Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.
Today: Nicholas' go-to fancy dessert when there's no time to make a fancy dessert. (Eat up, kids -- it's just yogurt, right?)
I have never written about dessert in this column. I would have, but I figured that no one would want our recipe for seaweed and rye crackers, since that’s all we let Isaiah have for dessert. And not more than one.
I’m kidding, of course. If he finishes his dinner, he also gets to have whole flax seeds. You should see his face light up when we break out the bag!
Right. So this is a tricky subject. We have handled it in the somewhat schizophrenic way that a lot of new parents do: we all go out for ice cream as a family and then, late at night, after Isaiah is asleep, I carefully scrape the evaporated cane juice off each individual corn flake. He never suspects anything.
In truth, I really am more paranoid than most parents. But it is mostly because I am married to someone who once had candy embedded in her meatloaf to get her to eat it. (Did she eat it? Do you really want to know?)
All of this may explain why I am writing about a labneh tart: plausible deniability. It’s not dessert! It’s just yogurt! It’s also incredibly creamy, oddly sophisticated, universally beloved. And preposterously easy. How many adverbs do you need already? It’s an everybody-wins dessert, except it isn’t really, because the person who eats the most labneh tart wins. (If you have questions about what is and isn’t labneh, I suggest you skim the comment thread of Rivka’s recipe.)
This work of modest genius comes from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert. If there were such a thing as a little white dress, she says, this would be the dessert equivalent. (It is so white that if it were anything else in your home, it would be instantly ruined.) It is not a kitchen-sink childhood dessert. (Fear not: we will get to those.) It’s a little subtle. Unlike cheesecake, it doesn’t throw itself at you and then sit on top of your prostrate, distended body. Its taste tip-toes between sweet and tart (depending on your labneh). But it isn’t so subtle than any child wouldn’t immediately fall under its spell. It is still yogurt plus sugar plus butter plus flour. It is not esoteric.
It is also, and this is the harried-house-husband part of the pitch, way easier than it should be: the crust is the melted butter, pat-in-the-pan sort. While it prebakes, you whisk together the filling; the filled tart bakes for less than twenty minutes. It’s our go-to fancy dessert when we don’t have time to make a fancy dessert, which is pretty much always these days. Feel free to decorate it with a few berries, candied nuts or citrus, that sort of thing. Or nothing at all. No one will complain. Or more accurately, no one will complain about it.
Also, at some point while reading this, did you wish it were less about food and more about babies? You did? You will be happy to hear that my new book, Baby Meets World, comes out next week. It’s a wide-angled look at infancy in all its wonder and weirdness, an attempt to a tell a new and different story about babies. (Basically: funnier, less pressured, less provincial, and with way less advice.) If you like, or at least tolerate, this column, odds are that you’ll like it. You can read lots more about it on my website. (And at my blog about infancy on Slate.)
Alice Medrich's Labneh (Lebni, Labni) Tart
Makes 1 tart
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour (4.5 ounces)
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 ounces labneh (aka: lebni, labni, kefir cheese)
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.
Photos by James Ransom