Culinary adventures are exciting, plunging into new territory with only a vague notion of what the final dish will look like or how it will taste, where the pitfalls are and what species of kitchen stupidity to avoid. Yet there are times when these explorations are too taxing. Last friday, recovering from a marathon month of exams, was once such occasion.
I was cooking for potluck picnic with my classmates in the anthropology of food. Not wishing to take risks among such discerning diners I turned to an old faithful, a dessert that exudes all that is lovely, plump, and juicy about summer. It is Ann Willan’s fresh fruit tart. With a sweet crust, rich almond filling, and mountain of glossy fruit, it is as gorgeous to the eye as to the palate. It is also wonderfully adaptable and you can ring the changes with any berries or stone fruits that are at their prime: strawberries, cherries, peaches and plums all work wonderfully. Once I made a version with nothing but a mound of wild northwest huckleberries, picked laboriously from the dark evergreen woods, where they grow best.
This time I opted for raspberries and blueberries (they were on a half price offer at the shop; sometimes economy trumps romance). As we were picnicking, I decided to go for a platter of mini tartlets instead of one big messy tart. Either way it is a winner.
Fresh Summer Fruit Tart
Adapted from Ann Willan’s wonderful cookbook From my Chateau Kitchen.
1½ c. flour
½ tsp. salt
½ c. sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
7 tbsp. butter
¼ c. butter
1/3 c. sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ c. ground almonds
3-4 c. sliced strawberries, other berries, or sliced stone fruit such as peaches, plums or a mixture or fruits.
Make the shell: Mix together flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour egg yolks and vanilla into the well. Dice the butter into large cubes, place between two large sheets of wax paper and pound to soften a little. Add pounded better to the well and mix with the egg yolks and vanilla to form a paste. Slowly add in surrounding flour until it comes together into a soft dough. Work as quickly as possible and don’t over work the dough. Form into a ball, wrap in wax paper and chill in fridge for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Roll out dough and press into a tart dish. Poke a few holes in pastry with a fork to prevent air bubbles while cooking. Press wax paper on top of pastry and blind bake for about 12 minutes or until hardened and slightly golden.
Meanwhile make the filling: beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until creamy. Beat in the eggs, then mix in the vanilla and ground almonds. When tart is blind baked, pour filling into shell and return to the oven for another 12 minutes or so until browned and firmer. Remove from oven and let cool. Top the filling with prepared fruit just before serving.