Tart. Besides using it to describe a promiscuous woman (something Grandma might have thought but of course, never said, especially to Grandpa because he would have turned to look) or using it to describe something acidic, sour or sharp tasting, a tart is an open, flat pastry with either no sides or sides that are vertical. There is also no top on it. Hmmm. So in theory you could have a tart tart made by a tart. Tarts are similar to pies except the sides of a pie are angled and there is often a top on the pie, there is rarely a top on a tart (the pastry). There are savory pies such as Chicken Pot Pie, Cheese and Potato Pie and hand-sized Meat Pies, and a plethora of sweet pies. There are also Pizza Pies but that is a whole other story. Enough about pies.
Tarts can be small (Amuse Bouche, Hors D’oeuvres), medium (plated appetizers sometimes referred to as Tartlets), or large (cut into individual servings). Tarts can also be either savory or sweet. Tarts can be served warm, room-temperature, or cold. The pastry is sometimes precooked (also known as blind-baked) and then filled, or the fillings can be put in to the unbaked pastry shell and then everything is baked together. I include tarts on the menu in most of my classes, whether Kids, Teen or Adult Cooking Classes. I have even done a Summer Baking Camp for Kids where one full day was devoted to preparing Tart Dough and a variety of Tarts.
Tarts can be fussy or rustic. Fancy tarts are beautiful to behold. The pastry has been carefully formed into the fluted tart pan, the ingredients purposefully placed in a particular pattern, and the tart has often been glazed to a smooth and shiny sheen. Some popular savory tarts we have made in classes include Leek, Crab and Brie Tarts; Bacon, Scallop and Salmon Tarts; Wild Mushroom Tarts; and Sautéed Tomato, Zucchini and Basil Tarts. On the sweet side nothing can compare to a Chocolate and Raspberry Tart, although now that I think about it Key Lime Tarts and the famous Tarte Tatin are right there on the podium.
To me the key to a good tart is the pastry; just enough should be there to get the filling to your mouth. There are the classic Pate Brisee–suitable for savory tarts and Pate Sablee–perfect for sweet tarts. These two pastry doughs are easy enough to put together, requiring only flour, salt, butter and water for the former and flour, sugar, butter, egg and vanilla for the latter. The issue arises when it is time to roll them out. It does take a bit of practice and can be frustrating when your pastry crumbles.
Another option is what is called Tart Dough, developed by my good friend Bob Beaudry when he was a pastry chef in the DC area. It is flexible, fixable and fun to make, because it works every time. There are three kinds of fat in the dough and this recipe makes enough for three 9 inch tarts, so don’t be put off by the amount of butter. I divide the dough by weight to get three evenly-sized portions. The amount of cream is a bit variable as different types of flour have varying moisture contents. I use a stand mixer with a paddle to make this dough and add the cream a little at a time, stopping the machine when the dough begins to collect on the paddle. When I roll it out, I work with as little flour as possible to keep it from sticking to the counter. If the dough gets coated with too much flour it makes it harder to “fix” the pastry, as it won’t adhere to itself. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can cut the butter in by hand and then form the dough with the eggs and cream in a bowl. Happy baking!
This dough freezes well for several months when wrapped tightly.
1 pound all purpose flour
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
3 egg yolks
Heavy whipping cream
Method: Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter and using the paddle attachment, stir the mixture until there are no more large chunks of butter. The mixture should look grainy. Add the egg yolks to the bowl and put the mixer on stir. Slowly add a little cream to the bowl. Keep adding a little cream to the mixer until the dough begins to attach to the paddle. There should be very few crumbs left in the bowl. Divide the dough into three even balls and wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or longer. Use as desired.