All week long, the lovely Dorie Greenspan is serving as a Guest Editor here at Food52, sharing recipes and stories from her latest book, Baking Chez Moi. We're also giving away a copy each day! Because we want to give the gift of Dorie.
Today: A glamorous cake with a glamorous story, straight from St. Tropez.
The Tarte Tropézienne is easy to describe, the cult surrounding it less so. Pierre Hermé introduced me to it more than twenty years ago, and he told me it was mythique. I’m sure I nodded, but I know that I hadn’t a clue what he meant or really how mythic the cake truly was. I didn’t get an inkling until I went to Saint-Tropez, where the streets are lined with pastry shops, and each one has a Trop.
The story goes that a bread baker, Alexandre Mika, had a shop in Saint-Tropez and that he made this cake using a recipe that he brought with him from his native Poland. But it wasn’t until 1955, when a film crew set up across from the shop, that the dessert became the “it” cake. The crew included a bunch of then-unknowns: the actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Curd Jürgens; first-time director Roger Vadim; and starlet Brigitte Bardot. When Mika started making meals for them, the cake became the most requested item on the menu. It was so beloved that Bardot is said to have advised Mika that he should have a special name for it and that’s when it was christened “La Tarte Tropézienne.”
The cake itself is an egg- and butter-rich brioche dough, rolled into a freeform round, washed with egg, and speckled with pearl sugar -- the original was probably made with crushed sugar cubes (still an option) -- and baked. Once cooled, it’s split like a layer cake and filled with a combination of creams: in some cases, buttercream, pastry cream and heavy cream. Here, I opt for thick vanilla pastry cream lightened with a little whipped cream. I’ve seen Tropéziennes flavored with rum (my favorite), kirsch (regionally incorrect, but delicious), and, most commonly and most authentically, orange-flower water. These days, the Trop can be found studded with berries or filled with chocolate, and every shop in the beautiful Riviera town has a picture of Bardot.
Makes 12 servings
For the cake:
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup (80 milliliters) warm whole milk (see yeast package for exact temperature)
2 cups (272 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons dark rum or kirsch (optional)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces; 99 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups (360 milliliters) whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup (67 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (32 grams) cornstarch
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, or 1 tablespoon orange-flower water plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons; 3 ounces; 85 grams) unsalted butter, cut into bits, at room temperature
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) very cold heavy cream
1 large egg, for glazing
Pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes, for finishing
Photo by Alan Richardson
We're giving away a copy of Baking Chez Moi every day this week! To win today's copy, tell us in the comments: If you were a cake, what kind of cake would you be? We'll choose winners this Friday, October 24th. (U.S. entrants only, please!)