We love our buttery vessels, but the difference between pies and tarts can get confusing. A flaky crust makes for delicious pies and savory quiches, but sweet tarts- the sort you’d find expertly adorned with fresh raspberries and a touch of glaze-are made from a different sort of crust. The French call this dough pate sucree, or sweet dough, for its ingredients and technique are are not unlike that of sweet shortbread cookie.
Pies are defined by their flaky texture; their chaotic layers are defined by tiny pieces of fat cutting through tender webs of barely-worked dough, creating stratas of perfectly peel able, shattering edges that crisp up delicately to house blueberries, apples sliced or mounds of peaches. Tarts, on the other hand, offer a more civilized, orderly contrast to the shattering layers of a flaky pie. Tarts call for butter, a bit of sugar, maybe an egg, (maybe not), and flour, all worked together just enough to make it smooth and quick to press evenly into a shallow tart pan and deliver a buttery, smooth vessel for the custards and mousses to shine.
The secrets of a great tart, from crust to finish, are simple:
- Start with cold butter and don’t cream too much. You don’t need a super fluffy mixture here.
- If the dough is too sticky to press into a tart pan, pop it in the freezer for a few minutes.
- Thin is in! A thick crust in a shell will taste doughy instead of crisp and buttery. Be sure to make press the dough as thin as you can without showing any metal through.
- Corners are key. Make sure that the corners where the sides and bottom of your tart dough meet are squared off. If there is so much dough that your dough slopes down into the bottom of the pan, you’ll have a raw, doughy first bite into your slice (doesn’t everyone start eating from the outside in)?
- If you dough has egg in it, be sure to dock the bottom with a fork before baking. Eggs have loads of water in them, which produce steam, and can make the bottom puff up in baking instead of laying flat.
- Use plenty of salt. Boring crusts make for lackluster vessels for your divine fillings.
- Glazes are jammin’. The best way to get a thin, shiny glaze over your fruit on a fruit tart is by warming up your favorite jam or preserves and brushing it over the berries. Don’t be tempted by glaze recipes with gelatin in them (it makes for a clumpy mess- you may have seen this aberration in the pastry case at the grocery store).
- If you tart is ugly, make a meringue and spoon it over your fillings. Torch.
Last but not least, check out our tart recipes and three different crust options. Choose from Alice Medrich’s divine press-in crust, the super-versatile pate sucree and its chocolate variation. Mix and match with custards, ice creams or curds and top with anything from fresh fruit to whipped cream or meringue for an epic finish.
p.s. You may come across a few recipes asking you to make a flaky tart crust. Go ahead and make it, but know that you’re making pie.
FRENCH FRUIT TART
Alice Medrich’s Perfect Butter Tart Crust
|5 ounces||140g||Salted butter|
|1/4 tsp||Almond extract (optional)|
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Melt the butter and cool for a few minutes.
- Mix the sugar, salt and flour in a medium bowl. Pour the butter over the flour mixture and mix with a fork until just combined.
- Press into an 8″ or 9″ tart pan, cleaning up the edges at the top with a swiping motion of your thumb. Bake until golden brown (a bit like a like golden honey color). Set aside to cool.
|1 Tbsp + 1 tsp||Corn or potato starch|
|2 tsps||Vanilla extract (or seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean)|
- Warm up the milk in a medium saucepan (the thicker the pot, the better) over medium-low.
- While the milk is warming, place the yolks, sugar, starch and vanilla in a bowl and whisk until light.
- Grab a cup or a ladle, start whisking your egg mixture and slowly pour in the warm milk, whisking the whole time, until you’ve added most of it in. Now return the whisk to the pot, and while whisking over low heat, slowly pour the egg mixture into the pot.
- Keep whisking! Your custard will begin to thicken, and once it does to the consistency of a pudding, pour the custard out into a bowl or rimmed cookie sheet and let cool.
|2 baskets||Assorted berries|
|1/4 cup||Apricot or strawberry jam|
- Bring the water and jam to a boil. Stir cook for 30 more seconds. Pour through a strainer into a bowl and set aside.
- Spoon the pastry cream into the tart crust and chill in the freezer for a few minutes.
- Get your berries ready! Arrange them in any pattern of your choosing over the chilled pastry cream. Gently spoon or brush the jam over the berries for a shiny glaze.