A couple of autumn tarts


Apples! Pears! Berries! What better way to celebrate autumn, eh?

On the prowl for a couple of Sunday desserts, as well as a way to use some of the local Michigan pears and apples I had on hand, tarts were definitely on my mind. Natch! This project involved two versions of tart, one apple/pear/blackberry with classic brown sugar crumble topping and one apple/pear/raspberry with crunchy almond topping. Ooooohhh how delicious.


I’ve been a fan of Bosc pears for some years now, and, on the apple side of things, this season I’ve taken quite a shine to Jonagolds too.

I typically poach my pears soon after purchase as a way to avoid the ripening wait as well as to hold them in the fridge for use when needed. But after reviewing some of my numerous pastry books I opted for the slice/dice/sauté in a little butter and sugar approach. Works like a charm!

For a couple of full sized tarts I peeled, halved, cored and thinly sliced about 4 pounds of apples. That would normally be a decent quantity for one tart, but, since I was mixing in pears and berries, it worked very nicely for two.

Then on medium heat melt 2 ounces/56 g unsalted butter in a sauté pan or Dutch oven large enough to hold all of the apples, then stir in the slices until coated. Add 100 g dark brown sugar, a large pinch of salt, the zest of one lemon and a large squeeze (a tablespoon or so) of lemon juice, increase heat to medium high and stir about a minute.

Now here’s where I took Elisabeth Prueitt’s advice from her “Tartine all Day” book - cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and let the apples cook for about 10 minutes until softening and juice-releasing has happened. Then scoop the apple slices out with a slotted spoon (I placed them in a large strainer over a bowl to allow dripping then transferred them to a clean bowl) and cook down the juices for a few minutes until very thick - apple caramel! Mix the thickened juices in with the apples and you’re good to go. You can add a little cinnamon and nutmeg here if you’d like - I kept mine au naturel. Set aside to cool until you’re ready to fill your tart shell.

For the pears, again using about 4 pounds, I peeled, halved, cored and diced them into 1/2 inch cubes then followed a similar sauté approach in butter and sugar. For these, simply cook them over medium high heat until they start to soften and become lightly caramelized (maybe 5-8 minutes) then set them aside to cool until ready to fill the tarts. No juice reduction here.

I used two of my favorite tart doughs - pâte brisée for the blackberry version and pâte sucrée for the raspberry - blind baking them before filling. Once baked I brushed the bottom with egg white and popped ‘em back in the oven for a couple of minutes to “dry”. That provides a seal to the dough and reduces the chance for a soggy crust.

Pear apple blackberry waiting for assembly

Pear apple blackberry waiting for assembly

I mounded the apple/pear mix in first then tucked my blackberries into the various nooks and crannies. These were plump frozen berries that I broke up into pieces for more efficient cranny-ing.


The brown sugar crumble is equal weights flour, brown sugar (you can use light or dark, whichever you prefer) and diced cold butter sanded into the dry ingredients. I usually make a bunch and store it in a zip-top bag in the freezer to use at a moment’s notice.

Loaded with crumble!

Loaded with crumble!

Since the crust is already baked and the fruit “cooked”, the primary task here is to brown the crumble and get the fruit to juicy-up. Bake at 350ºF for 20-25 minutes until the crumble is golden and some juicy bubbling is visible.


The approach to the raspberry version is pretty much the same. Fill the blind baked crust with the pear/apple/raspberry mix.


But this time the topping is made with 2 large egg whites, 100 g/1 cup confectioner’s sugar and 125 g/1.25 cups sliced almonds all mixed together and spread over the fruit.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

This one also bakes at 350ºF for about 25-30 minutes until the nuts are browned and have taken on a certain luster and there’s some fruit juiciness visible around the edges.


Talk about a treat! Whether it’s crunchy toasty almonds or a more classic crumble that melts in your mouth, both of these tarts delivered with the lovely fall flavor of pears, apples and berries. And a side of vanilla ice cream doesn’t hurt either!

Now don’t hesitate to make your own version of a delicious autumn tart.

Happy baking!


Cherry-berry feuilleté and peach buttermilk ice cream

The summer annuals are showing off their colors here in Grand Rapids MI . . . .

lovely coleus in our little garden courtyard

and the summer peaches are out in full force!

Fresh Michigan peaches are one of my favorite fruits.  So of course I've been thinking of the many wonderful ways to use them.  This time I was inspired by a peach buttermilk ice cream recipe from "Food and Wine" magazine.

I followed the recipe for my usual ice cream base (2 cups heavy cream, 1 cup whole milk, 3/4 cup sugar, 5 large egg yolks, pinch of salt) replacing the cup of whole milk with buttermilk.  I blanched 1.5 pounds of peaches, then peeled, pitted, sliced and blender-ized them with a squeeze of lemon juice, folding the purée into the cooled base.

peach purée at the ready

ice cream base finishing its chill down

I usually chill my base in the fridge for a day or two, then process in my ice cream maker and transfer to a freezer container several hours before serving.

I also wanted to use some cherries and blueberries I had on hand to complement the peach ice cream in a dessert I was planning for a family meal.  And, to top it off, there was some reverse puff pastry in my freezer just waiting to be made into something oh-so-delicious.

The beauty of the feuilleté preparation is that I can roll, shape and bake them ahead of time and hold them either at room temperature if using the same day, or in the freezer for a number of days if planning a bit farther ahead.

When ready to fill them, I simply push down the center layers of puff to make room for the fruit mixture that will be mounded in the feuilleté.

I mixed 4 cups of fruit (cherry/blueberry combo) with a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, 3-4 tablespoons granulated sugar (I like my fruit on the tart side) and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. I then cooked this concoction on med-low heat until bubbly and thickened.

Note:  this quantity of fruit filling was enough for 7-8 feuilletés about 3.5 inches square.

Then I scooped a mound of filling in the center of each feuilleté and baked at 350ºF for about 10-15 minutes.  Since the puff pastry is already baked and the filling already cooked, it's really just a matter of heating everything up.

Once cooled, I topped each one with previously baked matcha crumble (really more for color contrast than taste) and gave them a light powdered sugar dust.

the end result!

I know I've mentioned crumble before in this blog.  It's a great thing to have on hand and is so easy to make.  Make as much or as little as you'd like.  

Simply mix equal weights flour and sugar in a medium bowl, sand in the same weight of cool, diced butter to form coarse crumbs.  In this case I added some matcha powder with the flour and sugar (you don't need much).

Spread the crumbs out on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake at 325ºF, stirring and breaking up clumps every 5 minutes or so until lightly browned and crisp, 10-15 minutes total.  Let cool.

Store in a zip-top bag in the freezer and use at will!

For serving I simply placed a scoop of peach buttermilk ice cream atop each feuilleté (no muss, no fuss) and handed 'em out.


While the ice cream was a bit more icy in texture than I had hoped (I suspect due to using low fat buttermilk rather than whole milk, plus the water content of the fruit purée), the contrast of the tangy peachy coolness with the tart cherry-berry filling and buttery, flakey puff was oh-so-good indeed.

Three cheers for summer fruits!  Hip hip hooray . . . .

Semifreddo and a one dish composed dessert

On the prowl once again for a weekend supper dessert idea I decided to make a semifreddo to pair with something warm and fruity.

cherry berry pistacho crumble with vanilla almond semifreddo

Semifreddo is Italian for "half-cold" and is a molded, creamy dessert that's in the "still frozen" category, meaning it isn't churned like ice creams and sorbets before freezing.  There are numerous flavor possibilities with coffee, chocolate, citrus or a fruit purée of one's choosing among the many.

Its base is similar to an Italian zabaglione or French sabayon in which egg yolks, sugar and a liquid like Marsala (the classic in Italy), Champagne, Prosecco, red or white wine, citrus (or other fruit) juice or a liqueur are whisked over a bain marie until lightened, foamy and thickened.

In this case I whisked 80 ml (1/3 cup) vanilla simple syrup (essentially combining my sugar and liquid before hand) with 3 egg yolks until thickened and lighter.

at the start of cooking

thicker and more pale

zabaglione or sabayon in its pristine form is often served warm just after preparation, perhaps with fresh fruit, but in this case I cooled it over an ice bath in preparation for the next step.

When you take a zabaglione/sabayon to the next level and fold either whipped cream or a meringue into the chilled base, it becomes a semifreddo (or a French parfait - confused yet?).

whip cream to nice soft peaks

all blended together

The mixture can be placed in one large plastic-wrap-lined mold such as a simple loaf pan or a fluted bowl, or can be portioned into small silicone molds, available in an appealing assortment of shapes and sizes.

cover with the plastic wrap and pop into the freezer

Freeze for a number of hours until firm.  Well wrapped it can sit in the freezer for several days, allowing at least that portion of the dessert to be made ahead (it's all about the planning, folks!).

A quick side note:  there are many terms in the cream/custard lexicon, and the word mousse is one that I've always found it a bit confusing.  The word literally means "froth" or "foam" and refers to a dish in which an aerator like whipped cream or meringue is folded into a base.  That base can be a fruit purée, a crème anglaise or crème pâtissiére, pudding or custard, curd, sabayon, or pâte à bombe (yet another French base made with just yolks and sugar).  However a mousse isn't necessarily frozen, so I guess that's one distinction from a semifreddo.

Just had to throw that in there!

As I was mentally concocting my composed dessert I knew I wanted some crunch.  The words crisp and crumble always speak to me of American desserts, yet, truth be told, the French are all over the crumble thing.  They're sold in many pâtisseries, and one can find books devoted solely to the subject of the crumble in librairies like Gibert Jeune et Librairie Gourmande in Paris.

I turned to my recipe binder from Pascal Pinaud's shop on rue Monge and resurrected a crumble recipe which calls for both almond and hazelnut flours (I was on a nut roll with this dessert).

A basic crumble is equal weights sugar, butter and flour.  You can add the same weight of a nut flour or even just chopped nuts.  The idea is to mix the dry ingredients, then sand in cold diced butter to create coarse crumbs.  For this batch I used 120 gm each sugar, butter and flour, plus a total of 120 gm of almond and hazelnut flours (I used 30 gm almond and 90 gm hazel - you can decide your own ratio).

les ingredients

bake it now or freeze it for later

Now you have a choice.  Your crumble can be baked ahead and used later as a crisp, buttery topping for whatever - a tart, a custard, some ice cream or fruit, or even your morning oatmeal.  Keeping the crumble separate and adding it as a topping just before serving keeps it from getting soggy.

Or you can bag up the raw mixture, freeze it and have it at the ready to simply throw on top of fruit, cake batter or anything else you can think of and bake it - it melts in a bit yet still provides a crispy baked topping to your dessert.

When I bake my crumble ahead, I do it at 350º for about 20 minutes, stirring it up every 5 minutes or so until lightly browned and set.

use a bench scraper to toss and separate the crumbs

all baked up


There is another option for a crumble which allows you to create coarser crumbs or even larger chunks to use as a garnish on a larger entremet type of dessert.  This one involves blending softened butter with sugar, then blending in the all purpose and nut flours, pretty much like a cookie dough.  Then shape the dough into a 1/2" (or so) thick square or round, cover and chill.  Then you can cut it or break it up into chunks and bake it as described above.  And they're not a bad pop-in-your-mouth snack either!

Now onto the fruit part.  So it's still winter, after all, but I was going for cherries and berries for this dessert.  That's the beauty of IQF (individually quick frozen) fruit that's available in the grocery stores all year round.

I have these great little square ramekins that I bought at Crate and Barrel some years back.  They hold just the right amount for a not too generous dessert portion.  To fill six of them I used 340 gm (12 oz) frozen pitted sweet cherries and about a cup and a half of mixed blueberries and raspberries.  I tossed them in a mixture of 85 gm (generous 1/3 cup) sugar, 10 gm (~ 1TBSP) cornstarch, the zest of half a lemon, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon coriander.  Topped with some pistachio crumble that I had in my freezer (told you I was on a nut kick), they're ready for the oven.

Bake at 325º for about 40-45 minutes until the crumble is lightly browned and the fruit is bubbly.

When it came time for dessert, I scooped some semifreddo onto the still warm fruit, sprinkled some hazelnut-almond crumble on top and drizzled a bit of caramel over it all.


So use your imagination and create your own composed dessert.  Having the contrast in textures (creamy, fruity, crunchy) and temperatures (warm and cool) is oh so wonderful.  And remember -  it doesn't have to be fussy, difficult or fancy - just tasty!