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.