Yesterday, I pulled the zip-top bag out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter. Later, I saw that my friend Malena had posted a snapshot of a family-favorite recipe on Instagram. It was for a fruit cake – named "fruit torte" since fruit cake would throw people off – adapted from one of the New York Times most popular recipes, the original plum torte. There is a reason that this recipe is one of the paper's most popular: It's one that everyone should keep handy, flexible enough that almost any soft fruit (berries, sliced peaches, and, especially, plums) can be put on top.Read More
I’ve always mixed pie crust and tart shells by hand, but I was short on time and decided to make the dough in the mixer, which was already plugged in on the counter. It worked beautifully, and when it comes time to make another tart, I’m more likely to do it in the mixer or food processor. (Tart shells bake better when they are uniform while piecrusts benefit from irregular butter pieces—they’re flakier this way.) I only needed one crust for the strawberry tart, but I made two and froze the second half.
Adapted from Baking with Jim Dodge, by Jim Dodge with Elaine Ratner (Simon & Schuster, 1991)
Makes 2 tart shells
- 8 tablespoons butter, cubed and chilled
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk
1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the butter, sugar, salt, and flour on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter has been broken into small pieces. Drizzle in the cream and mix until the dough comes together.
2. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and gently knead a couple of times to bring the dough together. Roll into a cylinder and then slice in half crosswise. Pat the into 4-inch disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least 20 minutes.
3. Unwrap one of the disks and roll out on a floured surface into a 13-inch circle. Drape the dough into a 9- or 10-inch tart pan. Fold the edges in so the tart has double-thick sides, then press the sides into the tart pan. Trim off the excess dough with a paring knife, then refrigerate for 20 minutes.
4. To prebake the tart shell for fruit tarts, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cover the entire tart with aluminum foil, pressing the foil lightly into the base of the crust. Pierce the entire bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake until the crust is light golden and partially done, about 15 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and bake until the crust is evenly golden brown, about 20 minutes.
You can select any kind of fruit you’re like for a clafoutis, but if using cherries (sour or bing), cook them gently in the butter before adding them to the pan. If rye and cornmeal aren't for you, use any flour blend you care to try. Whole wheat, all-purpose, Kamut, or spelt are all fine options. Or go with almond meal if you want to make something flourless.
Makes 1 clafoutis
- 1 tablespoon /15 grams softened butter
- 1 cup / 150 grams blueberries
- 4 / 225 grams apricots, pitted and diced
- No more than 1/4 cup / 48 grams cane sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons / 15 grams rye flour
- 1 tablespoon / 10 grams cornmeal
- About 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
1. Butter a 9-inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Taste the fruit. If it is very tart, sprinkle 1 tablespoon over it and let it macerate with the lemon zest for up to 20 minutes. If it is very sweet, either skip the sugar and mix it with lemon zest or use less sugar-- a teaspoon or two.
3. In a bowl, whip the yolks with 3 tablespoons sugar until the sugar is less granular and the yolks are pale in color. Stir in the flour, cornmeal, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt briefly to combine. Stir in the cream to combine.
4. In a separate bowl with a clean whisk, whip the egg whites with a pinch or two of salt until shiny soft peaks form. Fold the whites into the yolks.
5. Spread the batter over the fruit and bake until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm.
A decade ago when I worked as a cookie baker at La Farine, a French bakery in Oakland, the tart bakers always looked like they were having more fun than the rest of us. I think I know why: once the crust was baked and the pastry cream prepared, making tarts was more like decorating than baking. To finish each tart, the gals brushed a light apricot glaze over the fruit to give it a nice sheen. If there were fruit tarts left at the end of the day, we could take them home (the crust became soft if refrigerated). Days that ended with free fruit tarts were happy days.
While flipping through Craig Claiborne's The New York Times Cookbook, by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey (Times Books, the 1979 edition), I came across a recipe for a strawberry tart. It had been a while since I had access to free fruit tarts, so I figured I was well overdue making one myself.
Makes 1 tart
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 baked tart shell, cooled
- 2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
- 1/2 cup apricot jam
1. To make the pastry cream, combine the milk and vanilla bean in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and keep warm.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the sugar and eggs until golden yellow, forming a ribbon when the whisk is removed from the mixture. Whisk in the cornstarch.
3. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk. With the mixer on, pour the milk into the eggs and sugar and whisk until combined. Pour the mixture into a pot over barely simmering water (ensuring that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring with a spatula, until the pastry cream is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula. (It will become thicker as it cools. If it looks a little lumpy, strain it and discard the lumps. The recipe makes a generous amount for one tart.)
4. Spoon the pastry cream across the base of the tart shell. Arrange the strawberries, cut side down, in concentric circles within the tart.
5. Stir the apricot jam with enough water to thin it. Bring to a simmer and cook briefly until it reaches syrup consistency. Cool for a minute, then brush over the strawberries while still warm.
Pumpkin Seed BrittleI wanted make something a tad less involved than making toffee that could be used as a crunchy appendage to dessert. Something that could be made in under an hour. The answer: Nut brittle. Basically, you make a dry caramel (meaning no water added), stir in the nuts, and then spread the nut caramel over a Silpat.
Once cooled and hardened, the brittle is ready to be broken into pieces. With an exception for cashews, the formula for nut and seed brittle stays the same. It's only a matter of substituting one nut or seed for another while keeping the sugar and cooking time the same.
I broke my batch of brittle up, put it in a mason jar, and capped it shut to keep it from softening from humidity. If you do want to give this away as gifts, one batch of brittle approximately fits a 1-pint mason jar. Or just keep it for yourself and make cookies or pumpkin seed brittle ice cream.
Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Makes about 2 cups of brittle shards
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
Line a baking sheet with a Silpat (or similar nonstick silicon surface).
To make the caramel, heat the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Once the sugar starts to melt (it will become clear around the edges and start to look wet), start stirring the sugar with a heatproof rubber spatula.
Continue to cook the sugar, stirring frequently, until the caramel has a reached a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. If you’re not sure how dark your caramel has become, pull it away from the stove and swirl the pan. If it’s a tan color, it is not dark enough.
Once the caramel has reached the desired color, remove the pot from the stove and stir in the pumpkin seeds. (Be careful, they may pop a bit in the sugar.) Working fast so the sugar doesn’t harden prematurely, spread the caramel in a roughly 9 by 13-inch rectangle. Let it cool completely. Once cool, break into pieces as large or small as you’d like and store in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag.