Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tarts #1

Tarts have been a little bit of an issue for me ever since I wanted to make one for dinner club a few months ago - and it was, shall we say, a friggin' disaster. Actually, they were even an issue for me back when I was in cooking school - but by baking lots and lots of them, I eventually became pretty good at it.

Fast forward a few years - not so good.

So, what to do but bake a bunch of tarts until I got good at it again. Because with summer coming up, I want to make tarts. I think they're kinda cooler than pies; after all, they're sorta French. Well, maybe all French. And we're trying to like the French again, aren't we? That they stand up straight by themselves and don't need to be served out of a dish makes 'em cool too. And, trust me on this, serve a tart for dessert and everyone goes "Wow!' Even if you might think it sucks.

When I decided to revisit tarts, I knew the hardest part would be the pastry, so the first thing I did was take about 14 cookbooks off the shelves. That' s what I usually do when I'm trying to get some sort of baseline for a recipe...in this case tart pastry. Down came Mastering the Art, The Pie and Pastry Bible, How to Bake, Joy of Cooking and lots of others. Since there are basically 3 types of pastry for tarts - pate brisee, pate sucree and pate sablee - that makes about 42 different recipe possibilities, or something factorial like that. And when you start looking at all those cookbooks, as well as the internets, you got problems.

Some of the best advice I got was from Patricia Wells, in The Paris Cookbook, who states that "once a cook is confident with pastry making, he or she is ready to attack just about anything." So, armed with that advice, along with Julia's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking for pâte brisée sucrée (sweet short paste), I barreled ahead. And here's what the crust looked like after blind baking it until it was almost completely cooked - I actually think it should be baked all the way through (my fault, not the recipe's), but it's a start...

You see, it doesn't look like a total wreck - it certainly isn't Julia material yet; and since I liked Ms. Wells' advice so much, I decided to bake one of her tarts. This has to be the simplest tart recipe ever, containing 4 ingredients (though don't forget to add a pinch of salt to the filling) along with the crust. Called La Tarte au Jus Frais de Citron Presse de la Bonbonnerie de Buci. Simply a fine lemon custard, it has eggs, lemon juice, sugar and a bit of cream, whisked together and then baked in the shell. And...it's delicious.


  1. Yum! Feel free to drop off all of the disasters...

  2. Nicely done! I prefer a pâte brisée (flaky-type) crust for tarts over a pâte sablée (sandy-type) crust.

  3. Thanks, Sam. I like the pate brisee type as well - and, imo, much easier to roll out, which is where I tend to run into trouble.

  4. Until very recently I was using a wine bottle as a rolling pin, so I'm clearly not the authority on pastry here, but that thing looks friggin delicious.

  5. Bec - It was pretty tasty. Significant Eater would like me to next try meringues. Which are actually good for camouflage.

  6. SE and I are on the same camouflage page... I was going to suggest powdered sugar. Conceals many things.
    Looks yummy no matter what you say.
    I'm big on some plastic wrap below the dough and on top when I roll out the brise. Makes moving it, sizing it etc a whole lot easier....

  7. Whenever someone meintions brisee or sucree or sable, I ask them to describe the pastry they have in mind. Because there's a lot of disagreement and a fair amount of overlap with the definitions. For some people, sucree is just a sweetened brisee. For others, it's more like sugar cookie or fig newton and has more in common with sablee.

    I've seen examples of all these uses in traditional and reasonably authoritative sources.

  8. Sorry - didn't see this right away, underbelly!
    But, you're right - I was pretty confused going through many different cookbooks and the internet.

    For me, brisee is 5 parts flour, 4 parts butter by weight. Salt + water. Not sweetened.

    Sucree is the above, sweetened.

    Sablee has the addition of egg yolk or egg to the sucree, and is even assembled in a different way - with softened butter as opposed to cold butter, etc.