Monday, October 1, 2007
A rustic fruit tart
In France you are either a pastry chef or a baker, rarely both.
Pastry chefs are precise perfectionists who know just how many grams of gelatin it takes to bring structure to an airy raspberry mousse. They are chemists but also artists, who finish off their creations with a single red rose petal or a paper-thin square of white chocolate streaked with gold.
Bakers are more instinctive types who sense the need to adjust the amount of flour in their pain au levain to the humidity outside. They like to make cakes, but chances are you'll never find them fussing with agar-agar.
Much as I love making and eating any kind of pastry, if I had to choose a camp I'd definitely fall into the second. Dough of all kinds comes naturally to me, while I have to kick my lazy side into submission to make the more complex French pâtisseries with their layers of mousse, ganache and sponge cake.
Eric Kayser is my kind of baker. His famed baguette Monge is probably one of the top five baguettes in Paris—it's always hard to judge, since the quality of baguettes can vary from day to day—but what I really love are his rustic fruit tarts. Just as I prefer to make the more rustic cakes, they are also (rather conveniently) what I prefer to eat. They give you something to sink your teeth into, and they don't collapse into a messy heap when you try to share them.
After reading about Les tartes d'Eric Kayser on a few blogs, I found myself ordering it impulsively on Amazon one day. A few days later it arrived, like an early Christmas present with its red and green tart on the cover (redcurrants with matcha tea filling, very intriguing).
Of course, I couldn't wait to try it out and for my first project I settled on the pear and grapefruit tart, which I seem to remember finding irresistible at his bakery in rue Monge. It's the combination of the cream-colored pear and pink grapefruit that does it for me - without the grapefruit, it could easily look boring.
Pâte sablée is not new to me, but it's always interesting to read a baker's tips and probably the wisest words in this book are (my translation): "The only real secret to good tarts is time. You need to let the doughs breathe, allow them to relax, protect them. The ideal is to prepare them the night before."
Indeed, I've noticed that whenever I make a tart at a slow, relaxed pace, allowing the dough to rest in the fridge before and after I roll it out, it doesn't do anything nasty like shrink or tear.
Even though this is a rustic tart and therefore, in principle, easy, it was a two-day project because of the overnight resting time for the dough. I also decided to poach the pears myself rather than use canned pears as Kayser suggests. It's pear season, after all. Honestly, though, I think canned pears would be just fine.
I also spent a little time wondering what to do about pistachio paste, an ingredient I can't easily find in Nice. I was almost ready to use green-tinted almond paste from Auer, which the saleswoman had assured me was made of pistachios (hah!), when I remembered that I still had a few Bronte pistachios from last year's Salone del Gusto in Turin. It wasn't enough to make Pierre Hermé's recipe for pistachio paste, which calls for 500 g (a little more than 1 lb) of pistachios, but I found my own solution to make just enough for my tart.
My dear friend and guru Sylvie thought the bitterness of the grapefruit added nothing to this tart (which she gobbled up anyway), but I love their bright pink color and think that a poor-quality imported grapefruit was to blame. This tart might be best made with canned pears during grapefruit season (around February in France). See what you think.
Pear and grapefruit tart
For the pears in syrup:
2 pears, not too ripe
500 ml water (2 cups)
125 g sugar (4 1/2 oz)
1/2 vanilla bean
For the pistachio paste:
15 g pistachios (1/2 oz)
15 g powdered sugar (1/2 oz)
1 egg white (you won't need all of it)
For the pâte sablée (enough for three tarts):
300 g butter at room temperature (11 oz)
60 g white sugar (2 oz)
125 g powdered sugar (4 1/2 oz)
60 g powdered almonds (2 oz)
5 g salt (1 tsp)
2 whole eggs
500 g flour (1 lb 2 oz)
For the filling:
Poached pears (see above)
2-3 pink grapefruits
125 g butter at room temperature (4 1/2 oz)
125 g white sugar (4 1/2 oz)
125 g powdered almonds (4 1/2 oz)
10 g flour (1/3 oz)
3 whole eggs
30 g pistachio paste (1 oz)
2 tbsp apricot jam
For the pears:
Peel the pears, cut them in half and scoop out the cores with a spoon or melon baller. Combine the water, sugar and vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds from the vanilla bean and adding them to the water along with the bean. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat and cook at a simmer for 25-30 mins, until soft when pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool in the syrup, then remove from the syrup and drain on paper towels overnight in a covered container in the refrigerator.
For the pistachio paste:
In a pestle and mortar or small electric grinder, pound or grind the pistachios to a fine powder. Add the icing sugar, then just enough egg white to make a thick paste.
For the pastry:
In a food processor or mixer (I used my Kitchenaid with the paddle), beat the butter until soft. Add the sugars, almond power and salt, mixing well. Add the eggs one by one and combine, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the flour and mix on low speed just until the dough comes together.
Form the dough into three flat rounds and wrap each one in plastic wrap. Place two in the freezer for future use (they can be defrosted overnight) and one in the fridge.
Finishing the tart:
The next day, remove the pastry from the fridge and let it warm up for at least 20 mins before rolling it out. Use just enough flour so that it doesn't stick to your board, and roll it as thinly as seems feasible, turning it often.
Roll about half the dough around your rolling pin and quickly lift it up and place it in the tin (Kayser likes square tins and so do I). If it tears, you can always squeeze the cracks together. Press the pastry into the corners of the tin, then cut off the overlapping pastry with a sweep of the rolling pin. Press the edges a little higher than the edge of the tin to compensate for any shrinkage.
Let the dough rest in the fridge for another 30 mins at least while you prepare the filling.
Using a sharp knife, peel the grapefruit from top to bottom, removing all the pith. Holding the grapefruit in one hand, cut between the membranes to release the segments.
Cut each piece of pear in half, then cut each quarter into three even pieces.
For the filling, beat the butter in a mixer until soft. Add the sugar, almond powder and flour. Add the eggs one by one, mixing well, then the pistachio paste.
Pour this mixture into the pastry (without blind baking the crust - if Kayser says you can do this, it must be OK!). Top with alternating pieces of pear and grapefruit. Bake at 180 C (375 F) for 35-45 mins, until done. (Kayser's recipe says to bake the tart at 160 C for 35 mins, but I found that it wasn't hot enough or long enough.)
Once the tart has cooled, melt the apricot jam in a small saucepan and brush it over the tart for a glossy finish.