My friends, let us face the facts: there are times that call for a celebratory dessert. And when they do, I’m sure a number of beloved and oft-contemplated thoughts wend their way into your mind, floating around like so many visions of sugar-plums.
Here, dear readers, is one to add to your queue.
It’s one of those desserts you see in the bakery window, sitting in a glorious halo of golden goodness. This tart has it all: an endearingly sincere cookie-like crust, a cream the stuff heaven is made of, and to top it off, a jewel-like array of fruit that nods and beckons you closer, as you brush your fingertips ever so softly across the glass. Ethereally beautiful and yet elegant in its simplicity, it’s also easy enough to make at home–and the result is stunning. We’ll take it step-wise (crust, cream, fruit), the recipes following.
First, make and fully bake the crust. I used Deb’s “great unshrinkable sweet tart shell” for the base, which is by far the best recipe I’ve found all year. I skip the wrapping, chilling, and rolling bit and go right for the press-all-of-it-into-a-pan-even-though-it-looks-like-sand method. It works. Trust me (and the last comment, that reads “Not only doesn’t this shrink, it also can be dropped after baking…scraped up, pieced and pressed back into the tart pan, and baked for a few more “please hold together” minutes”)…it works. It comes out golden and tastes of the most marvelous crumbly sweet tart base you’ve ever tried, ever.
Second, make and chill the cream. I used Ina Garten’s recipe for pastry cream and it turned out pretty well. However, for some reason (ahem, a bad pan) it cooked quite quickly, a full 4 minutes ahead of Ina’s schedule, and caramelized on the bottom so that the cream ended up tasting of caramel, almost of creme brulee. (Desperate times called for delicious measures: I decided to top it with bananas, which complemented the caramel custard quite well. See below.)
Lastly, top with fruit. This is the best part, of course. Whether your approach is one of precise geometry or casual arranging, this step is full of delight–that breathless moment in front of a brand-new coloring book, with a fresh stash of crayons by your side. Will you go berry or citrus? monochrome or rainbow? seasonal or flamboyantly anachronistic? Take your pick. Small, colorful berries are often an easy but expensive go-to; I think thin slices of kiwi, oranges, even lemons and limes would be very striking, and of course stone fruit would make a lovely complement to the vanilla cream. Bananas went very well with my accidentally caramelized custard; the flavor is pretty overpowering, though, so use them with caution unless you want something tasting of banana cream pie.
Fresh Fruit Tart, piecemeal:
1. Sweet Tart Crust
Makes enough for one 9-inch tart crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
- Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. (You’re looking for some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.) Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change–heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
- Press the dough in as soon as it is processed: Press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the tart shell. You want to press hard enough that the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that it loses its crumbly texture. (And then prick it all over with a fork. -KR)
- Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
- To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. And here is the very best part: Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes.
- 5. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust about 10 minutes longer, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature, and proceed with the rest of your recipe.
Do ahead: The dough can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, the flavor will be fresher bake it directly from the freezer, already rolled out.
2. Pastry Cream
by Ina Garten
(note: This yields 2 1/2 cups, which Ina says is enough for two tarts. As I use a slightly deeper quiche pan for my tarts, I found the amount of cream fit quite comfortably in one, with a small amount leftover.)
6 extra large egg yolks (at room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp brandy or cognac (I omitted this.)
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is light yellow and falls back into the bowl in a ribbon.On low speed, beat in the cornstarch.
- Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan.
- With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the milk into the egg mixture. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook on low heat 2-3 minutes more. Taste to be sure the cornstarch is cooked. Remove from heat.
- Mix in butter, vanilla, cream, and cognac (or brandy). Strain into a bowl.
- Place plastic wrap directly on the custard surface and refrigerate until cold.