Chocolate tart in a Nilla wafer crust with orange curd, inspired by Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
I picked up an advanced reader copy of this 2014 National Book Awards finalist at Book Expo America back in May after a panel with the author. I’d heard a lot of hype about the book and rightly so; Emily St. John Mandel has created a quiet, thoughtful, and yet extremely potent look at the modern world we live in by using fiction to strip us of its conveniences.
Twenty years after the fall of civilization to a killer flu epidemic, the Traveling Symphony is a wandering acting troupe performing Shakespeare for towns of survivors around the Great Lakes. The narrative jumps between this odd, perilous new world and the life of one famous actor, who collapses onstage the night the pandemic hits North America. The two narratives converge masterfully when Symphony members begin to disappear after visiting a town run by merciless religious zealots.
Notes from the Piebrary:
What makes this book extraordinary is not only Ms. Mandel’s ability to juggle countless narratives across a vast, decades-long timeline, but also the way in which she meticulously weaves so many disparate threads together by the end. She examines the apocalypse with a cool, calm curiosity. There is something uncannily realistic about Mandel’s apocalypse. It shelves the epic struggles of The Hunger Games and instead focuses on the minutia of life across a breadth of human experiences; tiny moments in many people’s lives.
Parsing This Pie:
During one of the book’s many flashbacks to the early days of the pandemic, one of the characters partakes of his last orange. It comes and goes without fanfare, and it isn’t until later that he looks back and realizes that, stranded in the fluctuating climates of the Midwest, he will probably never see another orange again.
There are a lot of things you don’t think about being small luxuries (although Emily Mandel does); electricity, chocolate chips, a zester. Setting aside modern arguements waste and privilege, I wanted this pie to be steeped in the things we enjoy as part of a functioning society. Not only is it full of ingredients that I would desperately miss in an apocalypse (Nilla wafers, for one), but the process of making it is intense and complex.
Think about this: you could still enjoy pie in a post-apocalyptic world. Imagine making a peach pie in a homemade stone oven under a forest of Midwestern oak trees. The fact that pie could still hypothetically exists after the fall of civilization somehow makes the apocalypse seem manageable to me. But this pie? No, this pie is a thing you have to enjoy while you can. Sure, you could probably still make it with a little elbow grease in the early days (when chocolate, oranges, and Nilla wafers were still easy to loot) but you’d have to let it go pretty quickly.
-1 1/2 cups Nilla wafer crumbs
-6 tbs melted butter
-1/4 cup sugar
-1 1/3 cup milk chocolate
-4 tbs unsalted butter
-zest of 1 orange
-6 large egg yolks
-zest of 1 orange
-1/2 cup orange juice
-1/2 cup butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Reduce the Nilla wafers to crumbs. This can either be done the easy way, with a food processor, or the fun way, in a durable plastic Ziploc with a blunt kitchen object (I like a rolling pin). Or, if you prefer, the pre-apocalyptic method and the post-apocalyptic method. If you use a food processor, simply add the butter and sugar and pulse until it comes together in a buttery meal. Press this mixture into the bottom of your tart pan, prick with a fork, and bake for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool.
The filling for this one is a bit tricky because it involves a double boiler. Boil some water and when it’s rolling bring it down to a simmer. Place the second pot or bowl on top and crack the eggs into it. You want to gently warm the eggs and if you bring the water to a boil with the pot or bowl on top, the eggs will cook almost as soon as they hit the pan. Trust me, it’s not pretty. When the eggs are warm, remove them from heat and use an electric beater to whip them until they form soft peaks.
You can also use the double boiler to melt the chocolate, but I find it is easiest to throw the chocolate chips and the butter into the microwave in a microwave safe bowl. Give it about a minute, then stir, another minute, and stir, until the melted chocolate is smooth.
If you need to fluff the eggs, beat them for a few more seconds, then combine the fluffy eggs, the chocolate mixture, and the orange zest together and blend until smooth. Pour it into the tart crust and bake again until the edges set (hairline cracks begin to form) and the middle doesn’t jiggle. About 20 minutes.
For the orange curd, combine the egg yolks, orange zest, and orange juice in a saucepan and whisk together. Over medium-high heat, cook and allow the curd to thicken for about two minutes, stirring with a rubber spatula to keep it off the sides of the pan. Remove from heat, add butter, and mix until melted and combined. Press the curd through a mesh sieve and into a bowl. Cover and press plastic wrap into the surface of the curd to prevent it from forming an odd skin. Chill the curd and the tart for about two hours, then spread the curd over the surface just before serving.
This tart is best served with a sunset and most thoroughly enjoyed while reading obscure comics or celebrity gossip rags.