Classic Berry Tart

Berries, Desserts, Pie / Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Mixed Berry Tart

In one of my favorite cookbooks, Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours,” she writes about one French pastry chef’s fruit tarts being so beautifully arranged, they “stopped strollers in their tracks.”

Thankfully, for those of us who aren’t into precision berry-arranging, fruit tarts are a lot like the children of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

No matter how you arrange the ingredients, you’re going to wind up with something pretty stunning.

Dorie’s Classic Berry Tart only has three components – berries, pastry cream and crust – so it’s important for each one to be made with the best ingredients you can get your hands on. That doesn’t mean breaking the bank, but you will want to invest in perfectly ripe berries and brand-name butter.

The berries must be really ripe, because they supply most of the tart’s flavor all on their own – with no added sugar or liqueur or anything to enhance their flavor, except a few dabs of red currant jelly. Cover your tart with two pints of whatever is in season and abundant: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or any combination of berries. (You could also use slices of lightly poached peaches, nectarines, apricots or plums.)

If you’ve never made tart dough before, you’re going to love Dorie’s recipe. Everything comes together in the food processor with a few pulses, and then you gently press the dough into your tart pan, just like you would if you were making a cookie or graham cracker crust. You don’t have to worry about using a rolling pin or even blind-baking the dough with pie weights or beans. Instead, you freeze the dough in the pan for 30 minutes and bake it into a sweet, buttery, sandy crust – kinda like a big shortbread cookie.

Finally, the glue that holds the tart together is Dorie’s citrus pastry cream, made with strips of lemon peel steeped in milk. I love the entire process of making the cream, but whisking in the butter is my favorite step. There’s just something about watching those bits of butter disappear into the pastry cream, making it smoother and silkier.

Once your crust has cooled and the pastry cream has chilled for about 20 minutes, you can get to the important business of assembling the tart. This takes approximately five minutes. Just spread the pastry cream in the tart crust, and place the berries on the cream as haphazardly or anal-retentively as you want.

This tart is one of those baking projects that’s fairly simple but makes you feel like you have magic shooting out of your fingertips, so it must be shared, preferably within hours of being made. Be sure to invite some friends over, or set it in your window and see who stops in their tracks.

Quick Classic Berry Tart

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • About 1 1/2 cups Citrus Pastry Cream (recipe follows), cooled or chilled
  • 1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (recipe follows), fully baked and cooled
  • 2 pints fresh, perfectly ripe berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or an assortment)
  • 1/3 cup red currant jelly mixed with 1 teaspoon water, for glazing
  1. Whisk the Pastry Cream until it’s smooth. Spoon enough of the Pastry Cream into the tart to come almost to the rim, and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula.
  2. Lay the berries on the cream however you like. (If you are using strawberries, halve them vertically or cut them into slices.
  3. Bring the jelly and water to a boil in the microwave or on the stovetop. Using a pastry brush, dab each berry with jelly, or glaze the entire surface of the tart, including the pastry cream showing through the berries.

STORING: This tart should be eaten as soon as possible after you assemble it. If you must store it for a few hours, keep it in the refrigerator, far away from any foods with strong odors.

Citrus Pastry Cream

For extra insurance against having finding curdled eggs in your pastry cream, place a fine sieve over your bowl in step 9, and use a rubber spatula to scrape the cream into the sieve and gently strain it into the bowl.

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • Zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons, cut from the fruit in wide strips
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons high-quality unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature
  1. Bring the milk and lemon zest to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat, cover, and steep for about 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks with the sugar and cornstarch until well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk to temper the yolks so they won’t curdle.
  3. Whisking the entire time, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk.
  4. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (to the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil.
  5. Keep it at a boil. still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
  6. Discard the lemon zest.
  7. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  8. Whisk in the butter until the bits are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth.
  9. Scrape the cream into a bowl, and place the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water. Stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is completely chilled, about 20 minutes.

Sweet Tart Dough

Makes one 9-inch crust

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk
  1. Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor, and pulse to combine.
  2. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients, and pulse until the butter is the size of peas and flakes of oatmeal.
  3. Stir the egg, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.
  4. When the egg is in, process in 10-second pulses until the dough forms clumps and curds. (Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine will change.)
  5. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly, knead the dough just to incorporate any loose dry ingredients.
  6. To Press the Dough Into the Pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes.
  7. To Fully Bake the Crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  8. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side-down, tightly against the crust.
  9. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet, and bake the crust for 25 minutes.
  10. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust is puffy, use the back of a spoon to gently press it down.
  11. Bake for another 8 minutes or so, until the crust is golden brown.
  12. Transfer the crust to a wire rack (still in the pan), and let it cool to room temperature before filling.

STORING: You can wrap the unbaked crust inside the tart pan and freeze it for up to 2 months. To bake it directly from the freezer, add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

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