Apparently, baking up a nice fruit tart is high-stakes drama. At least according to Fox’s ‘Masterchef’, a competition of home cooks out to prove themselves before over-the-top chef Gordon Ramsay (word in the industry is he’s actually a nice guy).
In one episode the show’s producers portrayed a tart as an intense, risky, highly sensitive baking venture. I laughed all the way to the commercial break because tarts are so simple, the crust is as easy as one, two, three!
Tart crust is really the simplest of bakes
I learned how to create the beautiful tarts lining the display cases of every patisserie in France. And truth be told a little time and know-how are your main ingredients.
Take a hint from simple sugar cookies
The easiest way to a tart shell is with a sugar cookie dough. But if you don’t cream the butter and sugar just right, you could completely upset the space-time continuum (sarcasm). Even though sugar cookies are literally as easy as 1-2-3 (standard sugar:fat:flour ratio). And available as pre-made dough in every grocery store around. Even gluten-free sugar cookie dough or mix, which our oldest son is always happy about.
Rolling your dough + baking your tart crust
Be sure to roll the dough out to EXACTLY 1/4-inch thick, then blind bake it (using rice or beans) it at exactly the right temperature. You’ll absolutely ruin your life and the life of anyone within a 50 mile radius of your kitchen if you don’t (kidding, of course). I love making mini tarts, much less pressure and the rolling process is more forgiving.
A proper pastry cream process
Now that you’ve avoided a mid-life crisis by succeeding at your tart shells (seriously), be sure to stir the pastry cream vigorously as it thickens on the stove, or your pot and Gordon Ramsey will explode with anger (not serious).
Find the freshest fruit
The quality of the fruit counts, do your best to find the ripest, juiciest in-season fruit. This is actually a GREAT time to call the kiddos into the kitchen. These particular tarts bought me fifteen minutes of peace and quiet. SCORE.
How best to enjoy your tart
So have all your wits about you when you set out to make a fruit tart. Like Masterchef demonstrates, it’s a precarious project. You wouldn’t want to risk all that sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy goodness falling on your head. Or worse, directly into your mouth. Toddler smushed berries and all.
Yours in tarts,
The tart dough here is a basic sugar cookie recipe known as 1-2-3 cookie dough. It refers to the ratio by weight of sugar:fat:flour (in that order). Leftover dough can be baked into cookies of any size, shape or form. Simply bake at 350°F until the bottoms of the cookies just begin to brown.
This pastry cream is essentially a thick vanilla pudding lightened with whipped cream to make it silky and luscious. And I dare say we all know what to do with excess vanilla pudding.
- 8oz butter, unsalted, softened (2 sticks)
- 1/2 cup/4 oz granulated sugar
- Pinch salt
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp vanilla extract, optional
- 2 1/4 cups/12 oz cake, pastry or all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk, whole or 2% recommended
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp butter, unsalted
- Pinch salt
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 3 eggs, large
- 2 tbsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp granulated or confectioner’s sugar
- Fresh berries or sliced fruit
Bake Tart Shell(s)
- With a stand or hand mixer, beat butter, sugar and salt on medium-high speed until smooth and lightened in color.Add egg and then vanilla, scraping down the bowl and paddle.
- On low speed slowly add flour until dough comes together in a cohesive mass. Form into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and chill at least two hours. Can be done a few days ahead and chilled, or frozen.
- On a lightly floured surface or parchment, roll dough to a 1/4-inch thickness, and at least an inch larger than your pan. For mini tarts, use a knife to cut out circles larger than your shells.
- Gently press dough into bottom of shells and up the sides. Roll pin along the top of tart shells to remove excess overhang. Likewise, roll dough two inches larger than your full-size pan, and follow same procedure. Freeze shells for twenty minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Line shells with foil or parchment and fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice.
- Bake shells for 10 minutes, remove pie weights, and bake until edges begin to brown and bottom is cooked through (a large tart will need more time). Cool completely before removing form pan(s).
Prepare Pastry Cream
- Combine half of the sugar, salt and all but a half cup of the milk in a sauce pot. Bring just to a boil over high heat.
- While milk is coming to a boil, combine cornstarch and remaining sugar in a medium heatproof bowl, and whisk in the half cup of milk to make a slurry (thick starch-liquid mixture). Then gently stir eggs into slurry.
- Once milk reaches a boil, slowly pour around half of the hot milk into the egg mixture whisking vigorously (tempering the eggs so they don’t curdle over high heat).
- Pour tempered egg mixture back into pot with hot milk, and turn heat down to medium. Whisk constantly until pastry cream comes to a slow boil, with just a few large bubbles breaking the surface.
- Pour into a bowl, whisk in butter until melted, and press plastic wrap over the surface. If your cooked cream has lumps, you can strain through a fine mesh sieve. Poke a few holes in plastic wrap to vent, and cool in refrigerator.
- OPTIONAL: For diplomat cream, whip heavy cream with sugar to soft peaks, and fold gently into pastry cream until combined.
- Transfer cream to a pastry bag (no tip) or large plastic baggie, and snip one corner to make a half-inch hole.
- Pipe cream into tart shells so it almost comes all the way up the sides.
- Layer fresh fruit on top. Store chilled, serve room temperature.
Keywords: tart recipe, fruit tart, pastry crust, sugar cookie dough, pastry cream, diplomat cream, desserts, baking with kids