The Perfect Tart

While I wait for a copy of French Kids Eat Everything from the library (I’m still only #108 in line on 14 copies) I’ve been pretending that

A) I’m French and

B) my kids eat everything.

In reality I have some very picky eaters. Some of it I can’t control. There’s only so much you can do when you are competing against a biological mom with a very different idea of what constitutes a healthy meal plan. Lilli on the other hand I can only explain by remembering that I am actually a very picky eater myself and she is, after all, related to me.

So when I say I pretend the above things, it means that I just make whatever the hell I please from what is freshest, without any regard for if they actually will eat it.

The one thing we can almost always agree on is dessert. As in, having some.

Which leads me to lemon tart, naturally.

While I was in France all those years ago, we were lucky enough to be treated to a meal in a restaurant that was well known by the locals but probably completely off the map to anyone else. We got to sit down as a family, along with the friends my uncle was staying with, and eat a four or five course meal on a night the small bistro was normally closed. I can’t remember much about the meal. I have vague memories of the cheese at the end. What I do remember very clearly is the lemon tart that was served as dessert.

Rich eggs slowly cooked with the juice from the brightest lemons produce a sweet filling that is many things at once. A good lemon curd is astonishingly tart, but just sweet enough that you don’t really seem to notice. It’s gooey and luscious and, if done right, somehow creamy. Paired with a crust that snaps when you break it with a fork, yet completely melts in the mouth, a lemon tart is a dessert that has it all.

I don’t know why the tart stands out so much in my mind from that meal. A good lemon tart isn’t that hard to come by, even though it can go horribly wrong. The rest of the meal was probably equally superb. Maybe we had been driving a long time to get there, and the first bites were eaten in a rush. Maybe it was that phenomenon that happens at the end of the meal, where you are starting to get full so you are eating very slowly and can therefor remember more details. Maybe it was that I had just finished pastry school and was very keenly aware of excellent pastry. Who knows.

What I do know is that it will forever be a reminder of a time when my family got along a little better. Since that trip, there has been a lot of internal strife in my mom’s extended family–where the people I was travelling with hail from–and all four of us have been involved one way or another. We’re all on speaking terms now, but sometimes there is still a little bit of strain. It has saddened me countless times, and I guess there’s just something about how we all sat together and admired the simple surroundings while enjoying an exquisite meal that stuck with me in that exact moment.

I served a lemon tart for dessert at the dinner I hosted with James for all our parents a couple of weeks ago. It was paired with a delicate Earl Grey ice cream–a new twist on the classic Arnold Palmer summer beverage–and it was a hit. They were an excellent pair, but even still the tart could not compare to that perfect tart I had in France.

We’ve been enjoying the leftover curd (I always make a big batch, because I do love it so) spooned on top of the leftover ice cream. Or, if you’re me, you have been eating it straight out of the dish off of a spoon. It’s also excellent paired with just about any fruit, and since it’s summer now after all, that is how I decided it would be best to share it with you.

This particular lemon curd recipe is my favorite. There are lots of different recipes for lemon curd, but I like this one because it uses the whole egg, and for the addition of the whole lemon during the cooking process–it makes it way lemonier.

You could use a fancy tart pan, or you could use even fancier individual tartlette pans if you happen to have a large stash of them. Or you could just repurpose your muffin tin and make them that way. Personally, I think that’s a lot more fun, especially if they are for something as informal as say, an afternoon snack.

Lemon Tarts
makes 12 mini or one 8″ tart

For the crust–short dough:

3 oz granulated sugar
7 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 lb all purpose flour

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend together the flour and sugar. Add in the butter, egg yolk and vanilla, and mix until the dough comes together. Place the dough on a parchment lined sheet pan and flatten into a disk. Cover and refrigerate until it is firm enough to work with, at least 30 minutes. You can make the dough in advance, just be sure and pull it out of the fridge to warm up a bit before rolling it.

Taking care not to overwork the dough or add too much flour, roll the dough out to about 1/8″ thickness, turning the disc about 1/6 of a turn after a couple of strokes with the rolling pin. Cut the dough into as many 4″ circles as you can get in one go, then carefully gather the dough into a ball. Flatten it back into a disc and put it in the fridge while you line the muffin tin. Very gently ease each circle down into a mold of the tin and using the crook of your finger, guide it into the corners. It’s ok if it isn’t perfect, but you do want the shell to be about the same height all the way around. Repeat rolling out the dough and lining the tins until you have filled the whole tray, or made as many as you would like. Place the whole tray into the freezer. Leftover dough can be stored wrapped in plastic, in a baggie, in the freezer for about a month.

Once the dough is frozen solid, line each cup with a piece of parchment paper big enough to poke up over the edge of the crust. Fill with pie weights and bake at 375 F until the edges look a nice golden brown–anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size/thickness/oven variations (full sizes tarts take longer, and you need to remove the weights about halfway through to brown the bottom of the crust as well). Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until the weights are cool enough to handle. Take out the weights and let the shells cool completely before filling. If making them ahead of time, store them in an airtight container in a single layer.

For the filling: (about 2 1/2 cups)

3/4 cup lemon juice from fresh lemons
zest from the lemons, as well as the juiced halves
4 eggs
12 oz granulated sugar
6 oz unsalted butter
heavy whipping cream to top the tarts

To make it sturdy enough for a large tart, where it will need to be sliced, I recommend whisking 2 Tbsp cornstarch into the sugar before you add the eggs.

Beat together the eggs and sugar (and cornstarch if using) in a heavy saucepan made of non-reactive metal (not aluminum). Add the lemon juice, zest, and juiced lemon halves. Heat to boiling over low heat and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly, until the curd starts to thicken. Strain out the zest and lemon halves into a glass or stainless steel container. Stir in the butter and allow to cool completely before filling the shells.

Using a #30 (1 oz) scoop or a large spoon, fill the shells. Whip the cream to as soft or stiff a peak as you would like, add a touch of sugar and vanilla if desired and place a generous dollop on each tart. Top with the fruit of your choice.

Advertisements

Butter and Jam

I’ve had a rush of a week. It’s been terribly crummy weather here in my hometown of Seattle, but I’ve tried not to let it slow me down. Over the weekend, in addition to all those birthday parties, I helped a friend make her television debut on our local PBS station. That busy schedule doesn’t even include the usual things like training for my tri (getting a little too close for comfort!) and kid stuff.

And, in addition to the half sheet cake I baked for one of those birthday parties, I hosted a fancy schmancy 4 course dinner for a small group of friends on Saturday night.

It was just before the weather turned sour on us, so we were able to BBQ. Thick slabs of alder plank salmon atop salads of grilled sweet corn, fresh mint, and the tiniest rocket you’ve ever seen–all brightened by a splash of grapefruit juice…I just made myself really hungry.


We also had green garlic soup with dollops of créme fraîche, and a kosher version of Salad Lyonnaise, with smoked salt almonds in place of lardons. Everything with very fresh bread and hunks of Seastack cheese, a local fave.


Plus lots and lots of wine. And, a little hoola hooping–gotta burn off all those calories somehow.

By the time we got to dessert and were opening a bottle of prosecco, it was almost 10 o’clock. But even at that late hour, a tart this good is hard to say no to, especially since we had an influx of fresh faces just for our sweet course–friends who couldn’t make it for the dinner but wanted in on the action nonetheless.

This dessert is for days when you want something that feels fancy but you can’t devote a lot of time to it. It’s simple steps come together quickly and leave room for breathers, so you don’t have to work start to finish–you can actually make all of the components ahead of time.

Since I’ve been on a rhubarb kick lately, what with it being the only fruit us Northwesterners get until about June (when the berries really get going) I had loads of it in the fridge–stolen from a dear friend’s mother who nurtures a plant the size of a wheelbarrow but whose family won’t touch the stuff. I chose to do the rhubarb two ways, both in the filling and some roasted on top, but you can just as easily leave off the topping.

The real nitty gritty is in the filling itself. Rich and buttery but also light and fruity, it’s a flavor twist not often found so effortlessly combined. In a lightly sweet butter crust, it all pulls together to convince people you’ve pulled out all the stops even if you really didn’t have the time. I’ve even made it again once since Saturday, wanting to use up the tart dough and brown butter since we’ll be in Baltimore for a wedding this weekend. It was the perfect treat for the end of a “family meeting” on a rushed weeknight–just right to slow us down a bit before moving on to the next task. There was even a slice leftover for after lunch the next day. Paired, of course, with a little spritzer made using the leftover syrup from poaching the fruit. Bonus: I didn’t even feel that indulgent, since it’s so heavy on the fruit.

This tart might be just the ticket to showcase some seasonal fruit as an endcap to your Memorial Day plans. Mine, however, involve sitting around a table covered in blue crabs. And plenty of Old Bay seasoning.

One note: I did make my crust from scratch, but I don’t want to overwhelm the simplicity of the tart so I recommend you just plunk in a premade pie crust, or you can use whatever recipe is your go-to tart shell recipe. Mine is almost all butter with a bit of cream cheese, and very lightly sweetened, with eggs as part of the liquid. I’ll have to share it someday, but for now–for “easy as pie” pie–use whatever you like.

Butter and Jam Tart
makes one 9″ tart (I used a rectangular pan, but there will be plenty of filling for round if that’s all you have)

For the “jam” filling:

1 lb fruit such as rhubarb or stone fruits, cleaned and cut into large chunks
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar

Toss the fruit in the sugar and let sit at room temp for about an hour or so. Once the juices from the fruit have combined with the sugar and it’s all nice and syrupy, toss it all into a pan and add a splash of water. Cook over medium heat just until the fruit starts to get soft, then strain out (reserve the liquid for cocktails or to combine with sparkling water). Put the fruit into a container and refrigerate until cool if you’re making it ahead. Otherwise, you can use it warm and refrigerate and leftovers, which would be excellent in yogurt or oatmeal, or to top waffles.

For the brown butter:

1 stick unsalted butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
splash vanilla extract
couple good grates of fresh nutmeg

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter until the milk solids start to turn brown and it gets foamy. As soon as some of the foam starts to die away and it’s a nice golden brown color, remove it from the heat. It will continue to cook a bit in the pan, so don’t let it go too far or it will burn.

In a large, heatproof bowl, combine the other ingredients with a whisk. Once the butter is done browning, add directly to the egg mixture, whisking all the time to ensure that the hot butter doesn’t cook the eggs. The brown butter filling can also be made ahead. Just pop it in the microwave (or into a saucepan) for a minute to warm it up a bit, then give it a good stir before adding it to the tart.

When you are ready to assemble your tart, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a tart pan with the shell of your choice and pop into the freezer or fridge for a few minutes to chill the dough while the oven heats. Once it’s good and firm and the oven is completely hot, put the tart shell on a baking sheet and add your fillings. First spoon a layer of jam into the tart, filling it not quite halfway full and making swoopy places for the brown butter to fill in. Then, pour over your brown butter filling. Be sure to leave a little bit of room at the top when you pour in the filling, as it will rise a bit as it bakes and you don’t want it to spill over the sides of the pan–it will make the tart very hard to get out later.

Bake the tart until the top is completely set and a nice brown color. While it bakes, you can roast more fruit to spoon on top. Just wash and chop about 3/4 cup or so of fruit per serving of tart, and toss in a little sugar. Roast on a baking sheet until it starts to caramelize and is nice and soft. Serve at room temp.

Butter Sold Separately

Sometimes you need to buy something that you wouldn’t normally consider buying. Like non-fat milk.

Wait, I never buy that. Ok. A better example might be kirsch, which I found myself buying last week and I chose to buy Monarch brand (gasp!). I know. I’m sorry. It was the only brand that came in a pint. I just couldn’t bear the thought of flambéing a cherry tart with 35 year old cognac, which was the only thing alcoholic enough to catch on fire that I had in the house.

One other thing I don’t buy very often is new cookbooks, unless they are for cookbook club. But this book was published recently, and I decided I totally needed to buy it.

It has some very delicious recipes in it. Most of them have butter and sugar and a lot of them have chocolate. All of them definitely have love and devotion written between the lines.

My copy already has several pages covered in grease and grit, even though the book is still practically brand new. I’ve cooked or sampled about a dozen recipes from the book, and I’ve loved almost every one. It’s been hard for me to stick to the recipe sometimes, mostly because it’s hard for me to stick to any recipe exactly as printed. I did use ingredients that I’d like to think Joy would have approved of, like adding coconut and cherries to the cinnamon rolls in place of raisins and nuts.

My favorite so far has been the carrot cake pancakes. I am always looking for a way to A) let myself eat cake for breakfast and B) get that family of mine to eat veggies for breakfast. A conundrum, I know. Those things seem at odds with each other, but Joy got it figured out for sure. These pancakes are superb, but I won’t go into detail about them because somebody else already did that for us. I might skip the cream cheese topping next time though, as it did turn out to be a little sweet for our breakfast time crew. Turns out feeding kids frosting for breakfast makes for an interesting morning.

One of the recipes that is stellar in a more subtle “you’ll eat me someday and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner” kind of way is the Grapefruit Soufflé Pudding. It’s sort of a mouthful to say, and when you get a mouthful of the actual pudding you will be totally glad you came across it.

The crackle of the minuscule bubbles in the souffléd top hide a bottom layer of custard that’s perfectly smooth and creamy without being too rich. The grapefruit notes snap at your tastebuds and leave a heady floral aroma on the palette. You can make one big one, or you can make some little ones. You can turn it into a pie if you make in on 3/14, like I did. You could share it with your friends or you could eat it all by yourself and only feel a little guilty for not sharing it with your friends.

Of all this things I’ve so far tried from the book, this one is the least assuming but absolutely one of the best. I was glad I had some grapefruit just waiting to be turned into pudding. And I can’t wait to try more of the recipes–a lot of the pages have dog ears, so I know it’ll be making many appearances on my kitchen counter. For instance, I’m trying to figure out how to make the chili cheese fries kosher for passover, just so I have something to look forward to that week.

Grapefruit Soufflé Pudding in a Tart
(reprinted with Joy’s permission and adapted just a hint for the dishwasher’s sake)
makes one 9″ tart with a bit leftover OR one 9″ pan of straight pudding OR 6 individual dishes

1 9″ tart crust’s worth of pate sucrée (optional)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp grapefruit zest
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
3 large eggs, separated (I used 4 smallish ones and it still turned out great)
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup whole milk
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325ºF with a rack in the middle spot. This is the part I changed, which is optional: Line the pan with a thinly rolled tart shell and par bake it like you would for just about any tart. Don’t bake it all the way as it will bake the rest of the way with the filling inside. The rest of this recipe is pure Joy. (pun intended)

Place 3/4 cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large metal or glass bowl) with the grapefruit zest. Using the back of a spoon, grind the zest into the sugar until very fragrant–this releases the essential oils. Add the butter and beat with a paddle attachement (or your hand mixer or a wooden spoon) for a minute, just until combined. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating until fluffy and lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the flour and salt and combine thoroughly. Next add the grapefruit juice and milk in turns and mix until well combined. The mixture will be loose and soupy. Transfer this mixture to another large bowl and set aside. Wash and dry the bowl, you need it to be very clean to whip the egg whites.

Now, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Slowly beat in the remaining 2 Tbsp of white sugar. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, in three batches. Be very gentle, you’re not trying to break down the eggs whites.

Carefully pour the batter into the tart shell and slide into the oven on a cookie sheet. Any leftover batter can be baked as follows, which is the way the original recipes call for it to be baked:

Carefully pour the batter into the pans greased with butter. The batter won’t rise much while baking, so it’s OK if they are pretty full. Place the dish with the batter inside into a larger baking dish with high sides. Slide the larger baking dish (with the smaller ones inside) into the oven, leaving a corner sticking out. Carefully pour boiling water into the larger baking dish, being careful not to splash the soufflé. Fill the pan until the water reaches about halfway up the sides of the soufflé dish, and then carefully slide the whole thing the rest of the way into the oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes for small dishes, or up to 40 minutes for one large dish. My tart baked for about the same as a large dish would bake for. The top of the souffle will be just barely browned on top and a skewer inserted in the middle will come out clean. Serve the pudding warm or at room temp. (We even tried some cold the next day and it was still excellent, though it’s best the day it’s made.)

Bare Bones

What’s a girl to do when she wants to make a tart and her flour bin looks like this?

Well, she could experiment with some of that gluten free flour mix in the cupboard, or she could find a recipe that calls for some other obscure flour. Or, if she has already made bagels that day and is feeling sorta lazy after that, she can reach deep into the freezer and pull out a patty of chocolate short dough the origins of which she can’t quite recall. It can’t have been in there that long, right?


And then, she will take out a pound of fresh black figs, but in so doing realize that there is a disturbing lack of ingredients for pastry cream in her refrigerator. This is, again, the bagels’ fault. She was making bagels instead of going to the grocery store. 

This is what happened to me yesterday. I wanted to make something like this tart, but I wound up making my own instead.  I impulse bought some figs at the end of last week, and they have been waiting for me to be inspired. Well, inspired to do something with them, the figs. I’ve done plenty of other things since they made their way into my kitchen. Like make lemon curd frozen yogurt, and go to an awesome cookbook club picnic. But those are altogether different stories. 

Back to the figs.

I grew up in a house with a huge fig tree in the front yard. I mean huge. So huge we would have to go up on the roof to pick the figs. Birds always ate them, and my mom would sometimes pick them and sell them to an organic juice bar near Greenlake. I have vivid memories of my mom running out onto the porch during the day to try and scare the birds away. It was pretty futile, but I think it made her feel better. Our figs were green–my mom always said they were Adriatic figs. 

Ours was like this, but about 3 times bigger. Photo courtesy Route79 via flickr.

I don’t really know how we had such a prolific fig tree, being in Seattle (Yes, I’m a Seattle native. It’s OK to be jealous…), but we did, nevertheless. There was always way more figs than we could do anything with, and I don’t really remember anybody but me ever even eating them. I do remember some failed teenaged attempts at making fig type bars, but I guess I had some learning to do in the kitchen department. 

I do still love figs. I almost always keep some dried ones around, and when summer comes I like to eat them fresh with honey and yogurt, or some other tangy dairy thing. So yesterday, with these figs in hand and the mystery chocolate dough thawing on the counter, I got to work. 


Since our chickens are kind of…not really laying a lot right now, for some mysterious reason…I am short on eggs. I couldn’t make any fancy fillings from scratch. But I did have some thick, molassesey pecan pie filling that I saved from a big batch I made for a dessert tasting. I know, I know. Right now you are thinking, that sounds…terrible. I know that you are thinking that because I thought it too. And then I thought about chocolate and pine nuts, and then I thought about food processors and that lemon curd frozen yogurt…

And then I made a delicious tart. 

We ended up eating the tart all by itself, because by the time we sat down to eat it I was so excited/curious/nervous to try it that I had forgotten all about the frozen yogurt. Maybe tomorrow.

Fig and Chocolate Tart
serves 8

For the dough: (adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg)

4 oz granulated sugar
14 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb 2 oz bread flour
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

This recipe makes quite a bit of dough, so if you want to cut it in half, use only the yolk from the egg. If it’s a touch dry, add a little water, just a tsp at a time, until the dough comes together.

Sift the flour and cocoa powder together and set aside. Mix the sugar, egg and vanilla on a low speed using a dough hook, just until combined. Add the dry ingredients, and mix until just smooth. Press dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using to allow the flour and butter to really meld.

To prepare the shell for baking, use a patty about the size of a large hamburger bun. Let the dough warm up a bit, and roll it out until it is about 1/2 cm. thick. Gently transfer the dough to your tart ring (on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper) and press it into the sides as you rotate the pan slowly. Instead of cutting off the scraps, carefully press the overhang down into the sides of the pan. This will give the sides a little bit more strength and make them less likely to break when you remove the tart from the ring, since the crust is very delicate. Put it into the freezer for about 10 minutes while you heat the oven and prepare the filling.


For the filling:

1 lb fresh figs
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks, or chop your own from a favorite bar
1 cup of your favorite pecan pie filling, preferably one with some molasses in it

Heat the oven to 350º F. Rinse the figs, and trim off the stem end. Quarter them and toss them into your food processor. Pulse for a minute until the smallest pieces are about the size of a black bean . Add the pine nuts and pulse a few more times. You don’t want the filling to be a paste–the nuts and fig pieces should still be recognizable as what they are. 

Put the filling into a bowl and stir in the chocolate and pecan pie filling. Pour it into your shell and put it straight in the oven. Bake about 35 minutes, or more depending on your oven, until the filling is set in the middle.  Remove from the oven and place the sheet pan on a rack to cool completely. 

If your tart pan has a bottom disk (unlike mine) you are in luck because it will be very easy to get out! Just slowly press the bottom upwards until it is free of the ring, and, using a pancake flipper, gently slide the tart onto a cake plate. If it doesn’t, put a piece of parchment paper on top, then a cutting board. Flip the whole thing carefully over, take off the ring, then flip it back onto your plate. Applaud for yourself if your tart is in one piece.