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“The view of the tart as too uphill or too technique-oriented to make at home has always been the greatest obstacle to home bakers,” says Maury Rubin, owner of Manhattan’s City Bakery and author of the slender yet canonical Book of Tarts. Rubin is one of a passionate tribe of bakers that puts the tart, above all other pastry, on a pedestal.
He’s not wrong about the tart’s daunting reputation; defined by their delicate, crumbly shells, open-faced designs, and a precise ratio of dough to filling, tarts demand close attention and reward practice.
If cookie baking is like dropping coins into a jukebox—pleasure found easy and cheap—constructing tarts is like conducting a symphony. They require the unity of many elements: crust, baking, filling, and decoration. Therefore, tarts encourage a perfectionist approach; a good one is an artistic and culinary triumph, a mediocre one defeats the purpose.
Still, Rubin assures, you likely already know some fundamentals of tart baking.
“What might be seen as making ‘fancy French pastry’ is actually, from a technical perspective, identical to making cookie dough.” You cream butter and sugar, add eggs, and slowly blend in flour. The real work starts once the drone of the mixer blade fades: coaxing dough into a pan before it overwarms; forming fluted columns of buttery crust; stirring curd into a glossy surface, placid as lake waters; shingling frangipane with roasted fruit or fresh berries; mixing a silky, seasalted ganache. The trick is practice, which eventually results in perfection. These basic tenets of tart wisdom will get you there:
From a tangle of taut red currants to voluptuous poached pears, a tart’s topping is its first impression. Source fruits at their peak that are similar in size for even baking. Choose the highest quality cream, chocolate, eggs, and butter for the most dramatic flavors.
There are two classic mother doughs in tart baking: pâte sucrée, which is lightly sweet, buttery, and crumbly (like a shortbread cookie) and its savory sibling, the flaky pâte brisée. (Some bakers designate a third category, pâte sablé, which is shorter and crumblier than brisée or sucrée.) Learn these first, then improvise by adding finely ground nuts, dried or fresh herbs, citrus zests, cocoa powder, minced candied ginger, or interesting flours like rye, buckwheat, or corn.
Work in advance by making and refrigeratin gdough overnight, or lining and freezing tart pans a few hours before baking. Set out equipment and ingredients before getting started. When a few seconds can mean the difference between a lumpy filling and a smooth one, organization is key.
Forget the jam-shellacked fruit decoration and high-piped toppings of tarts past. Slice plums thinly or make a whole poached pear the central adornment. Experiment with subtle dustings of cocoa powder or confectioners’sugar, whipped cream, free-form meringue, coarsely ground salts, and edible flowers (not all on the same tart, of course).
Tarts are about restraint. Overhandling dough can result in a tough crust. Overfilling the pan will make for a cakey crust rather than a buttery, crisp one. And too many fillings or garnishes will muddle flavors. Resist the urge to keep adding more.
Active: 45 min. Total: 1 hr. 30 min. (plus cooling time)
A touch of egg is the simple, secret ingredient in this luscious tart’s filling. Just a little gives the combination of chocolate and cream a sliceable, fudgy consistency. The crumbly cocoa-laced crust can be pressed right into a fluted pan, no rolling pin required. Swap out espresso beans for toasted nuts, chopped brittle, granola, or crushed peppermint candy. Just don’t eliminate the sea salt; it adds a bright, irreplaceable contrast to the decadent filling.
Active: 1 hr. 30 min. Total: 2 hr. 30 min. (plus cooling time)
“The single best gauge of a bakery’s quality is its lemon tart,” says Maury Rubin. “There’s a dance to balancing the sweet and tart flavors appropriately, and in a good bakery the filling will never taste buttery or eggy—it will taste like lemon.” This recipe, adapted from Rubin’s book and infused with lemon zest for extra citrusy flavor, is the ideal. Alternatively, lemon juice and zest can be swapped out for equal parts lime.
Active: 40 min. Total: 1 hr. 25 min. (plus chilling and cooling time)
Frangipane, an almond-based pastry filling, has a nutty fragrance and a consistency between buttery pound cake and airy sponge cake. In Frenchstyle fruit tarts, this classic filling is often studded with poached or fresh fruits. In summer, you can swap out the cranberries in this tart for halved pitted apricots, fresh pitted cherries, or sliced plums. Syrup-poached apples or pears, halved ripe figs, or quince would be delicious in cooler months.
"To bake a perfect tart shell, use a bottomless tart ring, perforated sheet pan, and silpat [nonstick baking mat]. Together, they eliminate air pockets between the shell and pan, and allow air to circulate on both sides of the shell, ensuring the crust is cooked inside and out." William Werner, Craftsman and Wolves, San Francisco
"I prefer using fruit with beautiful stems and poachable fruit we can add flavors to— usually liquors like amaretto, kirsch, frangelico, and rum." Tzurit Or, Tatte Bakery, Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts
"At Chez Panisse, we sprinkled our crusts with ‘moon dust,’ a combination of crushed amaretti cookies, ground almonds, and flour, which kept the pastry from getting soggy with fruit juices. Now, I use a combination of flour, a little sugar, and a ground nut to suit each tart." Claire Ptak, Violet Cakes, London
"We use wüthrich, a European-style butter from Wisconsin, because it has a higher fat content and less moisture, making the dough creamier tasting and easier to work with. Plugra brand is also a good, widely available option." Sandra Holl, Floriole Café and Bakery, Chicago
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Here's all the food for a fit and happy 2017—savory breakfast waffles, homemade probiotics, satisfying steak dinners, super-nutritious brownies, and more. Our expert editors offer easy-to-keep resolutions and smart strategies to reach peak health while savoring every delicious bite.
2016 was a great year in food trends: Poké went mainstream, Nordic sandwiches became all the rage, and just about everything was served in some form of bowl. So what are the amazing, hearty, healthy, and delicious dishes that are going to dominate next year? We’ve got them all here. And we hope you’re very, very hungry.