Alice Medrich's Labneh (Lebni, Labni) Tart

March 28, 2013

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?)

labneh tart

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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.)

pure dessert

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.

lebni tart

Photos by James Ransom


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I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


Alanna April 3, 2013
Beautiful photos - this tart looks scrumptious (and I never use that word to describe food, honest)! Huge Alice Medrich fan here. :) Love the idea of spooning berries over the just-baked tart as per the comments! Lovely post. Ps. My mom is a health nut who made me eat hippy food as a kid, and I grew up to become a pastry chef. Heehee.
Susa April 1, 2013
Excellent! I will have to try this recipe!
bmallorca March 31, 2013
i love to read comments, always, but this particular thread is especially rich! Congrats to Emilly, fun to see Alice here, and looking forward to making this tart soon.
Nicholas D. March 31, 2013
Agreed. Every column from here on out in which someone doesn't announce a new baby in the comments is a failed column.
Susa March 31, 2013
Can the Greek yogurt be used instead of kefir cheese or lebneh?
Nicholas D. March 31, 2013
It can!
Frank P. March 31, 2013
You know, if you substitute cream cheese for the butter, this would be a really nice cheese cake. You would probably want to cook it a little longer, and cool it a little more before eating. And I would bet that like cheesecake, this will taste even better when it is a day or two old.
Kathleen B. March 31, 2013
I second the lemon question (maybe add a little extra sugar if your lemons are really tart?) and raise you a maple question - could you make this maple-y? Without using extract? If so, would you substitute maple syrup for the sugar, or would the tart get runny? I have maple sugar, but the maple flavor is pretty subtle.
Nicholas D. March 31, 2013
Not to suggest the obvious, but I'd drizzle a little maple syrup over the top. But someone else might have a more clever idea.
SarahPatmore March 31, 2013
This sounds good. A question. Do I make the labneh as described on the link or do I use plain, strained, Greek yoghurt? Thanks!
Nicholas D. March 31, 2013
Just buy the yogurt (unless you really, really want to make it...). And before you buy the Greek yogurt, look for actual labneh -- you might see it in the yogurt case. If not, the Greek yogurt is more than fine.
Foodiewithalife March 31, 2013
This tart is just beautiful!

Lisaaw March 31, 2013
My 8 yr old son has a tart/savoury tooth while my 6 yr old has a sweet tooth with the love for yogurt - she will need berries on hers and my son eat his as is. Both parents are chefs, own a restaurant...I do my best at addressing them as Doctor!
Alice M. March 31, 2013
Nicholas! I, for one, love (and agree with) all of your adverbs: "incredibly creamy, oddly sophisticated, universally beloved. And preposterously easy". Thank you for making this dessert in the first place and "getting" it! I agree that the tart is creamy and sophisticated, and easy etc etc, and— just to response to one reader's comment— very yummy and not in the least too weird for guests. Thank you for a lovely post with lots of humor and insight and compelling new-parent angst. I will spare you my old-parent advice (unless you beg) about what can happen when one is too freaked out about kids and sweets (mine was the hippy granola parent generation after all, so I have see it all). Meanwhile my very best wishes and congrats on your upcoming book! PS My 24-year-old emerged a very healthy eater, though raised in a household full of chocolate and lots of "tasting".
Nicholas D. March 31, 2013
Alice Medrich! I am blushing through the pixels.
ATG117 March 28, 2013
Love this idea. How long do you plan to refrain from allowing your son sweets? I'm always interested in this. Though not a parent myself, growing up I watched friends who had very different reactions to parents who were very strict about sweets.
Nicholas D. March 28, 2013
I'm exaggerating, of course. We do allow him sweets. I just overthink it. (Surprise!) We're doing our best to position sweets not as a reward or as a forbidden object of desire but as just another thing that we happen to eat sometimes. Who knows how well that's working.
AntoniaJames March 31, 2013
It'll work just fine. Making a big deal of anything is sure to boomerang, big time. I have to say that the title of this column, "Dinner vs. Child" really grates on me, because I'm sort of old fashioned and had a totally non-nonsense, no-coddling approach. We didn't make a big deal of anything, other than table manners, and requiring interesting conversation. (Every meal we've ever eaten -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- has been in the dining room with nice dishes, sterling and cloth napkins, since the boys were babies.) Once the boys were about 4, if someone didn't like something served at the table, we usually just said in the most neutral, non-judgmental way imaginable, "Well, you know where the kitchen is," and moved the conversation onto something else. They knew what to do. (They'd look for leftovers in the fridge -- generally kept at eye level, when we remembered -- or made themselves peanut butter and jelly or cream cheese and olive sandwiches, or (rarely) Cheerios or granola with milk. That didn't happen very often. They both could really put away the veggies, especially if there was raita or a similar sauce for dipping them into, so that helped. My youngest turned 21 this week. He sends me text photos of the amazing dishes he's prepared for 10-12 person dinner parties he throws about every other week from his dorm kitchen at London School of Economics. My older son, about to graduate from college, is equally adventurous in his eating, cooking and entertaining. ;o) P.S. I was a trial lawyer for many years, so maybe the term "vs" touches a raw nerve. In the legal profession, it typically implies all out warfare.
AntoniaJames March 28, 2013
Do tell, please. How do you keep the berries from bleeding all over a tart like this? Or do you just spoon them onto each slice immediately prior to serving? ;o)
Nicholas D. March 28, 2013
I just let them bleed a little. If you lightly place berries over the finished tart, the bleeding isn't too severe.
fiveandspice March 28, 2013
I love everything about this. The tart looks amazing yes, but also the brilliant parenting tip of scraping the frosting off your child's frosted flakes in the night. I'm storing that one away. Also, I definitely just decided to buy my husband your baby book. It may actually get him to read about babies! And I'll get to read it as a side effect.
Nicholas D. March 28, 2013
So many brilliant parenting tips! All yours! And I'm very touched that you're getting the book for your husband. (Real men read about babies. That should be the marketing campaign.) Lemme know what you think.
aargersi March 28, 2013
ahem - is there something I need to know Miss Emily?
fiveandspice March 28, 2013
Ahem (looks down at toes, shuffles a little), there may be someone due to arrive in late September. We're only just starting to tell people. :)
aargersi March 28, 2013
fiveandspice March 28, 2013
Thanks A!!!!! It is pretty exciting. Also, incredibly terrifying. But, you know, totally exciting.
cookinginvictoria March 28, 2013
OMG, you life is about to drastically change, but in the most wonderful way possible. Congrats, f&s, this is such great news!!
Kenzi W. March 28, 2013
This is so exciting! Congratulations!!
Nicholas D. March 28, 2013
Yay you! Yay future small human! Yay comment thread! (It's a good story, right? Someday you can tell the small human how you told the internet.)
fiveandspice March 28, 2013
That will be amazing. "You know kid, once upon a time you were nothing but a comment thread floating around on a website..." But seriously, thank you all SO much!(!!!!!) We're super happy. And definitely cherishing every moment of leisure time and long, slow meals whenever we can. Of course, there were about two months there when pretty much all I wanted to eat was eggs and lemons because everything else smelled terrible. Thankfully in the last couple of weeks I've started to normalize and am back to eating "solid food." Still lots of eggs though.
gingerroot March 28, 2013
Yippeee! Sending big congratulations!! xo
Kristen M. March 29, 2013
Emily, this is such wonderful news! Thanks for sharing with us, on this fated labneh tart article. So happy for you!
fiveandspice March 29, 2013
Who knew the things labneh could bring up! Thanks to both of you Jenny and Kristen!
Brette W. March 31, 2013
Woohoo!!!!!! Congrats Emily! So glad I decided to come back and check these comments!!!
Kenzi W. March 28, 2013
This article made my morning. And this tart made my week.
Lydia M. March 28, 2013
Do you think that one could add some lemon and call it a lemon tart - and thus make it something happily eaten by relatives who might think of this as too weird/healthy? I'm thinking of making it for Easter dessert.
Nicholas D. March 28, 2013
I don't see why not. Although you're already on the edge of tartness, so don't go too far. You could decorate the top with sweet candied lemon peel.