Fresh fruit tarts in January

There's something so attractive about fresh fruits arranged on a layer of vanilla pastry cream, nestled in a lovely tart crust.  A feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.

Recently I received an order for a fresh fruit tart with a request for kiwi and berries.  Typically I use a 1-2-3  cookie-type dough (similar to shortbread dough in the ratio of sugar, butter and flour with some egg and vanilla added in).

But . . . . I had some pâte brisée dough in my freezer and decided to do a comparison between that and the usual 1-2-3.

I don't normally blind bake pâte brisée, but this time I lined 9" tart rings and smaller rings with each of the two doughs, primarily so I'd have something I could sample and compare.

Notice in the photo below how the pâte brisée edge is not as sharp and pristine.  It's an ongoing battle with that dough - trying to keep its shape, avoid shrinkage and have a nice looking end result.

Two things that help when working with pâte brisée are making sure the dough is nice and relaxed before lining the tart form and then freezing the dough in the form before baking.

Keep trying, right?

blind baked pâte brisée

small version of blind baked 1-2-3 dough

larger 1-2-3 version for the ordered tart

I filled the above shell with vanilla bean pastry cream lightened with a bit of whipped cream and topped with fruit.  As seen below on the left, I typically do a little fruit "practice" before placing it on the finished tart.

I added in some mango slivers to give a bit of contrasting color to the kiwi and berries.

getting ready for final assembly

et voila!

As for the smaller versions with the two different doughs, I just randomly topped the pastry cream with some of the fruit leftover from the order, not being concerned about the artistry.  I wanted to know how the two crusts compared taste wise.

the taste tester tarts

The left side is the 1-2-3 and the right the pâte brisée.

Somehow they were switched around for the "cut" pictures.

pâte brisée on left and 1-2-3 on right

While you can't really see a difference in the two doughs photographically, the taste experience was definitely one for comparison.  And to top it off, I stored these babies in the fridge for a day before we ate them.

Both were delicious, although Steve and I agreed that the pâte brisée taste and texture (crispy yet tender and oh so good) outshone the 1-2-3.  They both held up well after their refrigerator day - good to know when planning dessert.

Pâte brisée is now on my hit list of doughs to use for blind baked shells.  The 9 inch-er that I baked for this test went into the freezer for a couple of days after which I used it for a delicious lemon tart.

More on that later.

All in all an enjoyable comparison!

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!