Here’s the ingredient list for a Twinkie: Enriched wheat flour, sugar, corn syrup, water, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable and/or animal shortening (containing one or more of partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed or canola oil, or beef fat), dextrose, whole eggs, modified corn starch, cellulose gum, whey, leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), salt, cornstarch, corn flour, corn syrup solids, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, dextrin, calcium caseinate, sodium stearol lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulphate, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, sorbic acid (to retain freshness), FD&C yellow #5, FD&C red #40.
This is supposed to be food. In fact, read the ingredient list on most factory-made sweets and treats – and unfortunately, even those made at many bakeries – and you’ll see something similar. These products tend to be cheap, easy to eat and, in the case of Oreos, mildly addictive.
The homemade versions of desserts like these were never meant to be snacks or everyday occurrences. They were special-occasion foods, requiring a good deal of effort and time. But we’ve now exchanged the deep-seated satisfaction that comes from enjoying love-borne foods made from scratch for cheap, instant gratification. While the Twinkie might satisfy your sweet tooth, it doesn’t satisfy anything else.
And so, the February challenge: when you want a treat, make it yourself.* Any treat you can buy at the store can be made at home, like ice cream, cookies, cakes, puddings and tarts like this one. Does it take some work? Absolutely. Are they always as pretty as the ones from the store? No. But the effort they cost you to make is more than repaid in the result, since you can taste the love that went into it.
Mango Citrus Cream Tart
inspired by Butter Sugar Flour
One 9-inch sweet shortcrust pastry**
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp orange juice
Zest of one orange
3 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature
Two ripe mangoes
The night before serving (or up to three days ahead): Make the crust dough and prep the tart pan. Freeze but do not bake.
The day of serving: bake and cool the pastry crust.
While the crust is baking, prepare the citrus pastry cream. Boil the milk in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until thick. Mix in 1/4 cup of boiling milk at a time until the eggs are tempered and won’t scramble, then slowly pour in the rest, whisking all the while. Set the saucepan over medium heat and whisk vigorously until the custard comes to a boil, then 1-2 minutes more until thick. Whisk in vanilla, orange zest and orange juice until smooth, then let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in butter until custard is smooth and glossy. Transfer to a plastic tub and cool completely.
While the cream is cooling, slice the mango. Just skip the crosshatch step in this link.
To assemble the tart, spread chilled pastry cream into the crust. Top with copious sliced mango in as neurotic a pattern as you like. Chill and serve. Finish the tart as quickly as possible, which may require you to take it to work.
*If occasion warrants, like Valentine’s Day, you may reasonably choose to purchase a special treat from a baker whose ingredients you trust.
**I used to be a fan of Bittman’s shortcrust pastry, but this Dorie Greenspan version
is crumblier and has a lighter, flakier texture. I used the press-in method as I have a hard time
getting my short crusts to go into all the flutes in my tart tin. The pastry cream is also based on a Dorie Greenspan recipe, which yielded a much smoother cream than my previous attempts with Bittman. (But don’t worry, Bittman, I still love you.)