On every cobblestone block in Paris are patisseries with colorful, enticing fruit tarts that line their cases. This recipe replicates the sweet, crunchy tart shells and luscious pastry cream without overcomplicating the process.
I learned how to bake a classic Parisian fruit tart at the mothership of pastry instruction, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. A highly-decorated chef walked a small group of enthusiastic bakers, including me and Giada de Laurentis (yes, that one, yes there were cameras), through every step of the process.
In a whirlwind of flour and French we prepared pâte sucrée (the tart crust), almond and raspberry fillings, and sesame seed nougatine for a showstopping lychee and raspberry tart. (Many stars aligned for that particular moment in my life, including being in Paris that weekend because my husband works in sports television.)
At the end of the berry, lychee, and sugar-filled three hours, we each stared lovingly at our own glazed masterpieces. Truth be told, the techniques for the backbones of a classic tart - the crust and a custard filling called crème pâtissiere - are simple ones that require only a little time investment and a bit of waiting.
For any fruit dessert, you want the ripest, juiciest, in-season fruit. Bright colors on berries with no signs of mold or darkening. Choose strawberries without any white around the stem as this means it was picked too soon. For stone fruit like peaches, plums, and apricots, pick ones free from bruises that give just to your touch. Be careful not to pick overripe stone fruit that is mushy, as these will be tricky to slice and arrange.
Aside from the fruit, tarts require mostly pantry staples. For a sweet crispy, crumbly bite akin to the classic, use whole wheat pastry flour and even a portion of almond flour in the dough. If dairy is an issue, you can replace the butter with your favorite plant-based "butter".
- Whole milk
- Heavy cream
- Granulated sugar
- Butter, unsalted
- All-purpose flour, pastry flour, or 1:1 gluten-free flour blend
- Vanilla extract or a vanilla bean
- Fresh fruit
- Apricot jam, for glazing
On the Dough
The easiest way to bake up a tart shell is with sugar cookie dough, which is fairly close to the French version, pâte sucrée. Sugar cookies are truly as easy as 1-2-3 (see below). And while available as pre-made dough in every grocery store, baking at home allows you to control the ingredients, avoid emulsifiers and preservatives, experiment with flavorings, or make substitutions for your preferred diet.
If you've ever heard of "1-2-3 cookie dough", the name truly leaves little room for interpretation and variation. It's a very common professional baker's formula for a sweet dough that is one part fat, two parts sugar, and three parts flour.
1-2-3 Cookie Dough Formula
1 part fat + 2 parts sugar + 3 parts flour
Any baker's formula will use weight measurements. If you have a scale, you can measure and begin mixing any dough in a matter of minutes. If you don't have a scale, here's a translation of a standard recipe to volume:
- 4 ounces of butter, softened (1 part)
- 8 ounces of granulated sugar or 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 parts)
- 12 ounces or 2⅔ cups of all-purpose flour (3 parts)
When making dough for a tart crust, I don't always use an egg. But a whole egg or egg yolk will lend stability and richness, so if you like, beat it in well after creaming the sugar and butter.
This technique for mixing sugar cookie dough and many versions of fruit tart crust is the creaming method. The process is quick and simple, especially if you keep your butter at room temperature or set it out the night before. If you bake often, you're probably an old pro.
- Cream the sugar with the butter until smooth and lightened.
- Beat in any eggs and extracts.
- Slowly, gently mix in the dry ingredients.
- Form the dough into a disc and chill until hard.
How to Roll the Dough
Chilling dough makes it easier to roll. If you mix your dough ahead of time and it's rock-solid, let it sit on the counter for about 30 minutes before you roll it out. I also recommend chilling the dough after rolling and pressing it into your pan(s). This lets the dough rest and gives it a more delicate crumb. It also prevents excessive spread or shrinkage in the oven.
I love making mini tarts, which is less pressure and much easier than making one larger tart. This recipe will make four to six mini tarts, maybe more, depending on the size of your mini tart pans.
- Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper. It's a great technique and free from mess. It eliminates the need for extra flour that can toughen the crust.
- Dock the dough before baking. Once all your dough is tucked nicely into the tart pan(s), prick the bottom in several places with the tines of a fork. This allows steam to escape, and helps prevent shrinkage in the oven.
- Blind-bake the tart shells. Depending on the chef you asked, blind-baking is or isn't a must. But I've never regretted it, as blind baking is insurance against those soggy bottoms Paul Hollywood is always complaining about. Line the tart pan(s) with crumpled-up parchment paper or foil. Then fill the pan with anything oven-safe and heavy. My favorite items for blind-baking are dried beans, spare change, and rice.
Store finished tarts in the refrigerator for a few days. As the tarts sit the shell will soften, so they're best served within 24 hours. Extra pastry cream will keep chilled for a week. Freeze any leftover dough wrapped tightly for a few months.
Reach for your favorite plant-based "butter" for a vegan crust. For gluten-free tart shells, a measure-for-measure flour blend works great.
- 8 ounces of unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
- 4 ounces or ½ cup granulated sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 12 ounces of whole wheat pastry or all-purpose flour or 1:1 gluten-free flour (about 2¼ cups)
- 2 cups of whole milk (2% is fine)
- ½ cup of granulated sugar
- pinch of salt
- ⅓ cup of cornstarch
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract or seeds scraped from a vanilla bean
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
For Diplomat Cream
- ½ cup of heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons of granulated or confectioner's sugar
Fruit & Glaze
- Apricot jam, warmed slightly, for glazing fruit
- Spring & Summer: sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries
- Summer & Fall: sliced cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, or ripe stone fruit
- Fall & Winter: caramelized apples or pear slices, oranges, kumquats, clementine segments
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 the egg and beat it in well, scraping down the bowl and paddle as you go.
- At low speed, slowly add flour until the dough comes together in a cohesive mass. Form into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least two hours. This can be done a few days ahead and chilled, or frozen.
- On a lightly floured surface or between pieces of parchment paper, roll dough to a quarter-inch thickness, and at least an inch larger than your tart pan. For mini tarts, use a knife to cut out circles a little larger than your pans.
- Gently press the rolled dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 9" or 11' tart pan with a removable bottom (or mini tart pans). Roll the pin along the top of pan(s) then remove any excess dough. Poke holes, or "dock" the bottom of the dough with a fork.
- Freeze the shells for twenty minutes. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line the shells with foil or crumpled parchment paper and fill with pie weights, dried beans, spare change, or rice.
- Bake mini shells for 10 to 20 minutes, remove the weights, and bake until edges begin to brown and the bottom appears cooked through. A large tart will need more time, around 20 minutes with the weights, and then 20 more minutes after removing them.
- Cool the tart shells completely before removing it from the pan(s). Use a small, sharp knife to chip away any crust that is preventing easy removal.
Prepare Pastry Cream
- Combine half of the sugar, salt, and half of the milk in a medium pot. Bring just to a boil over high heat.
- While the mixture is coming to a boil, combine the cornstarch and remaining sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Whisk in the remaining milk to make a slurry (thick starch-liquid mixture). Then gently stir the eggs into the slurry.
- Once the milk reaches a boil, slowly pour the hot mixture into the egg mixture, whisking vigorously. This tempers the heat into eggs so they don’t curdle or scramble.
- Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pot, and turn the heat down to medium. Whisk constantly until pastry cream comes to a slow boil, with just a few large bubbles breaking the surface.
- Pour the cream into a bowl, whisk in the vanilla extract or vanilla seeds and the butter until it's melted, and press plastic wrap over the surface. If your cooked cream has lumps, you can strain it through a fine-mesh sieve. Poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to allow steam to escape the cream, and cool in the refrigerator.
- Fill the baked tart shells with the chilled pastry cream and top with your fruit, or follow the directions below to make diplomat cream (pastry cream lightened with whipped cream).
- Only prepare diplomat cream right before building your tarts. Whip the heavy cream with sugar on medium speed to soft peaks, and fold gently into the pastry cream until combined.
- Transfer the cream to a pastry bag (no tip) or large plastic baggie, and snip one corner to make a half-inch hole. Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the baked tart shells so it comes almost all the way up the sides.
- Layer fresh fruit on top and brush with the warmed apricot jam. Store chilled, serve room temperature.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 25-45 minutes
- Category: Desserts
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: French
- Serving Size: 1 11" Tart
- Calories: 375
- Sugar: 20.4 g
- Sodium: 286.8 mg
- Fat: 20.4 g
- Carbohydrates: 41.5 g
- Protein: 6 g
- Cholesterol: 111.9 mg
Keywords: tart recipe, fruit tart, pastry crust, sugar cookie dough, pastry cream, diplomat cream, desserts, baking with kids