“Sir Bones: is stuffed, / de world, wif feeding girls.”
Sunday did not begin well. I had worked until the wee hours of morning on an ill-tempered Parisian flan, a thoroughly nasty end to a lovely Saturday of sailboats and swimsuits and bare feet. The dough for the flan’s pastry shell disintegrated in my hands not once but twice, dear reader. I swore like a sailor, slapped the dough shards into a pile and bullied them into a ball, and then I rolled them flat before they had a second to protest. I chucked the crust into the oven with its custard filling and then tossed it onto the counter to cool, along with two miniature versions I’d made with the extra dough and filling. They tried to mollify me by looking exquisite.
I sunk into bed with a sigh a little after two.
Keaton and I arrived at the Knights’ in mid-afternoon, bearing a six-pack of beer and the aforementioned evil flan. I snarled at it through the plastic wrap.
The sun was shining, and so was the lamb. It had been roasting since ten, filling the air with heat and heady smoke. We stood and admired it, chilly beers in hand. It was enormous, more sheep than lamb. Todd described to us the travail of the night before: the drill-work required to get it onto the spit, the stuffing of lemons and herbs and olive oil, the workmanlike stitches of Kate’s surgeon father. We said hello to the chickens in their coop, one sporting a feathery white crown that Kate called a “frizzle.” Keaton was attacked by bees and ran around in the tomato plants. We sniffed the open bottle of ouzo, our eyes watering. Keaton, Kate, and Margot--my Three Shepherdesses--unknowingly posed for a photograph. And we admired the lamb.
And then it was served.
We loaded our plates with hummus and pita, deliciously lemony dolmas, pickled golden beets, a mess of roasted vegetables, and buttery corn pudding. Then, batting my eyelashes as sweetly as possible, I cut in line for the lamb, two thick slices from the haunch.
Keaton and I found a bench under the pear tree and made quick work of our platefuls, despite the carnivorous bee that had me whimpering and flailing my arms every few seconds. I finally caved in and let him tuck into a slice of snowy fat I’d pushed to the side of the plate. He knew a good thing when he saw it: the meat was tender and juicy, earthy and rich.
Dessert was a blur of sugar, the sort of thing that induces sweating upon recollection: a sliver of dark chocolate layer cake with white chocolate frosting and dark chocolate shavings, a spoonful of tart prune-plum compote, wedges of Kate’s almond and walnut baklavas, and my cursed flan. Surprisingly, the crust was flaky and butter-rich, the best I’ve ever made! The custard was sweet and smooth! I blushed with pride and made everyone tell me that they loved it.
Keats was corralled at the dessert table by the woman who made the plum compote and, incidentally, also raises strikingly beautiful poisonous plants. In her thick Swiss accent, she told Keaton, “I’ve been married for fifty years. After a while, you make your own drama.” I first thought she said “trauma,” an interpretation I in some ways preferred. Her husband, who bragged endearingly about her desserts, is a beekeeper. They were wonderful together.
Half-listening contentedly, I slowly scraped my plate clean. I think I wanted to die afterwards, but only for a little while.
[Thank you, John Berryman, for the title.]
From Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets
This recipe, adapted by Greenspan from the esteemed pâtissier Pierre Hermé, makes a traditional Parisian flan, which (unlike the flan generally familiar to Americans, jiggly or gelatinous or covered in caramel) is a custardy almost-cake in a flaky pastry crust. It is unbearably delicious. Dorie Greenspan, I apologize for my lack of faith.
For the crust:
1 stick plus 5 Tbs (6 ½ ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
½ large egg yolk (lightly beat one yolk, and then spoon out half)
3 ½ Tbs whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
For the filling:
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 2/3 cups water
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ cup cornstarch, sifted
To make crust:
Put all of the crust ingredients except the flour in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is soft and creamy. Add the flour and pulse in quick spurts until the dough forms a ball—then stop. Turn the dough out onto a smooth work surface, gather it together in a ball, and flatten into a disk. Wrap the disk well in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least four hours. [Dough can be kept in the fridge for up to three days.]
Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and keep close at hand. Working on a generously floured work surface, roll the dough out to a thickness of between 1/8 and ¼ inch. Cut out a 12-inch circle of dough and transfer it to the lined baking sheet. Cover and chill dough for at least thirty minutes.
Butter a 9-inch springform pan and put it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Fit the dough into the pan, pressing it evenly along the bottom and up the sides. Don’t worry if the dough tears, as it did for me—just patch it back together and carry on! Trim the dough so that it comes 1 ¼ inches up the sides of the pan. Chill the dough for at least two hours and up to overnight.
Center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line the crust with parchment paper and fill it with beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake the crust for 18 to 20 minutes, until it is set but not browned. Pull it from the oven, remove the paper and beans, and cool to room temperature.
To make filling:
Bring the milk and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, preferably one with a heavy bottom, whisk the eggs, sugar, and cornstarch together.
Whisking without stop, drizzle ¼ of the hot liquid over the egg mixture. When the eggs are warmed, add the rest of the liquid in a steady stream. Put the saucepan over medium heat and, whisking constantly and energetically, heat the filling just until it thickens and a couple of bubbles pop to the surface. Immediately remove from the heat, and push the filling through a sieve into a bowl. Let the filling cool for about 30 minutes.
Center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Put the pan with the crust on a parchment-lined baking sheet (if it isn’t still on one), and scrape the filling into the crust. Smooth the top. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake the flan for one hour, or until the filling is puffed and golden and just jiggles in the center when you tap the pan. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack, and let the flan cool to room temperature; then chill the flan for at least six hours, preferably overnight.
According to Mr. Hermé, the flan should be served cold.