Thursday, July 22, 2010

queen of tarts

the queen of hearts she made some tarts, all on a summer’s day

The tart, with its golden shell framing an endless array of fillings, is a blank canvas where good looks and deliciousness convene.  Its varied contents adapt with the seasons, highlighting berries, citrus and stone fruits in spring and summer; apples and pears come fall and winter.  Shallow crust effortlessly cradles unctuous ganache, creamy custard or any variety of nut fillings.  In lieu of dessert, savory tarts make for a satisfying lunch or light dinner, particularly when accompanied by a simple garden salad.

When I was eight years old, I received a copy of ‘The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook’, now sandwiched between a tome titled ‘Birthday Cakes’ and a paperback on Dutch cooking, compliments of my Dutch mother-in-law.  The first recipe I settled on was one for Tantalizing Raspberry Tarts.  Rather than the suggested frozen raspberries, I substituted, relying on the abundance of blueberries growing near my childhood home, in Sitka, Alaska

Unlike the bloated versions found throughout the ‘lower 48’, Alaskan blueberries are only slightly larger than peas.  What they lack in size, they make up for in flavor.  Their skin is thicker; their taste, at once wild and sweet, tart and tannic.  Inky blue juice stains tongues and fingers as equal numbers are deposited amongst mouths and pails.  As children, we rubbed the berries across our cheeks to fashion Indian war paint, in the same forests where Tlinget tribes battled Russian invaders

While mouthwatering Alaskan blueberries put the ‘tantalizing’  in my tart recipe, the crust was a different story.  In my naiveté, I reasoned that, because it was dough, I should knead it.  It was years before I learned that pastry should be handled minimally.  Butter must remain cold in order to create pockets of air during baking.  This is where the term flaky comes into play. 

Fast forward fifteen years.  Amidst wedding plans, I stumbled upon ‘The Naked Chef’, the first cookbook from culinary wonder, Jamie Oliver.  As I frequently explained, to raised brows, “The food is naked, not the chef”.  Now a household name, the chef has since shed his unclothed moniker while maintaining a staunch commitment to cooking simply with fresh, seasonal ingredients.  

Thumbing through the pages of my new cookbook, a luscious chocolate tart seemingly jumped off the page, beckoning me to put an end to my tart baking hiatus.  In order to proceed, I needed the proper pan.  At Sur la Table, I invested in a basic 9” steel tart pan with trademark fluted edges and removable bottom. 

True to form, Jamie Oliver’s recipe was simple and straightforward.  A foolproof sweet pastry crust housed rich, silky filling made from best-quality bittersweet chocolate, cream and butter.  My husband-to-be was visibly moved as he sunk his teeth into the first bite.  More than dessert, the tart represented a foundation for good things to come:  marriage, a baby, a house, and of course, no shortage of baked goods.IMG_1263
Buoyed by my initial success, I baked a  lemon lime cream tart, from the same cookbook, with equally stellar results.  Countless variations have graced my tart pans in the wake of the simple chocolate tart that laid the foundation.  I came up with the following recipe for my dad’s birthday, knowing he would prefer a tart over cake, any day of the week.  It is really three recipes rolled into one.  The idea for the berries came from the June issue of Bon Appetit, the crust is based on a recipe from my beloved ‘Tartine’ cookbook and for the filling, I used the same lemon lime cream recipe, borrowed from the good old ‘Naked Chef’. 

lemon lime cream tart with blackberries and blueberries

yields 8 – 10 servings


sweet tart dough
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature

egg wash
1 large egg
pinch salt

3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of 3 limes

1 pint blackberries
1 pint blackberries 
2 tablespoons black or red currant jelly




Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar and salt, mixing on medium speed until smooth.  Add egg and mix until smooth.  Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add flour, all at once, and mix on low just until incorporated.  Shape dough into two equal balls, and shape each ball into 1/2” thick disks.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill two hours or overnight.

To line a 9” tart pan, place chilled dough disk on a lightly floured surface (i.e. a silicone mat) and roll to 1/8” thick, rolling from center toward edges, in all directions.  Lift and rotate dough a quarter turn after every few strokes, dusting underneath with flour, as necessary, to discourage sticking.  Work quickly to prevent dough from becoming warm.  If dough has warmed, transfer to the refrigerator to firm up for a few minutes. 

Gently transfer dough to the tart pan, easing it into the bottom and sides and pressing carefully into place.  Do not stretch dough or side will shrink during baking.  Patch tears with extra dough, pressing firmly to adhere.  Trim dough to level with top of the pan using a sharp knife.  Place tart shell in freezer for about 15 minutes or until firm.  Freeze any scraps and the extra disk for future use.  Frozen dough keeps for up to three weeks.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Once the shell is firm, use a fork or the tip of a knife to dock (make small holes in) the bottom of the tart shell, 2” apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly colored, dry and opaque.  Check during baking and rotate pans as needed, for even color.  Beat egg with salt in a small bowl and lightly brush the bottom and sides of the shell with egg glaze, about two minutes before desired color is reached.  Return shells to oven and bake until lightly colored and egg glaze has set.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk together sugar and eggs in a bowl.  When well mixed, slowly stir in cream, juices and zest.  Place the cooked tart shell on a rimmed baking sheet.  To reduce spillage, position the pan on the oven rack before pouring filling into the shell.  Bake 35-40 minutes or until the filling is set but still semi-wobbly in the center.  After cooling for one hour, the filling will set to a perfect consistency, soft and smooth.  Make sure to cool before cutting to avoid a gooey mess. 

Once tart has cooled, remove sides from tart pan, using a small, sharp knife to loosen, if needed.  Place crust on a plate.  Carefully rinse blueberries and blackberries and gently pat dry with paper towels.  Arrange blackberries in two concentric circles, about 1” from inside edge of crust.   Mound blueberries in center of tart.  If there are extra blueberries, add another circle (see photo, above) around blackberries. 

In a small saucepan, warm jelly until melted.  Whisk, adding water if too thick.  Use a pastry brush to brush jelly over berries, careful to avoid dripping jelly on the filling.

Tart can be served at room temperature or chilled, according to preference.  Serve unaccompanied or with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Lemon lime cream filling adapted from ‘The Naked Chef’, by Jamie Oliver.  Sweet crust adapted from the ‘Tartine’ cookbook, by Elizabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson.

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