I have what some might consider an unhealthy interest in celebrating religious holidays that have nothing to do with my own, yet the fixation is more of a cultural than a devotional one. Growing up in a one-religion household, you miss out on certain foods. In the same way that I’m sure a lot of people who had never tried hamantaschen or latkes before have had their curiosity piqued by mentions of them, I am itching to try one of those yule logs with marzipan mushrooms or one of those mega-hams people bake for Easter, something not one even one of my most bacon-loving Jewish friends has ever tried. I strive to break down culinary cultural barriers! Or, I just like pork. Anyhow…
The New York Times ran an article last Wednesday about Easter baking that is more traditional than, say, egg-shaped pastel cakes or bunny cookies, and I was captivated by something called a Swiss Easter Rice Tart, with a custard base, ground almonds and lemon zest. It wasn’t just me; within 12 hours of the recipe’s publication, both my mother and a friend had drooled over it to me, imploring me to make it but my only response was “when the heck would I have an excuse to bake an Easter tart?” I mean, between the “Easter” in the name and the article’s note that it is “served only at Easter” (emphasis mine) it seemed like it would be pretty hard to pretend its something I normally bake, just because it’s the second-to-last Sunday in March or something.
But just like that, I was invited to an Easter dinner at the home of a friend from high school, making all of my secular dreams come true–not just Easter ham but a real, fitting excuse to make the rice tart! Sadly, these are what pass for celebrations in my life these days. Except, I’m not sad about it at all.
I was imagining the tart as something like a rice pudding, baked in a tart shell, or in other words: impossibly delicious. However, it’s really not quite the same thing. The rice primarily cooked in boiling water, meaning that it doesn’t pick up as much creaminess and near the end, it is pureed, so it bears little resemblance to its pudding counterpart. The flavors were mild enough that I added almond extract to give it a flavor of well, anything. I desperately wanted to make it again with whole raspberries pressed in right before it is baked, or topped with a tart fruit sauce, but then it wouldn’t exactly be a traditional Swiss Easter Rice Tart anymore, would it? So, in the end, though it was delicious in its own way, I just wasn’t head-over-heels for it. Fortunately, the Easter ham–oh right! and the awesome company–far exceeded my expectations.
My next task: One of these fruitcakes I hear can be eaten up to ten years after they’re made! My mind boggles.
Swiss Easter Rice Tart
Adapted from NickMalgieri.com
8 to 10 servings
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour and more for dusting
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
11 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, in 11 slices
1/2 cup long-grain rice
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely ground in food processor
3 large eggs
1. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the baking powder in food processor. Pulse to blend. Add 10 tablespoons butter and pulse 3 to 4 times, until butter is in pea-size pieces. Sprinkle in 3 tablespoons cold water. Pulse 4 times. Dough will not come together. Turn dough out on lightly floured work surface and knead gently a few times to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, half fill a 3-quart saucepan with water, bring to a boil, stir in rice, lower heat to medium and cook until rice is soft, about 15 minutes. Drain rice and return it to saucepan. Add milk, remaining butter, 1/2 cup sugar and remaining salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until mixture has thickened almost to a risotto consistency, about 25 minutes.
3. Place saucepan in a large bowl of ice and water 10 minutes, to cool mixture to tepid. PurÃ©e in food processor. Pour into a bowl and add lemon zest. Mix ground almonds and extract if using with 1 tablespoon flour and add to bowl. Stir in eggs one at a time.
4. Place oven rack in lowest position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove pastry from refrigerator and place on lightly floured surface. Lightly dust top with flour. Use a rolling pin to press down on dough to soften it. Roll out disk to 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press dough evenly into pan. Trim edges flush with pan. Pour filling into pastry.
5. Bake about 35 minutes (mine took 45), until filling is set and golden. Cool on a rack. Dust with sifted confectionersâ€™ sugar before serving.