Fresh fruit tarts

Four Inch T artes individuelles

Four Inch Tartes individuelles

West Michigan is known for it’s grey skies and lack of sunny days during the winter months, but lately I’ve been making a variety of fresh fruit tarts which simply add their own version of sunshine and brightness to the seemingly dreary weather. The good news is when we do have a sunny day, it’s a beauty! And some of our sunsets are absolutely gorgeous. Ahhhh . . . . there’s something about a Michigan sky.

Tartelettes Petits Fours

Tartelettes Petits Fours

While I’d prefer to use fresh local summer berries and stone fruits for my fresh fruit tarts, we’re fortunate to have pretty decent berries coming to us from California as well as citrus and all manner of tropical fruits from various parts of the country and the world. It’s interesting that most requests I receive for fresh fruit tarts happen during the winter months. I guess it’s just that desire for something colorful and delicious, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

TWO and a half inch   T artes individuelles

TWO and a half inch Tartes individuelles

I love the pinkish-orange of the Cara-Cara variant of the navel orange - just like one of our beautiful Michigan sunsets, especially when paired with the brilliant red of raspberries. And the blackberries lean more toward the end-of-sunset dusk when things start darkening into the deep purple hues of the night sky.

Nine inch  Tarte

Nine inch Tarte

The nuts and bolts of this type of tart include a standard pâte sucrée crust, a classic crème pâtissiére and, of course, an assortment of fresh fruit. Whatever suits your fancy.

Especially when I’m assembling a large tart, I like to do a mock up of my fruit lay out before actually placing the fruit on top of the crème. Here I’m using raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and Cara-Cara citrus. You might notice the pomegranate seeds at the top - I didn’t end up using them for my own aesthetic reasons (artistic license, right?).

Working on the layout

Working on the layout

Assembly in process

Assembly in process

I must say that finishing a fresh fruit tart gives one quite a sense of satisfaction. And, of course, one hopes that the recipients will be just as satisfied!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone. Here’s to many more baking adventures! And may you enjoy your own sunsets wherever you are.

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Time for some tarts!

Tarts are my favorite desserts to make (and eat), going back to the days in the late '80s when I became a huge fan of pastry chef Emily Luchetti (then of Stars restaurant).  I used to pour over her book "Stars Desserts" and made many of the recipes, being particularly fond of the macaroon nut and the blackberry streusel tarts.

So, as I spent a fair amount of time in Grand Rapids, Michigan this past July and August, staying at my mom's, I simply had to take advantage of the summer fruits that the orchards of western Michigan produce.  I paid a visit to the Fulton Street farmers market where I scored some Michigan Red Haven peaches (BIG favorite from my childhood) and fresh local blackberries which soon went into a delicious peach-blackberry custard tart for a small family gathering. Deelicious!  Topped with sliced almonds and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was just the ticket. 

Above: peach blackberry custard tart

When I had a September request for some petits fours tartlettes, I took a break from my La Pâtisserie des Rêves project to turn out some of my favorites - lemon, chocolate ganache and caramel nut.

It's always such a pleasure to return to tart making, especially when the cool, crisp days of autumn are upon us.  Working with the cool, supple dough, lining the tart rings or petit four molds and thinking about those luscious fillings is such a delight.

The beauty of these tarts is the make ahead fillings.  You can even blind bake your crusts and freeze them ahead of time. Just thaw them briefly at room temp, warm in a 325º oven for 5 minutes to crisp up, then cool and fill.  As usual, it's all about the planning.

I've tried many lemon curd/lemon cream tart fillings over the years, always in search of the perfect one.  All can easily be made a couple of days (or more!) ahead. I normally prefer a classic pucker-y lemon curd, although this time I used a riff on Pierre Herme's (complements of Dorie Greenspan) lemon lemon cream.  It’s oh so smooth and lemony, especially garnished with a dollop of light, whipped lemon mascarpone and a fresh raspberry. 

Above: lemon cream tartlettes

The ganache tart filling (3 parts cream to 2 parts chocolate with a bit of butter added) also keeps extremely well in the fridge.  The day you wish to assemble the tart, gently warm the ganache over a bain marie to liquefy it before you pour it into a blind baked chocolate crust and allow it to set.  I garnish mine with my own chocolate cookie crumbs.

Above: garnishing the chocolate ganache tartlettes

For the caramel nut tart I toast a combination of almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios and blanched hazelnuts before coarsely chopping them and folding them into a caramel filling made with butter, honey, brown sugar, sugar and a little cream and vanilla extract.  The mixture is put into a blind baked pâte d'amandes crust and popped back into the oven until the filling is bubbly. Steve describes this one as the best "payday" he's ever had (and it doesn't even have peanuts!)

Above: caramel nut tartlettes

And now - leftovers!!  When making petits fours tartlettes, make plenty of filling so you'll have components on hand to create additional goodies for friends or family.  It's a great way to plan ahead for an upcoming dessert occasion.

Here are just a couple of ideas.

Lemon semifreddo -  freeze the leftover lemon cream in silicone flexi-molds or a plastic wrap lined loaf pan.  At serving time either pop them out of the flexis or turn out of the loaf pan and slice - great with fresh fruit, perhaps a little berry coulis and some lovely shortbread.

Caramel nut truffle tart - blind baked pâte d'amandes, layer of caramel nut filling with chocolate ganache poured over.  A definite keeper!

Above: the components

Above: pouring the ganache over the caramel nut filling

Above: ready to chill with some nuts peeking through

And finally, a summer reminder - the classic fresh fruit tart with crème pâtissière filling.  Ahhhhhh.

Ciao for now!