Just south of the French Caribbean protectorate of Guadeloupe sits Terre-de-Haut, the largest of eight small islands in the Îles des Saintes archipelago. Known for its gorgeous white beaches, shallow turquoise reefs, and fresh seafood, the island has a certain laid back je ne sais quoi vibe. It’s also where women such as Yvette Sudour hawk the island’s most famous—and arguably the planet’s most sorrow-inducing—culinary delight: le tourment d’amour, or the “agony of love.”
Le tourment d’amour is a simple tartlet filled with coconut jam over a dense, spongy cake, but it has a storied past. Most islands in the French Caribbean were first inhabited by indigenous peoples, and later by French colonists and slaves, but Terre-de-Haut had a lack of fresh spring water that made its inhabitation difficult until rugged fishermen from Brittany and Normandy settled the island in the 1700s. These people, known today as the Saintois, formed fishing communities in the 1700s that looked and felt a lot like the ones they had left behind in France.
Over the last 50 years, tourism has slowly been replacing fishing as the biggest industry on Terre-de-Haut. Lovely seaside hotels such as Le Kanaoa host intrepid and luxury travelers alike, and many local families are benefiting from ferry service that takes just 15 minutes from Guadeloupe. Sudour however, isn’t sure tourism is good for all of Terre-de-Haut’s inhabitants.
“Only widows sell le tourment d’amour,” says Sudour, herself a widow. She believes that tourism has caused some islanders to become wealthy while others have been left to suffer, and that she has no choice but to make and sell the tartlets to survive. “This is the real sorrow,” she says, noting that whereas the small delicacy once forced men to thank women for their labor, today it symbolizes women who have been neglected by the community after their spouses die.
As the day grows short, tourists and locals alike clean out Sudour’s basket of tartlets. A villager stops to greet her with a kiss on the cheek before he hops onto a ferry. Asked if there’s anything tourists can do to help widows who sell tartlets, Sudour shrugs. “Everything evolves,” she says.
Photo by Melissa banigan
The hope is that tourism, which fuels the local economy, will continue to increase on Terre-de-Haut. Tart sellers like Sudour are lobbying for the mayor and other government officials to promote their wares and include them in official tourism materials. Tourists can do their part to lessen the tart-sellers’ load by making sure to stop o purchase a bag or two of the sweet little sorrows, and they can also increase the demand for the tartlets by asking local restaurants and hotels to start buying the treats from the widows and adding them to their menus. After all: who wouldn’t want to bite into one of these small delicacies with un café in the morning or even in the afternoon with un doigt (a finger) of rum?
As for making le tourment d’amour in your own kitchen? Well, the recipe is simple, but Sudour smiles and says that only the widows of Terre-de-Haut know the secret for keeping the sweet tartlets soft for up to two weeks. Yours will still be delicious, but they’ll need to be devoured within a day or two.
Le Tourment d’Amour
Note: Although some recipes for le tourment d’amour incorporate pastry cream into the recipe, the traditional recipe uses only coconut jam.
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup coconut water
1 ¼ cup shredded coconut
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon rum
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup icing sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons ice water
Pinch of salt
1 cup flour, sifted
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lime
How to Make It
Make the 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.
Make the pastry dough: Preheat oven to 350° F. Sift flour and salt into food processor. Slowly add butter. Pulse until mixture resembles course sand. Slowly add ice water and continue pulsing until mixture combines. Chill in refrigerator for an hour. Roll chilled pastry dough over floured surface. Cut circles out of the dough and place into eight 4 ½-5 inch buttered pastry pans. Prick bottom of dough with a fork. Place pie weights over the dough to prevent it from puffing up, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden-brown.
Make the sponge cake: Mix eggs and sugar on high speed for 8 minutes. Reduce to medium speed and mix for another 8 minutes. Add lime zest and stir well. Fold in flour, then add butter and vanilla.
Spread thick layer of coconut jam over the bottom of each golden-brown tart shell. Spoon cake batter over the jam in a thick layer, leaving about ¼ inch from the top of the pan (as the cake will puff up). Bake for 25 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden-brown.