A special treat for a special lady
June 13, 2010 12:40 PM   Subscribe

I need the best fruit tart recipe in the world!

My special lady's birthday is coming up. She loves fruit tarts, so I would like to surprise her with one.

Special snowflake considerations: I don't mind splurging for top-shelf ingredients, and time-consuming or laborious preparation is not a problem. Extra bonus points if the recipe:
  • emphasizes fresh, minimally processed ingredients (must include instructions for a from-scratch crust; any custard or filling must be from scratch; less-processed sugars are good; vanilla bean is preferable to extract; no shortcuts/compromises for Busy Working Moms)
  • contains peaches (she loves them, and the local peach season begins just in time for her birthday)
  • contains berries (I know of some places to pick them fresh)
  • incorporates lemon somehow, such as lemon curd
I'm a fairly experienced cook, but I do very little baking. I know tarts aren't hard to make, and I imagine it's pretty difficult to make a bad tart, but "good" is not good enough—I want "transcendental". In addition to fresh, high-quality fruit, that means a great crust and a great filling.

Basically, I'm looking for the most slammin' fruit tart you've ever had from that trendy new locavore/foodie bakery that everyone raves about. But, y'know, homemade.

Please hope me, MetaFilter!
posted by ixohoxi to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What fruits are in season locally for you?
posted by thebestsophist at 1:42 PM on June 13, 2010

Sorry, clicked too quickly, what special fruits will be in season other than peaches (and your average assortment of berries)?
posted by thebestsophist at 1:45 PM on June 13, 2010

Good filling is a lot easier to achieve than a "transcendental crust," that's fourth generation state-fair material. For the filling, I put the fresh fruit in a pot and heat it until it gives up juices, then strain out the fruit and reduce the juice to a syrup, and add the fruit back in. Then I put in some dried fruit of the same variety as the fresh fruit to soak up any more loose juice. A tiny touch of cinnamon, nutmeg, fresh white and cayenne pepper. Lemon zest and juice added. Then I pile it on the tart/pie crust before baking. By this method the concentrated fruit is three times more than usual. I add a pinch of thickener made by mixing equal parts of all the thickeners that I've seen mentioned. Don't have that list on the tip of my tongue right now. A lemon based sauce, basically water, lemon, sugar and butter is served under the tart.

You can put some egg white on the crust and give it a little broil, before putting in the filling. This keeps the filling from soaking in.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:49 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

She's hardly representin a hot new local bakery/locavore hot spot, but Shuna Fish Lydon's creds range from being pastry sous chef at the French Laundry and pastry chef at Bouchon. Her introduction to making pastry for fruit *pies* is a fun read, hits all of your points, and is excellent preparation for taking a first stab at a fruit tart and pastry crusts of any kind.
posted by Lisitasan at 2:00 PM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

To echo thebestsophist, it's helpful to know where you live what's in season right now since- and no doubt you get this as someone who likes to cook- fruit is going to the most important component of your tart, you're going to want it to be mind blowingly fresh and delicious. Also, it'd help to know what your honey really LOVES. I *love* tart flavors and fruits in tarts- so I'd want a transcendental cherry, apricot or french style lemon tart right now.

Not sure how ambitious you want to be, but if you want fantastic results with minimum risk for failure, the Zuni Cafe Apricot Tart has a cult following. It's available all over the internet, such as here at Orangette.
posted by Lisitasan at 2:11 PM on June 13, 2010

For a strawberry lover, the strawberry tart at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco is amazing, and the recipe is available here
posted by Lisitasan at 2:23 PM on June 13, 2010

This butter & egg crust (prebaked in a tart pan), spread with lemon curd, topped with lightly stewed peaches, topped with fresh berries.

I have made this, it is amazing. I don't have a recipe, since it is just something I "do." You can stew the peaches with a little sugar or not. I just slice them and put them in the microwave until they are a bit soft.

You can also make homemade lemon curd, there are lots of recipes out there. I have made it, it is very easy.
posted by fifilaru at 2:31 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am of the opinion that a proper fruit tart has a crust made with egg, a filling of pastry cream, a topping of the best fruit I can find, and a glaze of (warmed and strained) raspberry jam. I never find a single recipe that has exactly what I want, so here are a couple I'd combine:

Tart crust
Pastry cream
posted by cali at 2:31 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, clicked too quickly, what special fruits will be in season … ?

I'm in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, and as for what's in season, I only know what Google tells me.

Her birthday is at the end of the month. A couple of pages I found say that peach season starts around June and really gets underway come July—so I'm hoping I can find some juicy, mouthwatering peaches at a local farmer's market. Looks like cherry and blackberry season is already underway and will be in full swing by then. Blueberries, nectarines, and raspberries are in July, but maybe I can find some good fruit from the early harvests?

Also, it'd help to know what your honey really LOVES.

Peaches, berries (all kinds—raspberries, strawberries, blueberries), pineapple, and anything lemon. She loves fruit like crackheads love crack, but these are her favorites.
posted by ixohoxi at 2:34 PM on June 13, 2010

I really like Dorie Greenspan's Summer Fruit Tart from Baking: My Home to Yours. It's a folded galette-style dessert so it looks more rustic than pretty but it's delicious and highlights good fresh ingredients. It's basically rolled out pasty baked with fresh fruit and a tiny hint of sugar. Near the end of the cooking time, a custard is poured in and the tart is popped back in the oven to set the custard. I generally make the tart with peaches, nectarines, and blackberries/blueberries. Without fail, this tart receives rave reviews but--like I said--it's not the world's prettiest/most ornate dessert. If you're interested, message me and I'll find the recipe (quick google search didn't turn up anything)
posted by lumiere at 2:59 PM on June 13, 2010

Have a look at this gorgeous nectarine tart - it is absolutely beautiful and would blow her away. The nectarines have been sliced thinly and then rolled up to look like roses.

To get in all the things you want, I would try and do this with peaches (small, reasonably firm ones), make a lemon curd (or lemon tart style filling) to use instead of the filling listed here (though it is lemon flavoured, so you could keep it, though I would add lemon zest), and then intersperse fresh raspberries on the top, for serving.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:39 PM on June 13, 2010

Most fruit tarts are wonderfully simple. For me much of what makes a fruit tart good is that the simplicity of the crust, filling, and glaze showcase best showcase ripe, seasonal fruit and great knife skills. Though, StickyCarpet's recipe looks amazing, I'm going to have to try it soon.

Here is the fruit tart recipe that my girlfriend and I both use:

  • 3/4 cup soft butter,
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar,
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (Personally, we use King Arthur flour, though you have to get used to the fact that it has as much protein as most bread flours.)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees
  2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, add flour and mix.
  3. Press into 9-inch tart pan and bake for about 25 minutes, it should be light brown on the edges.
  4. Set aside to cool
  • 10 ounces of white chocolate chips (we use Ghirardelli).
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 8 ounce cream cheese, softened to room temperature.
  1. Melt white chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave,
  2. Beat in cream,
  3. Add cream cheese and mix until smooth using a flexible spatula. Though we have a stand mixer, we find that it stays chunky when using the mixer. It's easier to crush the chunks of cream cheese.
  4. Spatula the filling onto the crust after the crust has cooled.
  5. Add your fruit on top. This is where your brilliant knife skills shine.
Alright, we don't have actual measurements for this one, we tend to wing it, but it usually turns out well. If you've got a good sense of proportion, and know how strong your ingredients are, you should be fine.
  • Water
  • Sugar. We use homemade vanilla sugar.
  • Pomegranate molasses
  • Pomegranate liquor
  • Lemon juice
  • Rice flour (or corn starch)
  1. Heat water, add sugar and let the sugar dissolve. We think this is about 4 parts water to 3 parts sugar, but we're really not sure. You can keep adding more sugar as you need to as long as you do it before you start thickening.
  2. Add a dollop of pomegranate molasses, pomegranate liquor, and a few drops of lemon (not too much!). Let it simmer down, taste, add sugar or anything else as needed. Alternatively, instead of lemon and pomegranate liquor, use limoncello instead, (or both limoncello and pomegranate liquor), the idea is that the alcohol will release sugars and flavors that would otherwise be locked in the pomegranate.
  3. Once it is tasting proper, you can thicken by putting a little rice flour (or corn starch) in a separate bowl, mix some of the glaze liquid into the flour until it is a paste and add it back into the rest of the glaze. I prefer to use rice flour to thicken instead of corn starch for two reasons: 1. Corn starch leaves a filmy residue and aftertaste. 2. Rice flour has its own sweetness to it (think mochi).
  4. Brush onto the tart immediately, and soak the pot immediately after you're done, it gets really hard to clean up once it has cooled.
  5. Chill the finished tart in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Alternatively, this Joy of Baking recipe for a Peach Tart looks absolutely amazing.
posted by thebestsophist at 8:38 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Blueberries and peaches go together gorgeously.

Heston Blumenthal maintains that vodka in your pie crust will give you flakiness that will melt your brain.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:56 PM on June 13, 2010

This is not a tart, but I love this recipe so much, that I will toss it out as a flier. A Peach Puzzle.

Here is the recipe from Cook's Country. The puzzle is that an upside down ramekin fills up with syrup (I believe due to convection). When it is done (and you flip it over), it looks like the photo in the link (as incredible as it seems).
posted by zerobyproxy at 1:45 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all! All of this looks helpful. I'm busy and sleep-deprived at the moment, but I'll review all the links/recipes and let you know what I decide and how it turns out.
posted by ixohoxi at 9:35 AM on June 15, 2010

Response by poster: After taking a closer look at the suggestions: none of these recipes are exactly what I want, but they've definitely given me a lot of good ideas, and the confidence to swagger forth with my own Frankensteinian mash-up. Here's the plan:

I'm going to use the crust from the Zuni Café recipe suggested by Lisitasan. (The recipe at Orangette is "adapted from" the Zuni version, and is actually rather different—but Orangette swears by her version, and the inclusion of cider vinegar to relax the gluten kind of intrigues me, so I'll give it a shot.)

I'll make Alton Brown's lemon curd recipe, which gets rave reviews. (I've been thinking about buying a double boiler anyway. I've never seen Brown's show, so I don't get the aversion to him that some people have, but I tried his macaroni and cheese recipe, and damn was that good.)

Then I'll top it with the best peaches, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries I can find. (Some tart recipes say to bake the fruit and filling with the crust; others say to blind-bake the crust and simply top with the filling and raw fruit. I think the latter is more my—and my sweetie's—style.)

Finally, I'll glaze it with this simple glaze of apricot jelly and Grand Marnier.

Will follow up with a report, for the benefit of future tart-seekers. Thanks to all for the help!
posted by ixohoxi at 7:14 AM on June 24, 2010

Depending on the type of crust you're using, blind baking prevents it from getting soggy during the process.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:34 AM on June 24, 2010

Response by poster: Tart success! Sort of. I mean, it was scrumptious and she liked it. But I definitely learned some things, and will do some things differently next time.

I made Orangette's dough, rolled it out, put it in the pan, laid a piece of aluminum foil on top, and poured in some dried beans in lieu of a pie weight. (This was my first time blind-baking a crust, and more than a few sources recommend this method.) Then, I baked the crust at 375°F until the edges started to brown.

I lifted up the foil and beans, and found that the dough underneath the foil was still uncooked. Shit! I had been worried about that. I removed the weight, pricked the dough several times with a fork to let the steam out, covered just the already-cooked edges with foil, and baked it some more. Fortunately, things worked out in the end—but I won't be using the beans-and-foil method again.

The lemon curd turned out tasty enough, but I never did get it to thicken well. I didn't want to use cornstarch, for fear of giving it a chalky texture. (I've been meaning to experiment with arrowroot, which sounds like it would have been the perfect solution, but I didn't have any.) I put it in the fridge, hoping it would thicken a bit as it got cold.

No such luck—my tart was runny and leaky. Fortunately, the crust was very firm, and stood up to the moisture just fine.

(The crust was almost too strong—it was hard to cut. But it wasn't hard to eat, and had a great flaky texture. I'll roll it a little thinner next time, but overall its solidity is a definite plus—it makes it easy to pile the tart high with fruit and filling. And it's one of the easiest dough recipes I've ever made.)

The addition of Grand Marnier to the apricot glaze added a subtle tang. Not bad, but I won't bother next time unless I have Grand Marnier on hand.

So, it wasn't the gorgeous food-magazine centerfold I'd wanted, but my sweetheart still jumped up and down and squealed (for like an hour) when she saw it, and it was plenty delish. I think I can make the crust perfect next time, and then I just need to figure out what's up with the lemon curd.

Thanks to all for the suggestions and ideas!
posted by ixohoxi at 4:06 PM on July 4, 2010

Best answer: I removed the weight, pricked the dough several times with a fork to let the steam out, covered just the already-cooked edges with foil, and baked it some more.

My bad for not telling you this. That is actually pretty much textbook how to blind bake. For bonus points (only really necessary if you're holding the filled tart for more than a day or two), at this stage brush the entire interior of the crust with an egg wash slightly thinned with water. It will help seal the crust against moisture.

The lemon curd turned out tasty enough, but I never did get it to thicken well. I didn't want to use cornstarch, for fear of giving it a chalky texture.

You'll only get chalk if you don't cook enough. However, cornstarch-based gels can separate. It's very weird to see. I'll try and remember to grab you chef's lemon curd recipe when I'm at work on Tuesday. It's very, very good; the only secret is to cook it way longer than you think, long and low.

The crust was almost too strong—it was hard to cut. But it wasn't hard to eat, and had a great flaky texture. I'll roll it a little thinner next time

Rolling thinner will help. Also, work the dough as little as possible--less physical action on the dough = less gluten development = more tender crust. Pie crusts also benefit hugely from resting in the fridge overnight before baking.

Bear in mind also that most pastry doughs will keep absolutely fine in the freezer for several months (form a thick-ish disc, wrap incredibly tightly in plastic wrap, freeze).
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:24 PM on July 4, 2010

Response by poster: dnab—that is some seriously great (and clear) advice. Thanks!

If you can get me that lemon curd recipe, I and future consumers of my tarts would be eternally grateful.
posted by ixohoxi at 4:43 PM on July 4, 2010

No worries. Something that will also help your crust is to roll, form into the tart pan (which you buttered and floured), and then rapidly chill in the freezer for 10-20 minutes (depending on how hot your kitchen is. In your ideal world, the only time your pastry should be anything other than cold is when mixing (then chill!), barely soft enough to roll out, and when it is in the oven.

Mounting your lemon curd with butter will also help set the gel when you refrigerate it.

If you have access, agar-agar is very good for setting gels and stays clear. I don't have much experience working with it though, so can't be of much help there.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:52 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and memail me Tuesday, else it's likely to slip my mind. Memory like a... you know. Thing. Wossname. With holes in.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:53 PM on July 4, 2010

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