Friday, July 11, 2014

Classic Fruit Tart, part 1 (crust)

Over the 5 years that I worked in the bakery at our local grocery store I made about 1,000 fruit tarts. They were seriously a customer favorite. We didn't really make them from scratch and over the years the process and style of the tarts changed and evolved. No matter the version, they essentially consisted of a pastry crust, filled with vanilla custard and topped with fresh fruit and glaze. In making the tarts my job was one of assembly: putting together pre-made parts and topping with fruit. As you can imagine, by the time I left the bakery I was fruit-tarted out. If I never halved another strawberry or peeled another kiwi it was fine by me. I was D-O-N-E. Donezo, fo show!

Now, believe it or not, in all that time at the bakery, I had never actually had a fruit tart. Never tasted one in spite of the 1,000 tarts I had made. Not that I don't like fruit, or vanilla custard, or pastry. Totes like all those things, its just that other stuff in the dessert case appealed to me more. I'd always go for the slab of chocolate cake, the fudge topped eclaire or a luscious lemon pie. Seriously, why waste dessert calories on fruit? I'm not crazy. And then I finally had a slice. Pretty yummy. Fresh and fruity, vanilla-y and custardy and a cookie crust to boot. Why had I not tried one before? Why had I not made one before. They're easy to make (although lots of steps) and impressive. Silly me. 

Now, first things first. For a good fruit tart, you need to start with a good crust. . . 
(Note: I doubled the recipe so quantities in the pictures are twice what the recipe calls for. This dough will freeze pretty much indefinitely and it's nice to have on hand next time you want to make a tart.)

Simple ingredients: AP flour, salt, unsalted butter, sugar and an egg.

Beat butter until softened then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. You're kinda making a cookie dough here. Kinda.

Beat eggs lightly.

Add the beaten egg and mix just until incorporated.

Add the flour and salt (these should be sifted together before adding). Mix just until it forms a ball. If you are using a hand mixer it might not form a ball so mix just until the flour is incorporated. It's really important that you don't over mix this dough or over handle it. Be gentle and mix only as much as necessary. If you over develop the gluten then your crust will be tough and prone to shrinking when you bake it.

Gently form the crust into a ball.

Flatten slightly and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Park this in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour but overnight works best. 

If you doubled the recipe like I did. Double wrap and date the extra crust and freeze. You can keep it in the freezer for a long time but I'd try to use it within about 6 months.

When it's time to bake. Roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface. Work quickly as this dough is soft and you don't want to handle it too much.

Roll to a hearty 1/8-inch thickness. Thicker than 1/8-inch but not as thick as 1/4-inch. Size should be about 1-inch bigger around than your tart pan. (Tart pan should be an 8 or 9-inch removable bottom pan.) To move the dough to the pan, gently roll it around your rolling pin and then gently unroll it over the tart pan.

Don't fret if you end up with this disaster like I did. My kitchen was pretty warm (about 77°F) and my dough got soft really fast. In hindsight I should have chilled the dough again after rolling it out, and then attempted to transfer it to the pan. Ah, hindsight. This can be fixed.

Just very gently lay the dough in the pan and coax it around until you've got the pan lined evenly. You may have to break off bits of dough to patch uneven or blank spots. As you do this, try to avoid "stretching" the dough. Again, you don't want to over develop the gluten. Now chill the crust a good hour before baking. If this happened to you, I highly recommend letting your crust chill and rest overnight (wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge) to allow the crust (gluten) to relax.

When you're ready to bake and the dough is nice and relaxed, prick the bottom generously with a fork.

Then line the shell with foil (I like to spray the foil with cooking spray for extra insurance against sticking) and fill with pie weights (dried beans or uncooked rice will also work.)* Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 20-25 minutes until the crust appears dry and very light golden brown. Remove the foil and weights (CAREFUL they're hot!) and let the crust cool completely.

*If you use beans or rice, while the crust bakes you may notice a toasty or funny burned smell, this is just the beans/rice getting hot and won't affect your pastry.

I used just the crust recipe from this link: Classic Fruit Tart
Next post: Vanilla Custard.

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