Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Tarts

Lately I've been making a lot of Monets.

No, I haven't taken up impressionist painting. I mean "Monets" in the Clueless sense of the word. Desserts that look amazing, but upon closer inspection--or tasting--leave something to be desired. This is tragic for a number of reasons--wasted hours and ingredients, for instance--but the biggest disappointment is that I'm left with pictures that I love, and a lackluster recipe to go with it. I couldn't possibly post the duds, right?

But then I thought, wait. Why should delicious desserts have all the fun? Shouldn't there be a place in our blogging world for the runners-up, the wannabes, the mediocre Monets? Of course!

I present A Tale of Two Tarts.

First up: Fresh Fig Tart with Rosemary Cornmeal Crust and Lemon Mascarpone Cream

As Dickens so eloquently wrote, it was the best of tarts, it was the worst of tarts. It was the tastiest of toppings, it was the grossest of crusts and fillings. A true literary and culinary genius, that Chuck Dickens.

I was gifted with a bounty of fresh figs, and after eating about a pound of them straight from the bag, decided to turn them into a tart. I don't always love the pulpy texture of cooked figs, so I decided to make a tart that used fresh figs instead. This recipe seemed perfect. The unique crust recipe called for fresh rosemary and cornmeal, and the filling was a mix of mascarpone cream, sour cream, and lemon zest. Fresh figs were sliced on top and finished with a light glaze.

I don't want to totally pan this recipe because I think it has potential. The crust was way too savory for me. I felt like I should scrape out the cream and serve it with chili. I think the idea of adding rosemary is good, but next time I would add some chopped rosemary to a traditional pate sucree recipe, to get the flavor without sacrificing a tender pastry. The cream was also a problem. I used homemade mascarpone, which was a bit stiffer than store-bought, so I had to work it to loosen it and it ended up breaking. Completely my fault, but it still wasn't so appetizing to have curdled cream inside a taco shell-esque crust, topped by fresh figs. Uh, yum?

Tart the second: David Lebovitz's Chez Panisse Almond Tart

My very first pastry job was at a bakery where we made a very similar almond tart, so I had all sorts of warm snuggly nostalgic feelings as I was making this tart. There's something comforting about the simplicity of a buttery crust, crunchy almonds, and chewy, creamy caramel holding it all together. What could go wrong?

Well, you could overbake the tart, for one thing. Make sure you forget to set the timer and lose track of how long it's been in the oven. Then grow paranoid that it's underbaked and you'll be serving raw tart to your guests (yes, you've invited guests to "enjoy" this tart) so bake it an extra 10 minutes, for good luck.

Then serve the tart with honey-vanilla ice cream, preferably on top of each slice, so the cold ice cream can make the caramel harden and become impossible to cut or bite through. Now sit back and watch your guests try their hardest to gracefully eat their slices.

Neither one of these recipes was a true disaster, and I do think that I'll make them again. I'm older, wiser, and know not to follow the cornmeal crust recipe, or overwork my mascarpone, or lose track of the time the almond tart has been in the oven. I mean, tarts this beautiful deserve to taste as good as they look, right?

Coming up next: mini tarts that are total Baldwins.*

*I fear the Clueless lexicon is perhaps not entirely appropriate for food writing.


  1. Anonymous4:05 PM

    Not everything can be a winner, right? My desserts certainly aren't all winners. I'm laughing at the caramel hardening with the cold ice cream - I hope no one had a loose filling!

  2. At least the photos are great! Thanks for giving us a chance to appreciate them.

  3. LOL- that's one of my favorite movies! Beautiful pics, though!

  4. Love the Clueless refernces, I've got the soundtrack playing in my head now! Your Monets look amazing! The second tart sounds like it actually tasted good apart from being a dental hazard :)

  5. Even your failures look mouth-watering! :P

    Can't wait to see your re-worked versions of these!

  6. Those are too beautiful to be bad, but it happens I guess. Excited to see revamped when finished.

  7. i've eaten the chez panisse almond tart but fear the recipe is out of my league. it looks delicious!