Imagine my surprise when I trudged down to the Royal Mail delivery office on Saturday morning to pick up a mysterious package I presumed to be yet another batch of Twizzlers from my mom or Jacques Torres disks from FDW, only to discover this, which I had been lusting after for ages. To be clear: I love every guest that walks into my house and spends time visiting from the States, whether or not they shove an industrial-sized bag of Twizzlers and bottles of C.O. Bigelow hair products with them in their suitcase for me (though such gestures are always appreciated). They bring a bit of home with them, a bit of my old life, and I’m always so thankful for that. But, it’s a rare guest who can be just as satisfied spending the majority of their visit baking my favourite things and eating at my favourite spots as I am. N was one of those guests. We spent 6 glorious days last month eating our way through the likes of Albion, The Modern Pantry, Freggo, Stein’s, La Crêperie de Hampstead, Roka (where FDW and Natalie Portman mind-melded at the dinner table) and The Wolseley, all while baking breakfast every morning (chorizo frittatas, cinammon and pecan buns, almond and chocolate chip scones, etc.), barbecuing in the Fields (where N and I admittedly spent most of our time nibbling away at the homemade brioche hamburger buns and hoping no one would notice) and making afternoon pit stops for raclette at Borough Market. In between bites, at one point or another, I must have mentioned my desire to visit Tartine as soon as I could get back to San Francisco (N is a SF native). And, lo and behold, a few weeks later, I am now the proud owner of the Tartine cookbook, in all its mouthwatering and beautifully written, insightful glory.
I would be lying if I said this plum tart was the first thing that popped out at me while perusing the book on Saturday morning. On the contrary, I spent a considerable amount of time drooling over recipes for Shaker Lemon Pie, Soft Glazed Gingerbread and Bavarian Cakes. But, eventually I wiped the drool from my mouth, cleared the visions of Brioche Bread Pudding dancing in my head, and recalled that my fridge was full of not one, but two punnets of ripe British plums, which I had intended to use to make a plum kuchen. As I stood before my fruit-filled fridge, I instinctively decided to postpone my Germanic endeavour and put the plums to a higher use. And so, here they are, arranged crosswise (a technique N and I mastered during her visit) on a light and delicious pâte sablée (so light and delicious that I think it will become my go to recipe) and a perfect pasty cream. Elisabeth and Chad (authors of the Tartine cookbook, owners of Tartine, and husband and wife duo extraordinaire), I’ve now read, test potential cooks by having them make a batch of pastry cream, so what better what to start working my way through the book than with a basic, but “challenging test of a baker’s skill and focus”? I’m sure the lemon pies and cream-filled cakes are not far behind, but as an accompaniment for succulent, end of summer plums, this tart is perfect. It’s also my meagre attempt at an overseas thank you, and, while it could never compare to sharing the real thing together in person, I hope it reminds N of home. Because we all deserve a bit of home every once in awhile, most especially when there’s food involved.
Tartine’s Fresh Fruit Tart
Elisabeth and Chad suggest any soft fresh fruit that will give easily to this bite for this tart.
For the Sweet Tart Dough tart shell:
1 cup + 2 tbsp (9 oz/255 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 oz/200 grams) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room tempterature
3 1/2 cups (17 1/2 oz/500 grams) all-purpose flour
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar and salt and mix on medium speed until smooth. Mix in 1 egg. Add the remaining egg and mix until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour all at once and mix on low speed just until incorporated.
On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 4 equal balls and shape each ball into a disk 1/2 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight or freeze 3 for future use (this dough will keep for up to 3 weeks).
To line a tart pan, place a dough disk on a lightly floured surface and roll out 1/8 inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn after every few strokes, dusting underneath as necessary to discourage sticking, and work quickly to prevent the dough from becoming warm. Cut out a circle 2 inches larger than the pan. If the dough is still cool, carefully transfer the circle to the pan, easing it into the bottom and sides and then pressing gently into place. If the dough has become too soft to work with, put it in the refrierator for a few minutes to firm up before transferring it to the pan. If the dough develops any tears, just patch with a little extra dough, pressing firmly to adhere. Trim the dough level with the top of the pan with a sharp knife. Place the pastry shell in the refrigerator or freezer until it is firm, about 15 minutes.
If you are making tartlet shells, roll out the dough in the same way, cut out circles according to the size of your pans, and line the pans. The rest of the dough, including the scraps, can be frozen for future use (I used the scraps from forming a 9-inch tart to make a 4-inch tartlet).
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dock (make small holes in) the bottom of the tart shell or tartlet shells with a fork or the tip of a knife, making tiny holes 2 inches apart. Place in the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes for a partially baked large shell or 5 to 7 minutes for tartlet shells. The pastry should be lightly coloured and look dry and opaque. Check the shell(s) during baking and rotate the pans if necessary for even colour. If you want to brush the shell with a glaze (Elisabeth and Chad do this to keep the shell crisp longer), beat an egg with a pinch of salt in a small bowl. A minute or two before the desired colour is reached, remove the shell(s) from the oven and lightly brush the bottom and sides with the glaze. Return the shell(s) to the oven and bake until the desired colour is reached and the glaze is set, about 10 minutes longer.
Let cool completely on wire racks. The pastry shells will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
Yield: four 9-inch tart shells or twelve 4-inch tartlet shells.
For the pastry cream:
2 cups (16 oz/500 ml) whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp (4 oz/115 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp (2 oz/55 grams) unsalted butter
Have a bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream with a fine-mesh sieve resting in the rim.
Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the trip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. The larger the batch, the more careful you need to be.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lighty whipped cream, about 2 minutes. In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. You want to see a few slow bubbles. However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously, you will curdle the pastry cream. Remove from heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skim from forming on top.
Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon (15 ml) pieces. When the pastry cream is ready (it should be about 140 degrees Fahrenheit), whisk the butter into the patry cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon.
To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap dorectly onto the top of the cream (the plastic wrap prevents a skin from forming on the surface). Pastry cream will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Yield: 2 1/2 cups (enough for at least a 9-inch tart).
For the fruit/assembly:
Have tart shell ready for filling. Spoon the pastry cream on top of the tart shell and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. You may not need all of the pastry cream. The amount you will need will depend on the depth of the shell and how much fruit you are using. You don’t want to fill the shell to the top, as the weight of the fruit can cause the pastry cream to overflow the rim, making slicing difficult. The shell should be about three-fourths full. Top with the fruit.
Glaze the fruit if using cut fruit. In a small saucepan, warm 3 tablespoons of apricot jam over low heat just until it is liquid to make a glaze, and then strain through a medium-mesh sieve. Brush the glaze over the fruit. The tart can be eaten right away, or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Serve it cool.
Yield: one 9-inch tart (plus a bonus tartlet, if you’re lucky!).