i do not remember every birthday but i remember a few.
1992. aged six. i wore a black and white checked jumper and leaned back in my chair at my grandmother's house in des moines, iowa. the house was surrounded by woods, dark and heavy as a thicket. i remember white cake. candles.
do i remember seven? i do not. i remember eight. 1994. my parents had separated two months prior. my mother rented a private room at discovery zone, invited natalie and becky and nicola. at ten, we tie-dyed white t-shirts and dared each other to go skinny dipping in the wooded creek. at the end of august, the very first part of september, we picked berries off the trees lining the backyard. i filled my hands with blackberries, my fingers stained with dark red juice, my tongue violet. i liked it best at dusk, when the fireflies came.
september. the fairest of months. still warm, like a sunburn persisting into the evening. the cold air rides on the back of the warm days. winter is coming. i love autumn with a fierceness. i want to pick apples and wander in corn mazes, wear thick, woolen fishermen's sweaters and hold thermoses and cups of coffee to let the steam warm my face. i want to watch the leaves turn colors here, in central park and in upstate new york. i want to let the first frost bite at my skin. last week, my birthday week, was still summer at heart. indian summer. highs in the 80s and 90s. anna and i indulged my inner five-year-old. she took me to shake shack for the first time and we wandered over to central park zoo. the snow leopard napped. we watched the seals and snow monkeys. bought gelato. taunted the scam artists outside of the park.
this morning, already, we woke up to fall in manhattan. aged twenty-eight. i am sure the years come faster now.
there was a family tradition, when i was growing up, that you could eat anything you wanted on your birthday. you could choose the dish or the restaurant. any dessert. any snack. any breakfast. nothing was too crazy or off-limits. there's such an expectation for birthday cake and ice cream that i never tried anything new until i was an adult and ordered my very first creme brulee. i loved the texture, the mild sweetness, the way the crust cracked under the back of my spoon.
my favorite desserts are not simply sweet but have contrasting elements. in this, i love the way the goat cheese stands up to the richness of the crust and the acidic sweetness of the lemon curd. the tang of the blackberries is perfect, just right for indian summer, although you could substitute another summer berry like blueberries or raspberries. for this, i've also adapted david lebovitz's french tart dough, which spins the concept of dough on its' head by adding flour to melted, browned butter, instead of the traditional method of cutting cold butter into flour.
2 cups flour
12 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. sugar
6 tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. salt
8 oz goat cheese, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. honey
1 1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
4 lemons, zested and juiced
1 c. sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled
5 egg yolks
1/8 tsp salt
blackberries and mint leaves to top.
crust adapted from david lebovitz
preheat oven to 410 degrees. in a small saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, water, and salt. heat over low heat for 10-12 minutes, or until butter is fully melted and beginning to brown at the edges. remove from heat and add flour, mixing quickly until all are incorporated and dough ball is pulling away from sides and forming a ball. turn out into a 9 x 9 well-greased tart pan. allow to cool slightly, then press into pan to form crust shape. puncture bottom with a fork to allow steam to escape. fill with either pie weights or beans and bake 13-15 minutes or until crust is beginning to golden.
in a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. mix well and set aside. once pie crust is baked, fill with the prepared filling using a rubber spatula and bake another 5-8 minutes, until crust is fully baked and golden brown. allow to cool completely.
curd adapted from alton brown
in a a double boiler or bain marie on a low simmer, whisk together the lemons, sugar, yolks, and salt. continue whisking for 6-8 minutes, until mixture is a rich golden and is thoroughly coating the back of a spoon. remove from heat and add butter in chunks separately, whisking until each is completely melted. cool in refrigerator for 20-30 minutes, until thickened, then pour over cooled tart.
top with blackberries and mint leaves.