I took the plunge this week and made a fruit tart. I'm more of a cake/cookie baker than a pie/tart baker so it wasn't as if I was betting on a sure thing when I decided to do this. Granted, it was a pretty tart, all in all, but far from perfect. I didn't expect perfection, though, and maybe you shouldn't either, especially if you've never made one before.
The first problem I encountered involved the crust. Despite my anxious hovering, the outer edge obviously overbrowned, thanks at least in part to my recalcitrant oven. I can hardly wait for that old tin can to keel over so I can start combing the stores for a beautiful new convection oven. You know, one of those polished-nickel-finish professional-looking jobs that every food magazine is touting these days? It's only a matter of time, or so I keep telling myself. (We're going on fifteen years with the current oven. Can it really be that much longer??)
Forgive me, I digress.
Back to the tart. I had no trouble at all making the tart dough itself. Against my better judgment I used one of Martha Stewart's recipes; she and I are not always sympatico, if you know what I mean. There's a bit of a rift in the trust department, as far as her recipe reliability goes. I've been let down, and more than once. But yesterday, turning the other cheek, I gave the old gal another chance at bat and used the basic tart dough recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. I wasn't wholly disappointed this time. In fact, the dough came together very smoothly and rolled out with no glitches whatsoever. It was an extremely cooperative dough, with an unexpectedly pleasing buttery color. (Leave it to M.S. to take the color palette of the unbaked dough into account when concocting the formula. She probably used paint swatches to get it just right.)
Using a French rolling pin, I rolled the dough out between two pieces of parchment on my cold marble pastry slab. (The slab had been in the freezer for about 20 minutes.) That worked like a charm and kept the dough from getting too soft. The paper peeled off cleanly and the dough settled comfortably into a nine- inch tart pan. After a little tucking, and the requisite docking with a fork, it resembled a cozy blanket, what with that pretty scalloped edge. And the warm golden glow it gave off had me mesmerized . . .
So I put the unbaked tart shell in the fridge to chill a bit before baking. Once cold enough, I laid a piece of parchment over the dough and filled it with dried beans to act as "pie weights" and keep the shell from puffing up in the oven since it would be blind baked. Put it in the oven.
It soon became clear the outer edge of the crust was well on its way to browning, long before the rest of the dough could reciprocate. After about ten minutes of baking, I covered the edge with a larger sized, overturned tart-pan ring.
That helped, I'm sure, but ultimately the whole thing just got too toasty. The shell was usable, and use it I did, but it was certainly not as picturesque as I'd hoped it might be. I set the shell aside to cool.
Same breezy process with the pastry cream. (I used the recipe from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion cookbook; the King's never really let me down.) It blended together just as the recipe described, with no problems. The recipe didn't even mandate straining the pastry cream, and yet it ended up quite smooth. I put the hot pastry cream into a glass bowl, covered the surface of the cream with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and it went into the fridge to chill.
At this juncture I started preparing the fruit. Shooting for a vivid tart, I used blackberries,
strawberries, and kiwis. I actually did a test run of the fruit placement on the inside of the tart pan ring, to see what arrangement would look best and to make sure I had enough pieces/slices of each fruit. (I thought I was leaving nothing to chance . . . how poignant.) After I sliced the kiwis, being obsessive, I rounded them with a cookie cutter to eliminate the uneven edges left from the knife. The stage was just about set.
It's amazing how little pastry cream you need to fill a shallow tart shell. After seeing the amount of pastry cream the recipe yielded--perhaps one and a half cups--I was afraid there might not be enough, but the opposite was true. After I'd poured and smoothed the cream in the shell there was actually some leftover. Fruit placement, the next step, was relatively stress free.
Now, as you probably know, the final touch on a tart like this is typically a glaze, both to add that beautiful sparkly quality and, in some cases, to help stave off deliquescence. (For the unitiated among us, deliquescence refers to something becoming soft, fluid, melty. Not a good thing when used in reference to a tart.) There are as many recipes for tarts as there are for pies, cakes, cookies, and every baking expert seems to have their own opinion on the best type of glaze to use on fruit.
There are those who advise using heated, strained preserves, typically either apricot, currant, or strawberry. There are those who advise using strained jam mixed with a liqueur like kirsch. There are those, Martha Stewart among them, who advise using a homemade sugar syrup comprised of granulated sugar, water, and lemon juice, boiled and left to simmer for a while. The latter is what I used. As I gently brushed the crystal clear syrup onto the fruit, its impressive shimmer warmed my heart. (Yes, yes, I used one of those new floppy silicone-bristled brushes, have no fear. No stiff old bristle brush for me. I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, you know.)
At this point, one could say I rested easy. Grabbing the camera, I photographed the tart for a few minutes and felt pleased with its overall appearance, despite the darkened crust. I put the tart, in a covered glass cake dome, into the fridge as it wouldn't be sliced for hours.
Perhaps three hours later I looked at the tart again, the way a new mother admiringly peeks in on her sleeping newborn. Sigh. . . Said newborn was looking alarmingly watery on top. Crestfallen, I delicately dabbed up the watery liquid with the corner of a paper towel, being careful not to mess up the cream. Long story short, the tart kept deliquescing throughout the evening. That sparkly glowing aspect, which in my hubris I had so coveted, was now sadly diminished . . . along with my dreams of a tarty triumph.
Postlude: The tart was sliced and eaten about six hours after it was glazed, and it certainly wasn't bad. But, next time, I'm holding off on the glazing until perhaps half an hour before serving. And, I'm going with the strained jam method instead of sugar syrup. I suppose I should have known there was a reason Ms. Stewart mandated the glazed tart should be served "immediately." But I find it disagreeable to admit she was probably right. Most disagreeable.
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