This is a tart with an agenda. Its roots are old fashioned and small town but don't let that fool you. It is as luscious and silky as Scarlet Johansson sauntering the red carpet. It is as lascivious as True Blood and as beaten-up as Mickey Rourke on a bad day. There are tarts and then there are tarts. The best are the kind that even your mama would like. Never suspecting or questioning what makes up its character but just enjoying it for what it is because it is so good. All the while, later, you know you are going to lick your fork like...well, lets just say it is a tart that likes to please and it will. Truly, it is like fine champagne on a Sunday afternoon. The basis of this tart has been around for a long time, the old fashioned egg custard pie, you know the one with nutmeg that has shown up at every family reunion since people started having reunions. Well, take that base and an idea from Alice Waters and her Madeira cream pots, add in the videos from Shuna Lydon about cooling your custard and then use duck eggs (again Waters' idea) which make for an even silkier tart and what you come up with is nothing less than sexy. Never fear, I have written the recipe to use chicken eggs but if you ever come across fresh duck eggs, by all means use them to make a custard. - thirschfeld —thirschfeld
Test Kitchen Notes
Thirschfeld takes a seemingly simple custard tart and layers on the charm. After you slip through the heady, Madeira-laced flan center, you'll hit the soft sandy crunch of the semolina crust and, before you know it, you'll be reaching for another slice. With just 8 ingredients and a press-in crust, the process is simple but do take care. Chill your custard thoroughly (overnight if possible) to deepen the Madeira flavor and allow it to warm through gently in the oven. And if your oven runs hot or if you're baking in a dark tart pan, start it at 350. It may take longer to bake, but just watch for that Jell-O jiggle. But even if it does heat up too quickly and bubble on top like ours did the day we shot the photo, have no fear -- it's still delicious, its charms just a bit more rustic (more Mickey Rourke than Scarlett Johansson, in thirschfeld's terms). Amanda loved it served warm; Merrill dug it cooled to room temperature. - A&M —The Editors
For the custard: Place the milk into a sauce pan and scald it over medium high heat. Remove the pan from the burner. In a mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, madeira and salt. Temper the eggs by whisking in a 1/2 cup of warm milk and then add the rest while whisking. Cover the bowl and place the custard base into the fridge. You want it to be cold. It can sit in the fridge overnight, which is probably best, but at least let it get to 35 or so degrees F. You could do this in an ice bath if you are in a hurry.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl and using a large wooden spoon mix all the crust ingredients smashing the butter into the mixture with the back of the spoon until you have a cornmeal and couscous-looking crumble. You can use your hands rubbing them together with the mixture between them to make some of the bigger chunks smaller.
Place an 8-inch tart pan onto a sheet tray. This will make it easier to move around and get out of the oven. Dump the crumbles into the tart pan. Press the dough up the sides, packing it tightly as you go, and then work toward the center until you have a crust. Prick the bottom a few times with a fork. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven.
Turn the oven up to 400 degrees (350 if you're using a dark pan or your oven runs hot). Strain the chilled custard through a fine mesh strainer to remove and albumen pieces. Pour the custard into the tart till it is half full. Place the tart into the oven and then finish filling the tart. You will probably have about a 1/2 cup of base left. I made a little extra so you wouldn't come up short in case your tart pan was a little bigger.
Bake the tart for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake it for another 20 to 30 minutes or until set. Depending on how cold your custard is, it will lengthen or shorten the baking time. If you give the sheet tray a gentle but sharp shake, the tart should jiggle like jello if it is done. If it creates waves that look like you dropped a pebble into still water continue cooking.
When the tart is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool completely. Cut and serve.