Provençal tomato tart

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Wow this was good! Steve and I enjoyed this freshly baked, slightly warm tomato tart along with grilled chicken and fresh green beans. A delicious late summer meal.

Since tomatoes are out in FORCE right now I decided to make this Provençal tart, ramping up the cheese to include both Swiss cave-aged gruyère and a crumbling type chevre from Pélussin France, located in the Loire department just south of Lyon. Once again, thanks to The Cheese Lady here in Grand Rapids MI for a great selection of cheeses.

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This tart is one of those things that you can play around with, changing up the herbs, the cheese, the amount of mustard, even the size and type of tomato. It’s a simple approach - a blind-baked pâte brisée crust, a schmear of Dijon mustard and a layer of grated cheese all topped with slices of garden fresh tomatoes seasoned with a little salt, pepper and your choice of herbs. I added some dabs of goat cheese on top just to give it that certain something. Then it all goes into the oven.

Let’s go through the steps OK?

First line the tart pan with tasty pâte brisée.

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Once lined and pricked all over with my trusty fork, I place the tart pan on a parchment lined sheet pan and freeze it for 15-20 minutes while heating the oven to 425ºF. Once firm, it makes it much easier to line it with a round of parchment and fill it with dried beans for blind baking.

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Now bake it on the lower rack for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400º, move it up to the middle rack and give it another 5 minutes. Take it out of the oven and remove the weights. The crust should be starting to set although the bottom will be a bit moist and doughy and will need a bit more baking to finish it off.

Pop it back into the oven without the weights and give it another 5-10 minutes until golden brown. I often decrease my oven temp to 375 for this step and, as usual, keep on eye on what’s happening in there.

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Decrease the oven temp to 350º. While the crust cools, thinly slice 2-3 fresh, ripe medium tomatoes, grate up a cup (about 4 ounces) of gruyère and have some Dijon mustard at the ready. I like to blend some regular Dijon with a nice coarse grainy mustard, 2-3 tablespoons total. Maille is a great brand and, if you’re in Paris, you can visit their wonderful shop right near Place de la Madeleine.

Spread a thin layer of mustard over the bottom of the cooled crust. I used 2 tablespoons since I like a more subtle mustard flavor, but you can certainly use more if you wish!

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Sprinkle the grated gruyère over it.

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Arrange your tomatoes in concentric circles, overlapping each slice. I also tucked in some halved orange and dark red cherry tomatoes for some additional color.

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It’s pretty traditional to finish off these tarts with salt, pepper, fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil before baking, but I went for an addition of crumbled goat’s cheese dotted over the tomatoes. Then some freshly grated black pepper, a pinch of two of salt, a sprinkling of herbes de provence and it’s ready to go into the oven.

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Bake it for about 20-25 minutes until the goat cheese is starting to brown, the tomatoes are starting to shrivel and the aroma is hitting your nostrils just so.

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The combo of nutty gruyère, warm fresh tomatoes, the tangy, creamy goat’s cheese and the perfect hint of mustard and herbs was absolutely delicious. Not only that, it’s très, très facile. You can do it!

This one’s a keeper, right Steve?

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Tarte au fromage blanc

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Continuing on with my baking with cheese series, this tarte au fromage blanc is the latest adventure - and a delicious adventure it was. One of my favorite tart books is Les Folles Tartes by Christophe Felder, one I purchased back in early 2011 in Paris. I've been eyeing his recipe for this particular tarte for some time now, and what better way to pursue it than to include it in the cheese project. Love it.

Heather Zinn, the proprietor of our local GR Cheese Lady shop was kind enough to order a full fat version of this cheese for me from Bellweather Farms in Sonoma County CA. It's a European style fresh cow's milk cheese, not unlike a creamy goat cheese, with a bit of tang and salt and is also referred to as "fresh farmer's cheese".

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I wasn't sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised at it's creaminess, spreadability and delicious dairy flavor straight out of the tub. Steve and I loved it on our favorite original Triscuit crackers, thinking it would only be enhanced by some herbs, a grind or two of black pepper and perhaps a little succulent fresh tomato. Yeah baby! 

I opted to use my standard pâte brisée which I blind baked first so as to avoid an under baked bottom crust once the filling was added and baked. This time I tried a new approach, one I gleaned from reading Thomas Keller's "Bouchon Bakery". It involves leaving an over hanging edge of dough around the tart ring, baking it as such and then eventually trimming off the excess dough after baking. The idea is to cut down on dough shrinkage during the bake. Pretty cool.

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Once the ring was lined, I popped it in the freezer on my parchment lined sheet pan for about 15-20 minutes while heating the oven. Then in goes a round of parchment and dried beans as weights and onto the bake. As you see below, I had a few cracks in the dough around the periphery but, when it came time to add the filling, I simply took some small pieces of raw dough and patched them. Okey-dokey.

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The filling is a straight forward blending of 400 g fromage blanc, 2 large egg yolks (2 whites comin' up!), a pinch of salt, 90 g cane sugar, 20 g flour, 100 g heavy cream, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, finished off by folding in the 2 whites that have been whisked until fluffy. I added my own zest of two lemons - it seemed so right with this cheese.

Have 50 g of cubed butter set aside to dot on the top of the filling before it all goes into the oven. (Notice my raw dough patches on the crust!)

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I decided to trim some of the dough over hang before the final bake - took my serrated knife and gently trimmed away.

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The cubed butter on top (seemed like a lot - I would reduce it next time!) . . . .

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a 45 minute bake at 375ºF . . . . et voilà!

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Pretty pouffy just out of the oven, but after a short time things calmed down and sunk, as a custard type filling is often wont to do. Kind of moonscape like, non?

Once fully cooled, I trimmed the flaky crust edges and eased this baby out of the tart ring. It can be served room temp, or in my case, it went into the fridge, covered, to chill and be served later.

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This was destined for dessert at cousin Jen and her husband Scott's lovely woodland home and, since we're deep into blueberry season, it only seemed right to whip up a quick blueberry sauce. A warm up in a saucepan of 2 cups blueberries, a couple of tablespoons of simple syrup, a teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in a tablespoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Once the juices release a bit, take half the blueberries, purée then strain and add the purée back into the remaining blueberries, cooking a few minutes to thicken. Easy and oh so good. Plus, I had some fresh raspberry purée in the fridge that was begging to be used.

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Some chose both the blueberry sauce and raspberry purée while others kept to a solo blueberry arrangement. All were topped with my homemade graham crumble for that just right added crunch.

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Creamy, just right lemon-y, fruity, berry-y and graham crunchy in a flaky just right crust. OH. SO. GOOD.

Yes, I would make this again.

Back to basics - pâte brisée

now THAT's flaky

In the wake of a tart class that I taught a few months back, when my apple tarts baked with pâte brisée came out soggy and under baked, I was determined to revisit the techniques involved in making this classic dough.

(SIDE NOTE:  in my defense the apple filling prepped by an eager culinary student was way too soupy, and the oven I used was not familiar to me, but I still felt the need for a refresher!)

Known to pie and tart bakers as flaky pie dough, pâte brisée can cause the most confident baker to question why, why, why doesn't this dough come out perfect EVERY time?!

Some years ago I compared a number of recipes and methods for pâte brisée and came away with a version that was delicious and seemed to be just the thing.  But since then, even though I've used the same recipe and technique every time, I've had my share of less than stellar results.  Maybe it's just me, eh?

I proceeded to look at recipes from Christophe Felder (one of my favorite tart makers) and Thomas Keller of French Laundry/Bouchon Bakery fame.  In addition I obtained the recipe that the bakers at Nonna Cafe in Ada use (I've had their quiche many times and the crust is always deeelish!).  The last addition to my test quartet was the recipe I've been using for years.

Truth be told, many pâte brisée recipes are very similar, but what intrigued me about these four was the difference in ratios of butter to flour, how much water is added and how the ingredients are brought together.

Here we go!

Pâte brisée is simply flour, cold butter, salt and ice water ( some recipes add a bit of sugar too).  In the photo below I've provided the amounts of butter and flour for each of the four recipes. From left to right you see the following ratios:  Felder (CF): butter:flour at 1:2; Keller (TK) 1:1.35; me (SV): 1:1.44; Nonna (N): 1:1.18 (getting much closer to 1:1!).

In this test I'm using Challenge unsalted butter, made in California with the claim that it is from cows not treated with growth hormone rbST.  I've been using it for some months now and it's good.




I've discovered over the years, working with various tart and shortbread doughs, that the closer the weight of butter gets to the weight of flour in the dough (butter weight is typically about 2/3 flour weight), the more tender and delectable the end result.

At any rate, this promised to be interesting.

Below are the four finished doughs with all ingredient amounts listed.  The Felder recipe makes a larger quantity than the other three, but you can still appreciate the ingredient ratios.

Just a note - the TK, SV and N recipes are typically double (enough for two 9" tarts or pies) what I note below.  I made smaller recipes for testing purposes.




So how are these all put together, you might ask?

I've always followed the "flaking" method when making pâte brisée by hand.  This involves working pieces of cold butter into the flour and salt, purposely leaving large "flakes" or flat pieces of butter in the mixture.  Cold water is then added in increments and mixed lightly and quickly until the dough holds together.  The dough is then wrapped and chilled before rolling it out for use.

Here are the differences in technique for the other three doughs.

Felder calls for soft butter to which is added the salt, sugar and flour.  The mixture is sanded by hand to coarse crumbs, then 120 gm ice water is added and mixed gently until the dough comes together.  The amount of water to flour is much higher in his recipe.  He claims that this dough holds very well after baking, doesn't soften and is great for juicy fruit fillings.

Keller's method involves mixing half the flour with the salt, adding butter pieces on low speed in a mixer until NO butter is visible.  Then on med-low speed the remaining flour is added, followed by the water.  Mix until just combined, wrap and chill.

Nonna's dough is made with a food processor, although I chose to sand the butter in by hand.  Place the flour and salt in the bowl, pulse in the cold, diced butter to achieve coarse crumbs, then add the ice water and pulse just until it comes together.  Wrap and chill.

All just a little bit different!

Once the four doughs were chilled I rolled them out to make 80 mm filled and baked blueberry tarts and blind baked and filled lemon tarts.

destined for blueberry tarts

Here's what I observed when rolling these doughs.

The Felder dough, even after a good chill, felt weirdly spongy and soft (NOT in a good way).  It was sticky and didn't hold its shape well when lining the ring.

The Keller dough was smooth, firm and tight, rolled beautifully and held very nicely when lining the ring.

My SV dough felt a bit rougher and drier than the others, although rolled well and held when lining the ring.

The Nonna dough felt soft (in a good way) - not too wet, not too dry- rolled nicely and held well when lining the ring.

I popped the lined rings into the freezer to firm up before baking.

First the blueberry tarts.  I sprinkled some fine, dry bread crumbs in the bottom of the tart shells - this is meant to create a barrier between the filling and the crust to help reduce the chance for sogginess.

Then I filled each with fresh blueberries that were tossed in a little lemon juice, sugar and flour ( for four 80 mm tarts I used a generous 3 cups of berries with 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice, 4 - 6 tablespoons sugar (or to taste) and 2 tablespoons of flour).

Heat the oven to 425 F.

ready for the oven

I gave these 5 minutes then decreased the oven temp to 400 F.  Continue baking another 20-25 minutes or so until the berries are bubbly and the crust is nicely browned.

all baked and bubbly

I sprinkled vanilla sugar atop the blueberry tarts once out of the oven.

I also rolled out some scraps of each dough to bake all by themselves. I wanted to see how they puffed and tasted sans filling.


a sprinkle of vanilla sugar before baking

nicely browned

It's a bit difficult to see from the photo above, but all of the scrap pieces puffed up nicely, except the Felder dough.

the Nonna dough - nice!

Now for the blind baked tarts with oven temp at 400 F.

the lined rings

Freeze the lined rings for 10-15 minutes then fill with parchment rounds and dry beans.

weighted down and ready to bake

Bake with weights for 15 minutes, remove weights and bake an additional 5-8 minutes until nicely browned.  Always pay attention to what's going on inside your oven!!

all baked up

All four doughs held their shape pretty well during baking with the usual amount of shrinkage away from the rings.

After reducing the oven temp to 300 F I filled them with my current favorite lemon filling and baked  them until the filling was set, about 10-15 minutes.

Check out my post from 2/16/16 on lemon-lime tart.

out of the oven and cooling

Now for the tasting.  Steve was on hand for the event, my ever present tasting guru.

First the blueberry.




I realize you can't appreciate the difference in the doughs visually, but the first thing I checked was how they all felt when portioning them with a serrated knife, followed by how easily they cut with a fork.

Felder's crust was tough, both when slicing with a knife and when cutting with a fork.  It was chewy in the mouth, was not flaky or tender and the flavor was dull.  No thanks.

Keller's cut very easily with both knife and fork, was tender and crisp with a pleasant and agreeable flavor.

Mine was just a tad resistant to cutting compared to Keller's, slightly less tender but crisp in the mouth with good flavor.

Nonna's cut easily with great flavor and texture.

All of the above observations held when tasting the plain baked scraps of dough.  Felder's was chewy and tough, broke apart with a bend rather than a crisp snap without any flakiness.  The other three were flaky, crisply tender and delicious.

When cutting and tasting the lemon tarts, the same observations held true. (Love that lemon filling!)




Felder was the obvious loser.  However the other three were all good, leaving me with the question - now what?!

As if you haven't already had enough, I decided to do just a bit more reading and research and came upon one more technique that sounded promising.  I'll credit this one to Kristen Rosenau who writes the blog "Pastry Affair" (http://www.pastryaffair.com).

First I tweaked my recipe (it's coming at the end, I promise!) by increasing the butter to bring the butter:flour ratio to 1:1.25 (in between TK and N).

In Kristen's by-hand method she takes half of the diced cold butter and sands it into the flour and salt.  Then she adds the other half of the butter in larger diced pieces and "flakes" them, leaving flat pieces of butter visible.

Add the ice water incrementally and once the dough holds together, turn it out onto a piece of parchment or plastic wrap.  There may very well be some crumbly pieces at the edges.  Don't worry.




Using the plastic wrap as an aid, fold the dough in three.


looks a little rough and tumble

Flatten and turn it 90 degrees then fold in three again (basically a rustic version of puff pastry).




Flatten, wrap and chill for a good hour or more.

I then performed the same steps as with the quartet of doughs already described, making a filled and baked blueberry tart, a blind baked and filled lemon tart and baking a piece of the dough all by itself.


ready for the oven

bubbly and browned

nicely browned
lemony goodness

Of course while the blueberry and lemon tarts were cooling, I just had to snitch a taste of the plain crust - YUM!  Tender, flaky and all around delicious.

Once they were cooled, Steve and I tasted the blueberry and lemon versions and found the crust to be wonderfully tender, flaky and buttery.

And, to top it off, they were still delicious the next day!  I like that.

So here's my version that I intend to use from this day forward.

Pâte brisée (makes approximately 645 gms of dough, MORE than enough for two 9" tarts; just freeze what you don't need)

325 grams all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
OPT: one tablespoon granulated sugar
260 grams cold, unsalted butter (1/2 small-dice, 1/2 large-dice)
60 ml (4 tablespoons) ice cold water

Mix the flour, salt and sugar (if using) in a large bowl.

Sand in the small-dice butter with your finger tips to achieve coarse crumbs.

Flake in the large-dice butter leaving flat, largish pieces in the mixture.

Add 1/2 the water, toss with a fork then toss and gently squeeze with your hands.  Add additional water by tablespoon until the dough holds together.

NOTE:  if your dough still seems dry and too crumbly to hold together (as it might on a cold, dry winter's day), continue to add additional tablespoons as needed but don't exceed 120 ml (8 tablespoons).

Place the dough onto a piece of parchment or plastic wrap; using the wrap as an aid, flatten the dough and fold into thirds.  Turn 90 degrees, flatten and fold in thirds again.  Flatten, wrap and chill for at least an hour or overnight.

If you don't intend to use the dough for a couple of days, freeze it.

Freeze well wrapped for up to 2 months.  A day before you wish to use it remove it from the freezer and place in the fridge to thaw overnight.

While this may not have been the most scientific of studies, it was indeed illuminating.  I love experimenting and learning, especially when I get to work with dough.  Yeah.

Have lots of fun folks!!






Lemon-lime tart

As I mentioned in a recent post on fresh fruit tarts, I had a blind-baked pâte brisée shell in my freezer just waiting to be filled.  I was thinking lemon.

Before the Christmas holidays I had purchased a bunch of Meyer lemons, regular lemons and limes to use as table decor as well as to have on hand for baking. Since I had way more fruit on hand than I would use up efficiently, I proceeded to zest it, freeze the zest, juice the whole lot and freeze the juice too. Always on the prowl for the perfect lemon tart, I tried to track down the recipe for Jacques Genin's famous tarte au citron. I found a couple of recipe versions online as well as a video of Jacques himself preparing said tarte.  Unfortunately the video did NOT include the specific ingredient portions.  Oh well.

Update! I subsequently got my hands on his book on lemon tarts compliments of a student who was in one of my classes at Sur La Table. It’s small, in French and includes many versions of citrus tart. It’s great! But alas very difficult to get one’s hands on in the USA.

While his tart is made with limes, I opted for a lemon-lime combo. I already had my blind-baked crust.

The lemon-lime filling is made with 3 large eggs, 170 grams sugar, 180 ml juice (half lemon, half lime for me), zest of 6 fruits (Meyer lemon, lemon and lime combo for me) and 200 grams butter.

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a saucepan, add the zest and juice and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture starts to thicken and is just short of boiling (I took it to ~83º C).  You should start seeing fine little bubbles forming around the edges and steam starting to rise up.

Remove it from the heat and blend the butter in with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy.

Since my crust had been in the freezer, I took it out about 30 minutes ahead and warmed it in a 325ºF oven for about 5 minutes.

One approach to a lemon tart is to make the curd, chill it and then fill the blind baked shell with the already chilled curd. Then it goes back into the fridge for additional chilling. Another is to fill the shell with the warm curd, cover the surface with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in the fridge to chill. Even another is to fill the warm shell with the warm curd and put it in the oven at 300-325ºF for about 10 minutes to further "set " the filling.

That's what I did with this one.

before the oven

after the oven

Believe me - the number of ways to approach a lemon tart is as many as the number of lemon tart recipes you'll find out there.  Yes, it's true.  I've tried 'em all (almost).

Once the tart cooled to room temp, I popped it (covered) in the fridge overnight.

We taste tested it the following day as our luncheon dessert at cousin Jen Galloway's house in the woods.  Oh how creamy, tart and lemony it was.  And the pâte brisée crust was PERFECT with it.

Another winner!

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!