Hybrid desserts might be all the rage today (hello, Cronut), but in the French Caribbean, they're part of a long-held tradition surrounded by tales of sweet sorrow.
When I stepped off the ferry at Les Saintes, part of the archipelago of Guadeloupe, several island women approached me with colorful, madras-lined baskets filled with the tourment d'amour, a tart-like cake that translates into the "agony of love." With a name like that, I knew there had to be a back story. As the legend goes, a woman once made the pastry in anticipation of her lover's safe return from sea, but took her own life when he didn't arrive on time. Although the story is tragic, the intoxicating treat is anything but.
While the flavors (vanilla, coconut, and rum) are pure Caribbean, the base components (pâte brisée pastry dough, pastry cream, and genoise sponge cake) are classic French. For that reason, the recipe is mildly challenging, but I assure you, making it will be more love than agony. Plus, you'll get to enjoy a sweet, tropical treat—with a creamy coconut jam center—as a reward for all your effort.
And although the women of Les Saintes keep their recipe secret, I hope my interpretation of the fusion pastry (basically a cake on top of a tart) gives you a taste of Guadeloupe.
Makes seven to eight 4 ½-inch tarts
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup coconut water
1¼ cup shredded coconut
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
Short Crust Pastry Dough (Pâte Brisée):
1½ cups all-purpose flour
3½ ounces unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
Pinch of salt
2 cups milk
½ vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and seeds scraped out
¾ cup sugar, divided roughly in half
⅓ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons rum
Genoise Sponge Cake:
1 cup flour, sifted
⅔ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Zest of one lime
For Coconut Jam: Add sugar and coconut water to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then stir in coconut and vanilla. Set aside and allow to cool.
For Short Crust Pastry Dough: Sift flour and salt into to the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add one to three tablespoons of ice water, and pulse until it comes together (dough should stick together when you pinch it with your fingers). Wrap with plastic and chill for at least an hour. Meanwhile, butter and flour seven to eight 4 ½-inch pans and then set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough out with a rolling pin to about ⅛-inch thick. With a fork, make small holes in the dough. Cut the dough into circles a about an inch wider than the pans, and then carefully transfer the circles to the pans, lightly pressing the dough into the edges. Roll a rolling pin over the top of the pans to remove any excess dough. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
To bake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Add coffee filters or parchment circles to the pans and fill with pie weights (to prevent dough from puffing up). Place tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden. Remove pie weights and papers, and set aside.
For Pastry Cream: Create an ice bath by adding a handful of ice cubes and a splash of water to a large bowl, and then place another bowl fitted with a fine mesh sieve on top.
In a medium sauce pan, add milk, half the sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod, and then simmer on low. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk eggs, remaining sugar, and cornstarch until the mixture becomes pale yellow in color and ribbons when you drop a spoonful of it back into the bowl.
Once milk begins to boil, remove vanilla bean pod with a slotted spoon and then pour about a third of it into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Add mixture back into the sauce pan and continue to whisk until it starts to boil. Strain over the ice bath and allow to cool. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, and rum.
For Genoise Sponge Cake: In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add eggs and sugar and mix on high speed for 10 minutes. Reduce to medium and mix for another 10 minutes. Stir in lime zest. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in sifted flour. Carefully fold in melted butter and vanilla extract until incorporated (do not over mix).
To Assemble: Preheat oven to 350° F. Place pastry cream into a stand mixer fitter with a paddle and beat until smooth. Spoon equal amounts of coconut jam onto the bottom of each tart shell. Divide pastry cream evenly among tarts, smoothing it overtop the jam, and then spoon cake batter on top, completely covering the pastry cream. Bake immediately for 25 to 30 minutes (rotating pans halfway through) until cake topping is lightly browned.