If you’ve ever known a food stylist on the hunt for props, you will know the frenzy that was ensuing one gray Brooklyn morning. My neighbor’s apple tree was heavy with fruit, so I decided its large red bounty would be perfect for an upcoming shoot. Unashamedly, I marched myself over to knock on the door.
Nothing. I wait and knock again. Not a peep. I notice the door is slightly ajar and just peek inside. (Remember, I’m a crazed cookbook author in search of the perfect apple. Letting myself into someone else's house is perfectly excusable!) I knock on what I think is the door of Marena, the owner. Instead, a startled male voice inquisitively asks:
“Who is it?”
Of course, a friendly neighborly visit! Mind you no one knocks on a stranger’s door in Brooklyn to say hello, howdy neighbor, fancy you loan me an apple?
Silence, rustling, a few stumbled steps…
The door opens and standing before me is the most beautiful man I’ve seen in quite some time. This Adonis is startled and shirtless. His beautiful brown flesh completely distracts my thoughts and I stare silent. We blink awkwardly at each other for what feels like hours, both of us a little surprised by the presence of the other. I manage to mutter something about apples. His eyes light up.
“You mean the tree in the backyard?” he chirps.
“Yes! They are the most beautiful apples!” I over enthusiastically exclaim.
“Why do you need those apples?” He asks wary but intrigued.
This strange exchange goes on for another 5 minutes and I realize he’s actually thrilled there’s a flour-caked girl at his door asking for apples. I try to make casual talk all the while ignoring an increasingly strong desire to simply push him inside and lock the door behind us. We exchange names. He grants me permission to grab an apple. I fumble to exit and notice it’s drizzling - a great day for a cuddle. Later that night I hop the fence and snag an apple, wondering if he likes pie.
Two weeks, two garden installs, one proposal, and two shoots later, I had nearly forgotten all about the steamy occurrence when I dash out the door for eggs. This time I have pears on my mind.
“Sarah!” I hear.
Confused, I spin around to see the bearer of forbidden fruit smiling and calling my name.
“Oh heyyyyy!” I squeal as I try and remember if I put on matching socks before leaving the house.
He’s out of breath, sweating profusely on his bike, tennis rackets in his pack. I can see the silhouette of his lean muscles through his wet shirt. Awkwardness ensues once again as the image of his bare flesh reenters my mind. He asks how my day is going and I self-consciously suck in my little belly before stammering something about sourdough. He explains he’s from San Francisco and that they take their sourdough very seriously.
I think ‘Heavens, he is perfect.’
Conversation loops around to our favorite neighborhood eateries, where to find masa de maíz prepared properly, and whether I run or not. I wince and explain a bad knee. He describes this roller tool he has that solves all knee issues. He can show me the perfect stretch! Knock on his window? My eyebrows raise. He says we can do it in the hallway. I think, God he’s beautiful, seems intelligent, likes good food, AND is kinky? I must have done something right lately.
I go back to my stifling little apartment, giddy. I have permission to knock on his window! I bake a pear tart, nervously realizing it’s my turn to make the move. Maybe, just maybe, he likes pears…
PEAR AND GOAT CHEESE TART IN ALMOND BUCKWHEAT CRUST
(A.K.A. Hot Neighbor Bait)
Yield: One 8.25”x11.25” Tart
130 g Raw Almonds
1 Tbl. Raw Sugar
150 g Buckwheat Flour
85 g Unsalted Butter, cold
100 g 100% Hydration Starter, room temperature
2-3 Tbl. Vodka, ice cold
1 Egg Yolk + Cream for wash
225 g Goat Cheese, softened
115 g Cream Cheese, softened
55 g Granulated Sugar
2 Large Eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. orange zest
2 Pears, ripe
15-20 Ground Cherries, sliced (or 10 figs, quartered)
1/2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Ground Cardamom
1/4 tsp. Ground Mace
25 g Sliced Almonds
1 Tbl. Raw Sugar
Make the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the almonds and sugar in a food processor and grind into a meal. Add the buckwheat flour and continue processing to fine. Add the butter and pulse until cornmeal-sized crumbs form. Drizzle the starter over the mixture and add 2 tablespoons cold vodka. Pulse until the dough comes together, adding more vodka if needed.
Empty the contents into the tart form and press with your fingers, making sure an even rim forms around the edges. Prick with a fork and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush with the egg wash. Place back in the oven for 3-5 minutes or until the wash sets. Remove and cool.
Prepare the Filling:
Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Blend the cheese and sugar with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs and continue blending until a smooth consistency is achieved. Add the vanilla and zest and mix thoroughly. Using a spatula, spread the filling into the prepared crust. Core and slice the pears thinly and toss with the spices. Arrange the pears in layers on top of the tart filling. Use the ground cherries or figs to fill in the gaps before sprinkling with almonds and sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway. Remove and cool completely. Refrigerate until serving.