You often hear there are two types of people in the world: givers and takers; dreamers and realists; savers and spenders; doers and dawdlers; and, in these trying times, winners and losers.
I think the culinary world might divide along the lines of those who bake pies and those who bake tarts. It’s the latter camp into which I fall. We won’t dwell on the unresolved trauma of bringing to a handful of holiday tables seemingly perfect pies that revealed themselves upon slicing to be best served in soup bowls. The simplicity of a single crust and the forgiving quality of many tart recipes have made me a firm believer.
At the height of summer, it’s hard to beat a quick, rustic tart. Roll out the pasta frolla below into a rough 12 to 14-inch circle and place on a sturdy baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then mound with 3 cups of prepared fresh fruit tossed with sugar and a few tablespoons of sifted flour or cornstarch, lap the edges of the dough over the fruit, toward the center, and bake 35 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees until the crust is golden brown. Cool before slicing. The fruit and juices will run, and no one will care. Lavish on ice or whipped cream to serve.
For a more elegant end to a meal, try this Sicilian treat featuring fresh stone fruit, a creamy custard, and a rich, sweet dough. I’ve been making variations of this dessert since I read of it in “La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio” many years ago. The dough for this version is less sweet than the renowned Tornabene’s recipe, and it envelopes the fruit in the pastry cream, rather than layering on top along with preserves after baking.
Torta alla Frutta
For the Pasta Frolla:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 stick (8 tbsp) cold butter
- 2 egg yolks
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/4 cup ice water, approximately
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest, optional
Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into thin slices, letting it fall into the bowl, then, using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until mixture resembles a lumpy cornmeal. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and vinegar, lemon zest if desired, and cut this into the mixture too. Then working gently and starting with 1/4 cup, add just enough ice water until the mixture is moistened and holds together. Knead briefly, form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least a half hour before gently rolling out on a floured surface into a roughly 12-inch circle.
For the fruit:
You’ll want up to 3 cups of stone fruit, whatever suits your fancy. The fresh cherries cropping up (sorry) in the produce aisle are hard to resist; I grabbed a large sack recently and experienced only a tinge of regret when at home I checked the grocery receipt. I have made this tart with fresh peaches and nectarines but also, full disclosure, canned apricots well-drained of their syrup. Should you try this, purchase halves you can slice as you like.
Be sure to rinse cherries well. Did you know you can remove the pits with a chopstick? Fun tricks you can learn, via the internet. Some sites say to place the cherry on top of a wine bottle and poke the pit through with the chopstick. I just held the cherry in my hand. Whatever your pleasure, the tart can accommodate roughly 3 cups of pitted and peeled, if desired, fruit, and a small amount of accumulated juice.
For the Crema Pasticciera:
- 4 cups milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup tablespoons corn starch
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons room temperature butter, optional
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, place egg yolks and sugar in a medium-sized bowl and beat well, until light yellow in color. Beat in the corn starch. Temper the egg mixture by beating in the simmering milk very slowly, a few tablespoons at a time at first. Keep the mixer running at low-medium speed throughout. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Avoid scooping up any bits of the mixture that have attached to the side of the bowl. Over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, bring the pastry cream to a boil. Boil two minutes, then remove from the heat. The mixture will be quite thick. To stop the cooking, scoop out the pastry cream to a large bowl, again avoiding what might have scorched on the bottom. Stir in 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. If desired, enrich the pastry cream with the butter. Stir in well and set aside.
To assemble and bake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and line the bottom of a 10-inch tart pan with a circle of parchment paper. Butter the paper also and dust lightly with flour. Fit the pastry dough into the pan. Trim to even and neaten the edge as you desire, or loosely pinch or fold the edges decoratively.
Give the pastry cream a good stir. It should be still warm though not hot. Add the prepared fruit and mix well. Spoon evenly into the prepared pastry shell. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and protect the edge with a circle of heavy aluminum foil or crust shield. Bake on the middle rung of the oven for approximately 40 minutes. At that point, remove the foil or shield and bake another 5 to 10 minutes. Remove tart from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Cover with foil or wrap, then refrigerate for several hours before serving. Top each slice with whipped cream or a sifting of powdered sugar if desired.