I love fruit tarts, but not the overly sweet, overly rich kind with “glazed” fruit — which is the kind you usually see in bakeries and recipes. My tart, however, combines a light, herb-flavored pastry cream (containing no cream) and fresh berries tossed in a little fresh lemon juice and sugar. I’ve served this tart at several dinner parties and guests invariably wanted extra helpings, which is gratifying. This recipe includes my quickie approach to tart crust, avoiding the tedious task of chilling and rolling out the dough. I’ve tasted crusts made both ways and I don’t see any difference. For the pastry cream, other herbs can be substituted for tarragon (like basil), but I think tarragon works best. The tart pastry isn’t that sweet, nor is the pastry cream. To my taste, the three elements (tart shell, pastry cream, fruit) are nicely balanced. Any fruit can be put on top but berries work particularly well. Premade, unbaked tart shells and pastry cream can be kept in the freezer, ready to go for quick, delicious tarts anytime.
Makes 10-inch tart
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar (*note: flour can be substituted for some of the sugar, 1:1 ratio, if a less-sweet crust is desired)
- 1/4-1/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- (optional) lemon, lime or grapefruit zest – about 1-2 teaspoons
- 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature (if you forget and don’t soften the butter beforehand, cold butter will also work)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
– Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and zest and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough forms a ball. If it seems too soft, add more flour. Let it “knead” for a 10 seconds or so as a ball with the processor running. Press dough into 10-inch tart pan with fingers and shape evenly. (Note: it’s a good idea to cut a piece of parchment paper to fit in the tart pan bottom so the metal bottom can be removed before cutting.) Refrigerate or freeze until ready to bake. If you intend to serve the tart the same day, make the pastry cream while the shell is chilling.
– Preheat oven to 350. (Use convection oven if you have that capability.) Poke fork tines into chilled or frozen dough. Put a sheet of parchment paper into shell and fill with dried beans or pie weights; enough to cover the bottom well. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Next step need not proceed immediately. Carefully remove parchment and pie weights.(Some of the crust might stick to parchment, so be careful.) At this point, the top edges will be browned, so crimp thin strips of foil around the top edges to prevent additional browning. Return to heated oven and bake until the rest of the crust is golden. This will likely take 15-25 minutes, depending on oven. Cool before assembling tart.
Tarragon Pastry Cream
- 4 large or extra-large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 T flour
- 1/8 teas salt
- 2 1/8 cups milk (you can use lower-fat milk if you must)
- 2 T unsalted butter
- 6 branches of fresh tarragon
For pastry cream:
– Bring milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t boil over. Turn off heat (or remove from heat if your cooktop is the kind that retains its heat for awhile). Add the herbs, submerge in milk and cover, letting steep for 30 minutes. If you get busy with other tasks, the milk can sit longer without increasing the intensity of final flavors. Remove herbs and squeeze off milk back into the pan with your fingers. You’ll need 2 cups of infused milk for the recipe, so add a little more plain milk, if needed.
– In a medium bowl, beat yolks and sugar with a whisk until smooth. Add flour and salt and beat until smooth.
– Bring the infused milk to a simmer. Slowly whisk 1/4 cup of hot milk into yolks to thin yolks, then add the rest of the milk, whisking to blend. Return mixture to pan and heat, whisking to prevent yolks from clumping. (A whisk definitely works better than a spoon for this.) Heat on medium until the mixture is very thick and just begins to boil. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. If the mixture seems to be clumping a little during the cooking process, just whisk vigorously and the clumps will go away.
– Put pastry cream into a bowl and place plastic wrap across the top to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until ready to use. Can be kept up to 5 days in fridge or frozen for longer-term storage. When ready to use, bring to room temperature first, which will be easier to spread in tart shell.
- Use whatever combination of fruits are in season and that you prefer. I like to use various berries and perhaps some stone fruit (peaches, apricots, plums, etc.) in different colors during the summer. I buy organic berries that don’t require washing, which is easier and produces a better result. I don’t bother to blanch and peel the stone fruit, which makes the process quicker and the fruit easier to slice and prettier. You don’t want water-logged fruit, so if you want to wash it first, dry carefully. My typical tart includes slices of stone fruits around the outside edge and rows of different colored berries inside that. See the photos below for some layout ideas for berry-only tarts.
- Preparation: Toss the prepared fruit in a little fresh lemon juice (just enough to moisten) and add sugar to taste, mixing carefully until the sugar dissolves. The amount of sugar depends on the natural sweetness of the fruit and your preferences. You can add a little zest if you like, or a little Grand Marnier.
IMPORTANT: Assemble tart right before serving. If the filling sits in the tart for a few hours, it makes the bottom crust soggy.
Remove outside ring from tart pan and carefully remove bottom (you’ll need to have put parchment paper in the pan to do this). Place on serving platter and spoon/spread in the pastry cream evenly. It’s okay if it’s not perfect because the fruit will cover the cream.
Arrange the fruit on top attractively. Serve immediately.