Summer Berry Tart
You are, no doubt, rolling your eyes and asking yourself what is up with me and my titles. There is, you are saying, not one word of "Summer Berry Tart" that is in accord with the picture I have posted. It is not summer, there are no berries, and the dessert is clearly made in a pie pan.
And while your objections, dear readers, are beyond reproach, the title is my story, and I'm sticking to it. The recipe I'm giving today really is (sauf les poires) my summer berry tart recipe. There are, sadly, no summer berries yet available, but this is the tart that I make when I have been fortunate enough to locate a patch of (increasingly rare) wineberries or blackberries and have managed to gather a pint of fine specimens. And I really do prefer to make this recipe in a wide, shallow tart pan to maximize the impact of the berries, but to do so would have required a trip down into the Basement of Despond, where I would have had to wallow through boxes of equipment with no guarantee of success. (Really, organizing the house, including the basement, is on our spring to do list. If not this spring, then definitely sometime this decade.) And since there were no berries, maximizing their impact seemed, at best, unlikely, so I went with the pie plate.
When you have summer berries, this tart requires very little effort indeed. You do have to make the tart shell, but you could easily make a crumb shell, which is very simple. You could, I suppose, buy a graham cracker pie crust from the supermarket, and you'd have something very good, but it would look a whole lot like a no-bake cheesecake from a box, and something as glorious as a fresh blackberry that you've wandered into the thorns to collect really deserves a better supporting cast than that.
Anyway, when it's summer, you make the tart shell the evening before, make the filling, put the filling in the shell, top with berries, and there it is. Simple, elegant, and delicious. Sublime, even.
You can still get to sublime in the springtime, but you have to work a little harder for it. I decided to go with pears mostly because on Saturday evening, before the opera, we ate at a really good tapas restaurant, and we had two dishes that included pears cut in thick matchsticks (I believe the correct term is "bâtonnet", but they may have been even a shade thicker than that), and I was intrigued by the pears cut in that shape.
I will give you my pastry recipe, but I want you to do a better job with your pastry than I did with mine. This recipe is really the sort of thing that a good food processor should do better than you can do by hand, but my good food processor has been stored in the basement in an attempt to ensure domestic tranquility, and V.'s food processor was not up to handling a two-crust recipe (even when I'm only making a single crust, I have trouble not making a double-crust recipe; how hard is it to find a use for pastry dough?), and I had to process the flour and butter for a very long time, and then when I added the ice water, there wasn't room for a ball to form, and I had to dump the whole mess out onto my pastry marble and knead the extra ice water in by hand. So the butter was over blended, and even though I let the dough rest overnight, the final result was very tough, albeit tasty. It is also possible that I cooked it for too long at a low temperature, but when you have a lot of butter and sugar in a dough, you start to worry about burning.
Sweet Tart Dough
1/2 cup sugar
grated zest of one lemon
3 cups all purpose flour
2 sticks butter, cut into tablespoons
pinch of salt (unless you used salted butter)
Put the sugar and zest in the bowl of your food processor and process until the both are fine.
Combine the sugar and flour (and salt, if you're using it). Cut the butter into the flour using whatever method makes the most sense to you.
Add about four tablespoons of water and either process or mix gently with a fork until a ball forms. If a ball doesn't form, add more water until one does. Knead the dough very briefly to make the entire mass cohere. Divide into two pieces, form each piece into a disk, wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Remove a disk of dough from the refrigerator and beat it lightly with your rolling pin to get it moving. Unwrap it, flour it lightly, and roll it out on a lightly floured marble. If a split develops, just push the pieces around the split together and keep rolling.
If you're going to use this dough for an unbaked tart, you'll need to bake it blind. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Put the rolled pastry in your tart pan and perhaps double the thickness around the rim. Trim off the excess. Line the pastry with aluminum foil, fill with whatever you use as pie weights (I used dried chick peas), and bake for twenty minutes at 350. Remove the foil and weights, reduce the heat to 325, and bake until it's the shade of brown that you prefer. Watch carefully towards the end: all-butter crusts burn easily. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before filling.
Springtime Summer Berry Tart with Pears in the Place of Berries
A pre-baked 10" tart shell or 9" pie shell.
Two large pears
1 t. lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 t. cinnamon
1 T. butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Wash your pears and remove any parts of the peel that are blemished. Cut the lobes off your pears with four cuts, leaving a long, square core section. Cut the pear lobes into bâtonnets. Toss the pear sticks with the lemon juice. Combine the sugar and cinnamon, and toss the mixture with the pears. In a nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Turn the heat to medium, add the pears, and cook for four or five minutes until the syrup given off by the pears is thick and bubbling but not caramelized (I cooked mine about two minutes more after I took this picture). The pear sticks should be somewhat softened, but should still have a little bit of bite to them. Remove the pears from the heat, put them in a strainer. Reserve the syrup, and put the pear sticks in the refigerator to cool.
Cream the cream cheese and sugar together until they are well combined and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and three tablespoons of the reserved pear syrup, and mix until well combined. There should be no lumps and the sugar should be fully dissolved.
Beat the cream until stiff. Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Turn the resulting mixture into your tart shell.
Arrange the cooled pear sticks on top of the tart. Refrigerate for at least half an hour before serving.
This is the sort of filling that really wants to be kept cold. When you make this filling for the summer berry tart, you don't add the pear syrup, so it's a bit more solid. With the pear syrup, it is very soft (and very, very good; though it is also thoroughly delicious with just the lemon juice), and even when you keep it cold, it will only barely hold its shape when you cut the tart. You can refrigerate the components at any step in the process. When I make this, I use the same Kitchenaid bowl for both the cream cheese and the whipped cream, so I start out by putting my whisk attachment in the freezer. I use the paddle attachment on the cream cheese, then scrape the cream cheese mixture into a bowl and refrigerate, wash the mixer bowl, swirl cold water and ice cubes around the mixer bowl, dry it, and beat the cream. Then I fold the cream into the cream cheese and refrigerate again while I do something else.
Whipped cream, by itself, tends to separate, so in a perfect world, you would make this tart when you had enough guests to finish it the same day it was made. On the other hand, I made the tart yesterday evening, and V. and I each had a piece, and when I took it out of the refrigerator (it needs to be in the refrigerator whenever you're not assembling it or cutting a piece out of it; did I mention keeping it cold?) this morning and cut another small piece, it was every bit as good as it was last night (which, I must reiterate, was fab-u-lous), so I reckon it's good for a couple of days, though since A.'s coming over this evening and V.'s home all day today, the chances of it surviving until tomorrow are remote [update: the tart was every bit as good twenty-four hours after completion as it was just after completion; now it's gone].
You will, naturally, want to arrange your pears more decoratively than I have. I should really look into a food stylist institute, though from what I've read about food stylists, what they do to make food look good for the camera often renders it inedible, and I'm not having any of that. You can also substitute any fruit you like for the pears, though the pears were awfully good prepared this way. If you prepare the recipe with the pears, you will find that you have significantly more than the three tablespoons of syrup that you need for the filling. I disposed of my excess syrup with hunks of plain Italian bread, which I ate greedily. Yum.