Delphine Dryden is a writer I probably should have discovered a long time ago, but somehow didn’t. I mean, she writes for Wonkomance, she’s in frequent conversation with a lot of my other favorite writers on Twitter (like Cara McKenna, Ruthie Knox and Charlotte Stein) and, well, she’s a nerd. How could it have taken me this long to find her books?
So at some point a couple of weeks ago, I decided to rectify my unfortunate oversight and Read All The Things. Yep, I promptly devoured her entire backlist, especially the very nerdy Science of Temptation BDSM books. In fact, I had to put myself on Kindle restriction the next day just to get stuff done. I was sad when I finished all her books a few days later. Lucky for me, Dryden then released a new book: Mai Tai for Two.
Mai Tai for Two was a total departure from the rest of what I’ve read by Dryden. Mainly, it’s not at all kinky or edgy. The plot premise is of a friends-become-lovers nature and both the Hawaiian setting and the characters’ relationship are very sweet. In fact, the sweetness seduced me into thinking that this was a very simple “beach read” kind of book. I breezed through it the morning it appeared, pronounced it good and then moved on.
Then in preparation for this review, I read it a second time. And on second examination, it’s not so simple. Alan and Julie, the hero and heroine, have a wonderful back-slapping jovial chemistry as friends and the dialogue is just as clever, nerdy and snappy as in the other books I’ve read by Dryden. There’s a line that references motherfucking turtles that was funny the first time, but took me by surprise when it was just as funny the second time. And the friendly banter carries through the book, even as Alan and Julie start using it as a crutch for the more difficult conversations they have yet to have. It makes for a wonderful counterpoint, where what’s happening on the surface is different than what’s happening underneath. They’re both aware of it, but they haven’t learned how to communicate on this new level yet.
Which points to what I loved most about this book: the charming awkwardness. Moving from friends to lovers is really graceless in a way that people who haven’t experienced it might discount. And since I married a man who was first my best friend, I know of what I speak. A lot of things that might be hard in a traditional dating scenario are easy, but things that don’t matter when you’re just friends suddenly take on a grave importance when you’re looking at someone in a new light. The best moments in Mai Tai for Two are when we get inside the characters’ heads as they sort all of this out. The actual stumbling blocks are different than what I experienced, but Dryden just nails the emotion of it all.
Mai Tai for Two is a good, quick read, but don’t let the sweetness fool you. There’s more to Alan and Julie than first appears.
Near the end of Mai Tai for Two, the protagonists end up eating chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in bed. Immediately my brain said: chocolate tart with macadamia nut crust! With some kind of coconuty thing. Because Hawaii. Apparently I think in baked goods?
This tart is not simple. It’s not quick. It’s not even easy. But it’s so worth it, much like how Alan and Julie’s relationship develops. The crust is flaky and delicate. The chocolate custard is rich in both taste and texture. The chocolate glaze is pretty and shiny and satiny. And the coconut whipped cream just cuts right through all the chocolate with the perfect hint of island flavor. I recommend saving it for someone you really, really like.
Like yourself. Or your best friend.
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup macadamia nuts (about 1 1/2 ounces), chopped and toasted
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 65% cacao if marked), chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 3/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon warm water
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- Add macadamia nuts to the food processor and mix until chopped. Remove from food processor and toast in a small saucepan over medium heat on the stovetop, keeping a careful eye out to be sure they don’t burn. Remove from pan and let cool.
- Combine flour, sugar and salt in processor and mix.
- Add toasted macadamia nuts.
- Add butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add yolks and process just until moist clumps form.
- Gather dough into ball; flatten to disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven 375°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom.
- Roll out dough between sheets of waxed paper to 11-inch round. Peel off top sheet of paper.
- Transfer crust to prepared pan, pressing dough firmly to fit pan and patching if necessary. Discard paper. Trim edges of crust. Freeze crust 15 minutes.
- Bake until firm, about 10 minutes.
- Allow crust to cool on rack at least 30 minutes.
- Heat oven to 350°F.
- Bring cream to a boil, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth.
- Whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt in another bowl, then stir into melted chocolate.
- Pour filling into cooled crust.
- Bake until filling is set about 3 inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 18 to 22 minutes.
- (Center will continue to set as tart cools.) Cool completely in pan on rack, about 1 hour.
- Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water.
- Pour glaze onto tart, then tilt and rotate tart so glaze coats top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.
- When ready to serve tart, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat on medium using hand mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Recipe can be scaled for more than 4 people without additional changes.
Come back next Monday! I’ll review Elizabeth Hoyt’s Thief of Shadows and present you with scones good enough to encourage you to make bad decisions.