Monday, January 16, 2006

Tinkering with Tarts

Tarts have a special place in the hearts of both chef's and home cooks alike. They are elegant, visually stunning, and can be filled with a myriad of delightful fillings for any season. Lacking the top crust of their rustic cousin the pie, the filling is open to display the wonders of the flavors within. And lets be honest, tarts make it possible to prepare 16 deserts at once. This is a time saving remedy that I utilize for both my restaurant menu and dinner parties. When preparing for a dinner party, the ability to prepare the dessert in one stroke, even the day before, is a god send.

Pictured here is my latest menu addition, a baked orange tart. The filling is made with 2 and a half cups of fresh squeezed orange juice that has been reduced to 3/4 of a cup. This concentrated orange flavor is mixed with zest, sugar, and eggs and baked just enough. The crust is perfumed with a hint of orange flower water to compliment the tangy orange in the filling. A slice of the tart is served simply with a rich vanilla bean anglaise for a desert that brings back memories of a creamsicle.

One thing has plagued me through out my various tart endeavors. They never look like the picture. I have had the hardest time getting the crust to be perfectly even all the way around. Inevitably, part of the dough will shrink during baking, creating a low lip in the crust. Then, to avoid the filling spilling out,the shell can only be filled to the lowest point leaving a portion of the shell raised and uneven.

I know, it's not a huge deal. Especially when you cut the tart into portions and no one will ever know of the tarts original "wabi sabi". But just as wabi sabi, or beauty in imperfection, (not a green firey paste), is the Japanese interpretation of aesthetics, perfection is the western interpretation. Within these western roots of mine I am bonded.

When I flipped through Gordon Ramsey's dessert book, I found a technique for a perfectly level tart shell. "Rejoice!" I thought, perfectly even tarts, here I come!

The method is simple. Roll the tart dough out 2 inches larger than the diameter of the tart pan to be used. Transfer the dough to the pan, centering it. Rather than trimming the dough and shaping it against the edge of the tart pan, gently fold it over the rim of the pan, letting the edges sit against the outside of the tart pan and rest on the parchment lined sheet pan sitting below.

Bake the tart shell with the overhanging dough.

When the shell cools, carefully trim the baked dough evenly along the top of the rim!

Now the filling can be poured in and set or baked. A second advantage, close behind the aesthetic value of this technique is the increased volume allowed of the filling. Because there are no recessed portions of the dough, the filling can come up to the very top of the tart, increasing the amount of the filling in the tart. While a nice tart shell is a key factor in a beautiful tart, the tart is truly about the filling. The more the merrier, so they say.

A third atvantage are the cookie shards that are trimmed from the shell. These tasty treats are never hard to give away, or devour all by yourself.

Thanks to this improvement, my tarts (and yours!) can incorporate wabi sabi in the uneven browning of a filling, the unique shape of individual fruits, the random sizes of nuts that fill the tart, all the while satisfying my western desire for perfection with the clean lines of a perfectly even tart shell. I found a deep eastern satisfaction in the uneven puckering of this orange tarts surface. It resembles the dimples of a real orange!

I wonder if Seabass likes tarts.....

Phat duck's addition 2/1/06 answering the question left in the comments,

Dana-I noticed you used a dark tart pan for this. I always understood dark pans to brown too quickly and to be avoided. Can you comment on your experience and/or preference?"

So here I get back to you on the pan. The black pans absorb radiant heat in the oven, increasing browning on the surfaces touching the pan. Shiny pans reflect the radiant heat. What you see my tart siting on is obviously not a shiny pan, but not a black pan either. It was a shiny pan at one time but has lost it's luster with years in the oven and become a darker grey. The poor lighting in the photograph makes the pan look even darker, when infact, it is not a black pan and still has the ability to reflect the radiant heat rather than absorb it. You are correct in recognizing that a dark pan does brown too quickly.


Blogger Clement said...

Hi Dana, thank you so much. I can't tell you how long I've been perplexed and frustrated with the same problem - no matter what I did, I could never get perfectly even tart edges. Can't wait to try this out!

January 19, 2006 7:12 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

Clement I am glad this helped! And that I wasn't the only one longing for perfect tart shells!

January 19, 2006 9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for this. I knew of the technique but had never tried it. (Gary Rhodes is another UK chef who has demonstrated this method)


January 22, 2006 12:04 AM  
Blogger cin said...

Great tip. I'll have to remember it when I tr my first tart shell.

January 22, 2006 2:53 AM  
Anonymous Nicky said...

Dear Dana,
thanks for pointing us to this method of preparing pastry shells, I'll try it with my next tart attempt! And I have to add a compliment about Seabass, what a cute little tiger(-girl)!

January 22, 2006 8:42 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

Peter- And they say the british don't know anything about food!

Cin- Good luck with your first tart. I'll never forget mine... Caramel Pecan covered in chocolate for thanksgiving. If I hadn't turned it upside down and covered the whole thing in chocolate, it would have looked terrible!

Nicky- Seabass is really named Trudy. I visited her last night. She looks very calm in the picture, but is really a little hurricane. I only wish I could take her home with me!

January 22, 2006 10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I noticed you used a dark tart pan for this. I always understood dark pans to brown too quickly and to be avoided. Can you comment on your experience and/or preference?


January 22, 2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

What a lovely post. And a great hint indeed. I always freeze my tart and pie crusts until they are very frozen and then blind bake with almost too many beans/weights. This works as well, but is indeed harder to do in a home kitchen.

January 24, 2006 10:53 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Anonymus- I am looking into this pan thing. I dont want to make an uneducated statement.... but the back of the Betty Crocker cake mix (ok I cheated, I don't have a kitchen aid at home and it was a last minute request) said to increase baking time by 5 minutes if using dark pans. As much of an expert as betty crocker is, I am going to seek a few other sources before I make a statement.

Shuna... I have done the same thing with pie doughs who's fat is cut into the flour to help keep the decorated sides pretty, but have never tried this with cookie crusts. Thanks for the tip, you can never have too much information, or too many different tricks and methods. Even if they all do the same thing.

January 25, 2006 10:53 AM  

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