caramel.