Sunday, October 03, 2010

Tarts Worth Writing About

I've had a few summer posts lurking around waiting to be completed, and now that it's October the time for fresh berry desserts has almost passed! Quickly, quickly now...

It all started with a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city. Or rather...

A sweet pistachio tart crust in a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city.

A light and luscious lemon cream in a sweet pistachio tart crust in a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city.

Soft, ripe berries on a light and luscious lemon cream in a sweet pistachio tart crust in a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city.

And best of all, some good friends to help us eat the soft, ripe berries on a light and luscious lemon cream in a sweet pistachio tart crust in a new kitchen in a new apartment in a new city!

When we had our housewarming party a month (...or two...) ago I made these cute mini tarts to celebrate. At the time, they fit the season perfectly: light, fresh, vibrant as the summer sunshine. Now it's a bit harder to find good berries at the market, but the tart dough and cream can still be made, and they could be topped with candied citrus peel, pomegranate seeds, or caramelized nuts.

Honestly, making these in mini muffin tins is a pain. The dough goes from rock-hard to super-soft in a matter of minutes, so it's a constant race between the table, the fridge, and the freezer. They have to be gently rolled and cut and pressed and trimmed and chilled and baked and then ever so gently coaxed out of the tins without shattering--my personal obstacle--and if you're like me and you only have two tins, you're ensnared in this process all morning and wondering what the heck is wrong with a full-sized tart anyways?

But really, I didn't mind. No, really. Because these tarts were about more than taking a good picture or having a cute centerpiece. The time I spent making these, rolling and scraping and pressing and nibbling on dough, in my pjs with flour in my hair, I had a heart full of gratitude. For our new apartment, for our old friends, for the luxury of time to make the tarts--to spend hours on stupid miniature crusts!--and for the money to buy fresh berries. I kept thinking how lucky I was, in this life.

It was all connected. And it turned what could have been a chore--what, too often, IS a chore in my overscheduled head--into an exercise in seeing the beauty and blessings in the world. And that is why these tarts are worth writing about, no matter what season it is.

Sweet Pistachio Tart Dough

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground pistachios (I like roasted & salted)
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6.75 oz very cold butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, ground nuts, confectioners' sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely. Add the egg yolk and process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough just starts forming clumps. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Luscious Lemon Cream

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart"

1 cup sugar
zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Put the sugar and zest in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. Whisk constantly until it's thick, opaque, and the whisk leaves tracks. This might take 10-15 minutes to get to 180 F.

As soon as it reaches 180F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of a blender. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add the butter a few chunks at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going for 3 minutes. Although it will look blended before then, this extended whipping will give it a light, mousse-like texture.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight. When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell.

To assemble the tarts

Spray mini muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 F. Dust a work station with flour and divide the tart dough in thirds. Keep two-thirds of it in the fridge and work with one third at a time. Roll it out very thinly on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Since we are making mini tarts the crust should be delicate and thin so it doesn't overwhelm the filling.

Use a large circular cutter to cut circles of tart dough--mine were about 3" wide. Gently lift the circles from the table and, one at a time, press them into the mini muffin cavities. Use a sharp knife or an offset spatula to trim the top and get a fairly smooth edge--it won't be perfect, but after they're baked they'll look fine. Freeze the first mini muffin tray while you form the second. If your dough gets too soft to work with, re-roll it and put it back in the freezer while you work with one of the chilled rounds in the fridge.

Once one of the muffin tins in the freezer is frozen, bake off the shells until they're light brown, about 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway throughout. Let them cool in the tins before attempting to remove, then gently slide them out and let them cool completely.

Fill with lemon cream (I found a pastry bag was easiest for this purpose) and top with season fruit or nuts.


  1. Your tarts look wonderful. It's well past berry time for us in the Toronto area, but this recipe is worth holding onto until next summer.

  2. Those tarts look absolutely wonderful. Sometimes it is all worth the effort. And the luscious lemon cream.. *drool*

  3. Hey Liz, The tarts look gorgeous! In New Zealand... we have these things called, um... Mince Tart presses? Something like that... Anyhow we make Christmas Fruit Mince Tarts a lot, and these little presses are made out of wood shaped into the right size for both mini and average muffin pans... They make life loads easier! :) [--> Kind of shape... Have a look around, maybe they have something similar in CA? LOVE!

  4. Wow! These look fantastic. That lemon cream is delicious. - mary

  5. Hey! There are 3 cute people in that photo that I'm proud to say I know ... Seth, Jane & Ryan!! I'm always admiring your cooking & blogging. Are you doing French Fridays with Dorie?

  6. KitKat: that sounds like another reason I MUST make my way over to New Zealand! (By the way, where are you in NZ? My brother lived in Auckland for a few years. He came home with all sorts of crazy slang.)

    Frolicking Night Owl: That's crazy! What a small world it is sometimes. :) For whatever reason I really only enjoy photographing and writing about desserts--even though I do like cooking--so I decided to pass on French Fridays with Dorie. I feel a bit left out, though. :P

  7. I live in Wellington (the capital)... But I come from Hawke's Bay, which is half Way up the East side of the North Island... :)

  8. These are so pretty! I love making tarts; now I have a great new recipe.

  9. Liz- what the heck?!! I just read your comment on my cinnamon rolls post. How funny- I didn't know you were, either. Though, if I would've seen this group pic of your friends before your comment, I might've guessed (long shorts are a giveaway). haha! Where in LA do you guys live? My husband and I met in LA1...

  10. We're lucky to have you as a friend, E! And not just because you're an amazing chef! We miss not seeing you as often.