Festive Fall Tart Recipes

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PHOTO: AL CLAYTON
Tarts: Traditional enough to substitute for old standbys, jazzy enough to keep the cook interested, they're pretty enough to serve as fitting anthems to a beautiful season.

Celebrate the fall season with home-baked harvest tart recipes.

Festive Fall Tart Recipes

AH, SEPTEMBER SONGS: THE RHYTHMIC whisper of dry leaves,
the staccato crackle of the year’s first fires, the basso
rumble of school buses, the reedy whine of family and
friends-“Are you ever going to bake us another
pie?”

Autumn seems to orchestrate a return to the kitchen, to
lure us back to the stove. With cooler days and nights,
heating up the oven becomes a pleasure. Gone are the hectic
days of late-summer canning and freezing, when we swore
that if we ever got the garden cleaned out we’d never set
foot in a kitchen again; cooking for pleasure becomes
conceivable once more. An abundant harvest bids us put it
to use, and its beauty-the brilliant colors, elegant shapes
and rich scents of apples, pears, pumpkins, grapes-inspires
us to create something splendid.

And all around us, people trumpet their encouragement. They
flatter. (“The restaurant’s apple pie was adequate, of
course, but compared to yours…”) They wheedle.
(“Just one more little pumpkin pie wouldn’t be much work.”)
They bribe. (“OK, what if I did all the dishes for three
full days?”) And, ultimately, they plead. (“Ple-ease!”)

The reason for this cacophony is that sooner or later all
bakers tire of the same tune: After preparing the third
apple pie of the season, the fourth just isn’t much of a
challenge. How do we harmonize the mundane cravings of our
nearest and dearest with our longing to hum new melodies?

Tarts: Traditional enough to substitute for old standbys,
jazzy enough to keep the cook interested, they’re pretty
enough to serve as fitting anthems to a beautiful season.

ESSENTIALLY, A TART IS A SINGLE crust pie baked in a tart
pan, a two-part contraption consisting of a fluted metal
ring that forms the sides, and a flat disk that forms a
removable bottom. The bottom fits within the ring and rests
on a narrow lip attached to its lower edge. After the tart
has cooked and cooled, the ring is removed by placing the
pan on a surface smaller than itself (e.g., a Mason jar)
and guiding the ring down to the counter, leaving an
attractive, fluted, freestanding crust. Contrary to your
darkest expectations, the ring does in fact come away
easily; the crust shrinks enough during baking to prevent
any sticking or tearing. (Allegedly, the tart can also be
removed from the bottom disk onto a separate serving
platter, using a rimless baking sheet as a giant spatula.
I’ve never summoned the courage to attempt this maneuver;
if you do, let me know how it turns out.)

Tart pans are available for under $5 from kitchen specialty
shops, and range from three- or four-inch individual molds
to the standard eight-, nine-, 10- and 11-inch pans.

Embarrassing admission no. 1: It is
astonishingly difficult to remember that if you lift a tart
pan from the bottom (or with one hand), it will obligingly
come apart. There is no wrong time to remember this law of
physics, but the very best moment is when removing a hot
pie from the oven. Always use both hands, placed on
opposite sides of the ring.

Tart Pastry

As every beginning baker knows, a good pie crust has two
essential characteristics: It’s tender, and it’s flaky. A
few simple techniques will produce those results.

The bane of good pastry is gluten, a string-like protein
found in most flours. While essential to bread baking (its
long, elastic threads form a framework that supports the
expanding air bubbles in the rising loaf), gluten produces
a dense, tough pie crust if allowed to develop. So the two
things that activate gluten-warmth and handling-are good
for bread and bad for pies. Crusts turn out better if all
ingredients are cold (especially the fat), if the working
surface is cool, if the dough is refrigerated before it’s
rolled and if it spends as little time in your warm hands
as possible. The same precautions help produce flakiness,
which results when small particles of fat and flour remain
discrete; handling and heat tend to melt the fat, thus
dispersing it uniformly through the flour and harming the
crust. (This is why oil is not a satisfactory fat for pie
crusts.)

For dessert tarts, the traditional (and best) crust is a
short dough sweetened with sugar and enriched with an egg
yolk. The bad news about this crust (which tastes something
like shortbread and is almost good enough to eat by itself
is that it tears fairly easily when you’re rolling it out,
because it’s so rich. The good news is that it’s child’s
play to patch.

Short, Sweet Pastry Recipe

1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons ice water
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. With two sharp
knives or a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture
resembles coarse meal. Mix egg yolk with ice water, add to
bowl, and stir quickly with fork, just until moisture is
absorbed. If dough will not hold together, add more ice
water, a teaspoon at a time, until you can form dough into
a ball. Gather up dough, flatten into a disk, wrap in foil
or plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured board or counter top, roll pastry to a
thickness of 1/8 inch. Roll it up loosely over the rolling
pin, then unroll it onto the tart pan. Lifting the edges of
the crust, fit it into the pan, tucking it into the bottom
creases and pressing it into the flutes along the sides.
(Don’t stretch the dough, or it will simply shrink back
when baked.) Trim pastry by rolling the rolling pin across
the top of the pan. Chill until ready to use (your final
chance to relax the gluten). Makes enough pastry for one
eight- to 11-inch tart.

Embarrassing admission no. 2: In testing
recipes for this article, I made the crust described above
for the first few tarts; it drew compliments. As deadline
approached and shortcuts beckoned, I bought a Pillsbury All
Ready Pie Crust, which I considered too salty and not sweet
enough for a tart crust. (Ignore the crust, I was prepared
to say, just taste the filling.) It drew compliments. On
the spot, I concluded that if the people I cook for have no
particular preference between a crust that takes an hour to
make and one that requires 30 seconds, I may well have
rolled my last piece of dough. If you also cook for
nonpurists, you might want to investigate this
unfold-and-bake product.

Blind baking. Caution: Don’t start blind
baking your pie crusts–partially pre-baking an empty
shell–unless you are prepared to continue for the rest of
your cooking career. The crust will be so much firmer and
crisper that you will never be content with a soggy bottom
again. Particularly useful with liquid or custard fillings,
blind baking is, fortunately, simple and fast.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place pastry in tart pan, line
with foil-shiny side down, so as not to reflect the
heat-and fill with dry beans, pushing them into the bottom
edges. (The beans can be stored and used repeatedly.) Bake
about 15 minutes, until bottom is set and sides are lightly
browned. If the filling is particularly runny, add a second
step: Brush the bottom with a beaten egg yolk, and bake
another two minutes, until glaze is dry. Your crust is now
ready to be filled and baked.

Apple Tart Recipe


1 8- or 9-inch tart shell, partially baked
2 pounds cooking apples
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup apricot jam, divided
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1/4 cup apple brandy
1 pound eating apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided

Peel, core, and coarsely chop cooking apples. (If you have
a food processor, leave apples unpeeled; when cooked and
processed, the puree will have an attractive pink color and
a greater depth of flavor. Without a processor, separating
out the cooked peel is difficult, although it can be done.)
Melt butter in medium saucepan, add apples, cover, and cook
until soft and mushy. Mash apples with vegetable masher,
process, or rub through sieve until smooth. Add 1/4 cup of
the apricot jam, 1/3 cup of the sugar, lemon rind and apple
brandy. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until
excess liquid has evaporated and applesauce is thick. Set
aside to cool. Meanwhile, peel, core, and thinly slice
eating apples. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice
and 2 tablespoons remaining sugar. Spoon applesauce into
partially baked tart shell, and arrange apple slices in an
overlapping circle around the edge of the tart, then
arrange second and third circles inside that. Bake at
350 degrees Fahrenheit 25-30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Combine remaining
1/4 cup apricot jam with remaining 1 tablespoon lemon
juice, stir over medium heat 2-3 minutes, strain, and,
while still warm, paint apple slices with glaze. Serve warm
or chilled.

Caramelized Pear Tart Recipe


3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
6-8 firm pears
Pastry for single crust, unbaked*

Place sugar and water in 8- or 9-inch cast-iron skillet.
Bring to boil and cook over medium-high heat, stirring
occasionally but not constantly. Mixture will first
dissolve, then foam, then thicken and turn a deep, rich
amber-brown. At that point, remove it from the heat and
stir in butter. You should now have caramel.

Peel, quarter, and core the pears. Arrange them in
concentric circles, cut side up, on top of the caramel in
the skillet. (Keep in mind that the tart will be inverted
before it is served; the fruit on the bottom will be
visible.) Continue layering pears until pan is full.

Return skillet to stove and cook over low heat for about 20
minutes, until syrup thickens and is reduced by half. (Take
care that the caramel doesn’t burn.) Remove from heat.
Place crust over skillet and trim, leaving about 1/2 inch
over sides of pan. Tuck edges down into skillet around
pears. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit 20-30 minutes, until crust is
golden brown. Cool on rack 20 minutes, then loosen pastry
from sides of pan with sharp knife, if necessary. Place
serving dish over tart and invert quickly (and carefully).
Serve immediately.

*For this tart, which requires a firmer crust, omit the
sugar and egg yolk and add 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Embarrassing admission no. 3: I ruined
three of these. (MOTHER’S publisher is perhaps the first to
record a deficit under the heading “Pears.”) General
irritability led me to try a fourth, which was pretty and
delicious. The tart is actually simple to make, assuming
you avoid all of the pitfalls into which I dashed headlong.
1) Some cookbooks suggest lemon juice instead of water in
the caramel. This produces a bitter undertaste and such
comments as “Well, it certainly looks nice.” Use water. It
was good enough for Julia Child. 2) Don’t try to make
caramel over medium-low heat. The water will simply
evaporate, leaving you with a pile of wet sugar. For the
sugar and water to caramelize, you need medium-high heat.
After you add the butter, the substance in the pan should
look, smell and taste like caramel. If it looks and tastes
like a mixture of sugar, water and butter, start over; it
is not going to caramelize while it simmers on the stove
another 20 minutes. Trust me. Save yourself some pears. 3)
Don’t rush the final resting time; let the tart stand a
full 20 minutes before inverting it. Otherwise, the sauce
won’t have time to re-thicken, and when you flip the tart,
you’ll caramelize your kitchen. 4) Even caramel that
refuses to harden under any other circumstances will become
as rock when it hits a hot stove. Wipe up spills
immediately.

Pumpkin Bourbon Tart Recipe


1 10- or 11 -inch tart shell, partially baked
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups thick pumpkin puree (or 1 16-ounce can pumpkin)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
10 ounces evaporated milk (1 12-ounce can minus 2 ounces)
2 ounces bourbon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix ingredients in order listed.
Pour into tart shell. Place tart in oven; immediately
reduce heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake 30-45 minutes, or until knife
inserted in filling comes out clean. Cool completely, and
serve with whipped cream, if desired. Makes enough filling
for 1 tart plus 2 or 3 custard cups of flavorful puree.

Maple Pecan Tart Recipe

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped

Whisk together eggs and brown sugar. Whisk in syrups, then
cream, butter and salt. Place rack in upper third of oven
and preheat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread pecans in crust. Rewhisk
filling and ladle over pecans. Bake 40 minutes. Cool on
rack 30 minutes, then remove tart and ring. Allow tart to
cool completely before serving. Serve with whipped cream if
desired.

Cranberry Tart Recipe

1 10-inch tart shell, completely baked and cooled*
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
6 cups (3 12-ounce packages) fresh cranberries
1-3/4 to 2 cups sugar, to taste
1 cup red currant jelly
2 tablespoons cognac

Soften gelatin in water. Combine cranberries, sugar, jelly
and cognac in saucepan, and cook over low heat for 10
minutes. Do not overcook or mixture will become too watery;
cranberries should be soft but not bursting. Remove from
heat and let cool slightly. Stir in gelatin and let cool
completely. Pour cranberry filling into tart shell, and
chill for at least 1 hour.

*To completely bake shell, follow directions for blind
baking, but bake 20-25 minutes.


Machine-Age Dough

WHEN GREAT-AUNT ALICE GAVE you a food processor for your
birthday and listed its virtues, she concluded, “And it
makes a real nice pie crust, too.” Admit it: Outwardly you
were gracious; inwardly you snickered. Chopping onions,
perhaps, and shredding cabbage, of course, but making a pie
crust? Never.

Call Great-Aunt Alice and apologize.

A food processor allows you to make exactly the kind of
crust you want while cutting the hassle by about 90%.
Moreover, it makes a better crust than most of us do by
hand. It doesn’t roll the doughnut, of course (one would
think the manufacturers would have added this feature by
now), but that’s a minor chore compared to cutting the fat
into the dry ingredients. That’s what the processor does
superbly–in a fraction of the time, before the butter warms
or your arms tire. If you have time to chill all the
ingredients, so much the better. If not, make sure that the
butter and the water are ice cold.

Put the dry ingredients in the processor bowl, cut the
butter into small pieces, and add it. Process for eight to
10 seconds, or just until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Next, with the machine running, add the yolk and then the
ice water, a few drops at a time, just until the dough
holds together without being sticky or wet; don’t process
more than 30 seconds. Check the dough. If it’s too crumbly,
add a few drops of water; if it’s too wet, add a teaspoon
of flour. Place dough on sheet of plastic wrap or foil,
flatten into a disk, wrap, refrigerate 30 minutes, and make
a note that great-aunts are smarter than they used to be.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL CLAYTON, CRANBERRY TART RECIPE FROM MARTHA
STEWART’S
PIES & TARTS, RECIPES COPYRIGHT © 1985
BY MARTHA STEWART, INC. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION OF CLARKSON
POTTER, INC.