Thursday, January 17, 2008


Fruit Tart à la française

For a while now, I have considered making a delectable fruit tart for my 30th, like the ones seen in a French pâtisserie: pâte sucrée, crème pâtissière, loads of fruit and a fruity glaze. After my second apple martini last night (seeing out the 20s), I decided to make pâte sucrée. Nigella Lawson reckons it's a nightmare; Tamasin Day-Lewis makes it sound like a breeze. My proper baking bible, Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, is in the US, and so for the details of this tart, I relied on Tamasin Day-Lewis' Tamasin's Kitchen Bible.

Waking up very early after the two martinis, I pulled the dough out of the fridge to come to a pliable temperature. When I thought that had been reached, I started rolling. The pastry crumbled and then proceeded to stick to everything. Knowing that one can patch a tart base together, I decided to construct an entire pastry shell out of a patchwork. Anticipating more shrinkage than usual, I crammed as much as I could into the 25cm/10" fluted shell and put it in the fridge for an hour (to also prevent further shrinking). It didn't matter. When I removed the beans part way through the blind baking process, I could see that seams had been created along the base, creating gaps. There was no way the pastry was going to expand and fill those in. Into the bin the half-cooked tart shell went.

So, what went wrong? Ms. Day-Lewis states that she uses egg yolks to bind the dry ingredients together (as opposed to iced water, which is used for shortcrust pastry). In the list of ingredients for her pâte sucrée, however, is the suggestion of a little cold water. What? The sand-like combination of flour, butter, icing sugar and vanilla seeds seemed to come together after mixing in the cold egg yolks. The addition of water seemed unnecessary, and Ms. Day-Lewis did not explain when one should use that little amount of cold water. When the pastry crumbled, though, I knew it was too dry.

I had another go at it, but this time without the luxury of really cold flour and eggs because I didn't expect to have to make the pastry again (and one would hope not given the amount of eggs and vanilla already used in the failed pâte sucrée as well as the crème pâtissière). I added perhaps one tablespoon of ice-cold water after binding the dry ingredients with egg yolks. The pastry was supple and not soggy. After resting it for an-hour-and-a-half, I left the pastry on the kitchen counter for 20 minutes and then rolled it out. It still tore a bit and was perhaps a little too wet to transfer from the rolling pin. I got around this by making a tri-fold, which I opened out over the 25cm/10" fluted tart shell. Once baked blind, there was a tiny split seam...Grrr...So, I figured, one has to compile this tart just before eating, for the custard will make the tart shell soggy anyway, and I just went with it...

Pâte Sucrée
(from Tamasin Day-Lewis' Tamasin's Kitchen Bible)

1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
110g/4 oz butter, cut into a dice
1 tablespoon icing sugar, sifted
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
2 egg yolks
1-2 tablespoons ice-cold water

1) Lightly with fingers rub the butter into the flour, sugar and vanilla seeds.
2) Once a sand-like texture is achieved, add the egg yolks. Mix together. If the dough is not coming together and or is not supple, add ice-cold water, mixing only one tablespoon at a time, for you might not need all of the water. Too much water will make a sticky dough.
3) Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for at least one hour.
4) Pre-heat oven to 200 C/400 F.
5) Bring pastry out of fridge and allow it to come to a pliable texture, about 15-20 minutes.
6) On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out, keep turning it so it does not stick to your cold surface.
7) Set pastry into your tart shell, cover with parchment paper and baking beans.
8) Bake for 15 minutes.
9) Take out of the oven, remove beans and parchment paper. Prick the base of the shell with the tines of a fork. Put back in the oven until cooked through and golden, approximately 10 minutes.
10) Allow to cool before filling with crème pâtissière.

Crème Pâtissière
(from Tamasin Day-Lewis' Tamasin's Kitchen Bible)

340ml/12 fl. oz milk
150ml/5 fl. oz heavy cream
vanilla seeds from 1 vanilla pod
1 egg
3 egg yolks
75g/2 1/2oz caster sugar (vanilla sugar works here, too)
1/3 cup cornflour, sifted

1) Into a saucepan pour milk, cream, vanilla seeds and split vanilla pod. Bring to scalding point over a low heat.
2) Whisk together the egg, yolks and sugar until pale and creamy.
3) Add one-third of the cornflour to egg mixture and mix thoroughly, then do the same with the remaining two-thirds. Ensure that all lumps are worked out.
4) Remove vanilla pod from milk. If you want, you can rinse it then dry it before adding to your sugar container.
5) Pour one-third of the milk to the egg mixture and whisk well. Pour this into the rest of the milk in the saucepan and continue to whisk over a gentle heat. The cornstarch helps stop the custard from splitting, but you do not want to ever boil the mixture, so whisk, whisk, whisk.
6) Once thickened, pour into a bowl, cover and cool. Once cooled, this can be stored in the fridge for about three days.

A bit of a trial, really. I didn't bother with glazing the fruit as I had planned, for I could see the fruit sinking in the pastry cream. Great. I thought it looked quite solid, but I suppose I should have seen if a spoon could stand up in it as that would have been a better measurement of how much the crème pâtissière had set. And I can see why people avoid making pastry altogether. Perhaps with a little more experience I will create a perfect pâte sucrée, which I feel might also be eased by checking other recipes. I was afraid that the cream would break the dams of the pastry, but it didn't. I must say, though, that life would have been made simpler with a shortcrust pastry because the crème pâtissière is so strong in flavour that the pâte sucrée had no chance of standing up to it - but it did look lovely, in the truest sense of the word: simple, natural, sweet. In all, though, an incredibly tasty tart, if a messy one. I only hope that is not too indicative of my year of being 30.

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Well, even though I could go downstairs right now and buy a perfect French tart, I'd rather be eating yours.

Hope your party made up for the crack and sink. Welcome to your thirties! Lots of things crack and sink here! haha
Dearest Shaun - Happy Birthday! A trial by fire hitting the Big 30! Well, a few tips that I gleaned from America's Test Kitchen: if a classic pastry calls for water in its earliest versions, do use water and don't be stingy. 1) Dry dough never, ever recovers; moist-to-wet dough, however, performs very well. I make sure my dough is clammy when it balls up. (I have had too many tank on me.) 2) Make sure you generously flour your work surface b/4 you start rolling.

More tips, but I'll email them to you. I certain don't want to sound obnoxious with advice. Despite your initial troubles w/ it, the finished tart looks like something I would want to sink my teeth into. I love mixed berries. Good choice! Hang the glaze!
HI SHAUN!!! =) I have missed blogging and reading all your wonderful posts! That tart looks divine. =) =) YUMMMY. I tried using lactose free milk to make pastry creme once and it worked. Hopefully I can use it in your recipe! or something similar. I'm itching to eat that. =) I hope you have been good. I will start blogging soon! =)
SO when is/was your big day? 17th?
Happy Birthday to you Shaun! And what a trooper you are to get up and start baking after a night of "beverages"! I think that tart looks absolutely wonderful! Nice way to start another decade of your life!
Cheers to you!
I only hope that is not too indicative of my year of being 30. - no honey, it is not. It looks great to me, like you said: simple, natural, sweet.

Thanks for your useful notes on the pastry.
Happy 30th, Shaun. Welcome to the best decade yet.

Best pâte sucrée I've come across comes from Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion. It's rich and utterly faultless - a rarity in the pastry world.

Apple Martini's sound rather good...
Happy birthday sweetie!

All the best :)

If it is indicative of turning 30, "an incredibly tasty tart, if a messy one" is not the worst one can be.

Happy birthday, my friend. I hope your 30s are your best. They certainly have been for me, so far.
Suzanne, sweetheart ~ It was only one year ago that Eric and I were in Paris with you and M. to celebrate my 29th. How time has flown. Perhaps memories of that fabulous time partly informed my decision to make a fruit tart. I had so many plans for it, too. Ground cardamom in the pastry, a black cherry and brandy glaze...It wasn't to be.

I have eye cream out, preventing too many more cracks for the time being. Your birthday wishes mean so much to me.

Susan, lovie ~ Thanks for the tips. I really thought I had it covered but should have checked more recipes before blindly following the one to hand, especially because I could see the discrepancy regarding the water, and then just tossed out my concern in the heat of preparing the baking. Silly. At 30, I suppose I should begin to trust my inner-voice, my initial thought, etc. Perhaps that is the lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my life, one that is well learned.

The tart didn't need a glaze anyway; it would have been OTT and would have competed with the gorgeous crème pâtissière.

Thank you for the sweet birthday wishes.

Victoria ~ So glad to know that you're still around. I assumed you got bogged down with uni, and I hope now that you've come up for some air. Thanks for the birthday greetings.

The lactose free milk is an interesting consideration. Does it have fat? I ask because I think it is needed for pastry cream, but I could be wrong. Let me know if it works, and if it does, I will let Eric's sister know because she is lactose intolerant.

Anthony ~ Yes, it was on the 17th. Same day as Anne Bronte, Al Capone, Betty White, Margaret Urlich, Lukas Moodysson, Sylvie Testud and Muhammad Ali.

Deb ~ Yes, I am known for being quite stubborn. Besides, it was MY day and that tart was going to work out, damn it! :-) Luckily I didn't have a hangover, but I'd have to be pretty sad to be in such a state after only two drinks. Thank you for the compliment on the tart and for the birthday wishes.

Cynthia ~ Yes, though not as obsessive as wonderful Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen, I do try to pass on my findings. I will have to try the pastry again with a less powerful tasting filling. Thank you for leaving your message on my special day.

Lucy ~ It's shocking that I don't have any Stephanie Alexander books on in the States somewhere, I think. A very good Australian friend was shocked not to see any on my bookcase here. The book of her journey through Southwest France looks especially good. So kind of you to leave your thoughtful message for my b/day.

Unlike my attempts at pâte sucrée, I can make great apple martinis with my eyes closed (practically).

Jasmine ~ It was almost the best, but it was short of the presence of dear loved ones, especially Eric. I had a wonderful time with family and friends, though. Thank you for taking some time out to leave me your sweet birthday note.

Christina ~ You are such a darling. Thank you for your lovely birthday wishes. I'm sure that my 30s will be wonderful; they've gotten off to a very good start.
Well a belated Happy Birthday! So what's it like to be in your 30's? I face this battle at the end of May. I think I'm going to need more than a tart (of the fruit variery) to get me over it. Bring on the apple martinis!
Well, it might have been a bit of a trial, but the end product looks fabulous!

Oh, and enjoy your 30s!

Happy Birthday belatedly! Your tart looks great, well worth your extra efforts!!
Pate Sucree isn't always such a pain to work with, definitely give it another try.
Happy 30th and best wishes for an amazing year!
Happy belated birthday, Shaun, and...hmm..may I have a slice of that tart, please? Looks lovely.
Anthony ~ Thank you so much for the belated birthday wishes. You should have apple martinis anyway, whether you "need" them or not.

Aforkfulofspaghetti ~ Thank you for stopping by and for passing on such compliments. Indeed, it tasted delicious, which is what counts more than anything. I'm sure my 30s will be most joyous.

Bruno ~ Nice to see you dropping by, especially for a post that marks a great event in my life. Indeed a great effort was required, but I hope to be better armed now because of this experience.

Brilynn ~ As one who has had many a baking experience, your words will be taken on board. Besides, I'm not much of a quitter anyway. I also think I lived up to your motto in this post: Go Big or Go Home.

Vonsachsen ~ Well, I don't think this would make it all the way to the other side of the world, mostly because the pastry cream will melt and render the pastry too soggy. If you were here, of course, that would be a different story! Thank you for your birthday wishes.
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