mike kostyo

I know food.

blackberry tart

Yesterday I counted the number of recipes that start out with some variation of the following sentence: "You may think you've had marshmallows/chocolate cake/mayonnaise/etc., but you haven't had marshmallows/chocolate cake/mayonnaise etc. until you've tried this recipe/made it yourself/had it at Alinea/etc." There were a billion. Approximately.

I say this because I almost started this post by saying that you may think you've had a tart, but you've probably had some soggy thing topped with runny fruit that's been sitting in a bakery case for hours, so you haven't had a tart unless you've had a fresh one made with good ingredients. But that would be cliche.

Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe people are getting freshly made tarts all the time, with a perfectly crisp crust, velvety smooth pastry cream and insanely fresh fruit on top. Maybe. But if that was the case surely tarts would be ridiculously popular in this country. And yet, they're not. At least not as popular as pie.

What is it? Is it the French thing? We seriously need to get over all that. From fruit tarts to health care, we can learn a lot from our European friends.

Like a pie (really, almost exactly like a pie, but without the top crust), a tart is more of a technique than a recipe. This tart is a classic variation - a crust filled with pastry cream and topped with fruit. There. That's the recipe.

Actually, this variation uses the sweet tart crust and pastry cream recipes from Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. I like this crust, which is pressed into the pan and tastes somewhat like shortbread, a bit better than the classic rolled tart or pastry dough, but you can use your favorite sweet  dough or even a store-bought puff pastry. The shortbread crust has an added benefit, however, in that it will stay crisp for a much longer period of time.

For the topping you can use whatever fruit you like, obviously. Traditionally tarts call for a slathering of apricot jelly on top of the fruit at the end, but if the quality of your fruit is top-notch and you will be serving the tart relatively soon (which it should be and you should do), I don't think it's necessary. I simply gave mine a light dusting of sugar.

blackberry tart

Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

for dough:

+ 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
+ 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
+ 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
+ 9 tablespoons frozen butter cut into small pieces
+ 1 large egg yolk

for pastry cream:
see recipe below

for pie:

+ about 30 fresh blackberries
+ sugar for dusting

To form the crust, put the flour, confectioner's sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until just combined. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry mixture and pulse again until the butter is just cut into the mixture - the pieces of butter should be about the size of peas. Add a bit of the yolk and pulse to combine. Repeat until all the yolk has been used. Now pulse the dough for 10 second intervals until the mixture comes together in clumps. Listen for the sound of the machine to change - this is your cue to stop pulsing.

Turn the dough out onto your work surface and lightly knead just to make sure it is properly mixed. Lightly press the dough into a 9" tart pan with removable bottom, working to keep the dough light and crumbly. Save a little bit of the dough in a small bowl in the refrigerator in case you need to patch some cracks later. Freeze the crust for an hour or longer.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil large enough to fit the crust. When the dough is done freezing, pull it from the freezer and press the piece of aluminum, buttered side down, onto the crust, pressing it so it fits tightly against the bottom and sides.

Put the tart on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and check to see if the crust has puffed up anywhere - if it has, press those areas down with the back of a spoon. Bake for about 8 minutes longer, or until the crust is golden brown.

If there are any cracks in the dough, use moistened fingers to press a bit of the reserved dough into them and bake for about 2 extra minutes.

Let the crust cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the crust from the tart pan and place on serving dish. Fill the crust with the pastry cream. Space the blackberries evenly on top of the pastry cream. Dust with sugar.

serves 6 to 8

pastry cream

Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

+ 2 cups milk
+ 6 large egg yolks, lightly stirred
+ 1/2 cup sugar
+ 1/3 cup sifted cornstarch
+ 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
+ 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits and at room temperature

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Set aside.

In a medium, heavy saucepan whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together until the mixture is thick. Continue whisking and slowly add the hot milk, starting with a very small stream at first and gradually pouring in more. Continue whisking until it is well mixed.

Place the pan over medium heat, whisking quickly the entire time. Bring the mixture to a boil. Keep the mixture boiling, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes and remove from the heat.

Stir in the vanilla extract and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in the chopped bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is perfectly smooth and silky.

Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and top with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap against the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate a few hours or until cold. Stir thoroughly before using.

makes about 2 cups