Count the love of pie among the various things quintessentially American. It’s symbolic of American wholesomeness.
Every American boy who loves his momma also loves pie. And every American momma who loves her boy bakes him pie.
At least this was the case in the 20th century, back when baseball was the national pastime.
Although American pie culture seems to have waned in the 21st century, the pop-cultural references are still familiar. Mom and apple pie. As American as apple pie. There’s also that nostalgic Don McLean song, “American Pie.”
As anyone who ever read On the Road knows, there was perhaps no bigger American pie freak than Jack Kerouac. That guy was constantly stopping some place for pie, and he seemed to work a reference to this habit into every other sentence in the book.
“Along about three in the afternoon,” he wrote, “after an apple pie and ice cream in a roadside stand, a woman stopped for me in a little coup.” Or “I went to sit in the bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream…”
At one point, he even measured his travel progress in pie. “I ate apple pie and ice cream,” he (quite predictably by now) noted, “it was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa…”
With all due respect to Jack, I’m not here discuss pie today. I’m here to discuss tarts.
Because tarts are better than pie.
For one, tarts have one less crust than pie. That means they’re less crusty, which is a good thing. It’s a better fruit-to-crust ratio. It also means tarts are easier to make.
Also, tarts are way sexier than pie. Think about it. Pies are demure and dowdy. There’s good stuff in there, but it’s all hidden away under the hood.
Tarts are more seductive. They don’t hide the goods. They’re right out there on display. A tart is a bikini to pie’s 19th century bathing costume. It’s like a beautiful flower in full bloom, advertising to the bees “come and get it!”
The tart recipe I have for you here is a grown-up tart. Something this sexy isn’t for children. Give the children pie or Skittles.
Because it’s an adult, this tart is not cloyingly sweet.
While fruit and jam are involved, there is no added sugar. The crust is whole grain and toothsome. It’s sophisticated, just like you good-looking people.
I should also note that, whereas some tarts have a cooked filling, this one is made with fresh fruit, which makes it extra bright and stunning to gaze upon.
Fresh fruit tarts pose a challenge, though. Since the fruit isn’t all sugar-laden and cooked, if you simply piled the fruit into a tart crust, it would be incredibly dry.
That’s where orange-laced, almond-cheese filling comes in.
The almond-y cheese filling lends a wonderful, cheese-Danish quality to the tart.
I made this tart for a dinner party. Children were there. And although the children had a cloyingly sweet chocolate cake for dessert, they were seduced by the bright, shiny tart.
Against our better judgment, we yielded to their pleas to sample the tart. They lost their young minds and forgot all about their chocolate cake. We had to fight them off for the rest. This is a cautionary tale. You’ve been warned.
ALMOND-RICOTTA FRUIT TART
- 1 Cup fresh ricotta cheese
- ¾ Cup sliced almonds
- 1 Egg
- Grated zest from 1 orange
- ½ Teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1-¼ Cups whole wheat pastry flour
- ¼ Teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) of cold, unsalted butter (cut into ½-inch pieces)
- 4 oz cold cream cheese (cut into ½-inch pieces)
- 2 Teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 Pint fresh blueberries
- 1 Pint fresh raspberries
- 2 Pints fresh strawberries
- 2 Navel oranges
- ¾ Cup apricot jam
- ½ Cup dry white wine
- ½ Teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
Simply mix all of the ingredients together and set aside. You can make this a day or two ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator in a sealed container.
- Add the flour and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine.
- Add the cold butter and cold cream cheese and pulse until the mixture has pea-sized pieces of butter and cream cheese. Don’t overdo it. The key here is to use cold ingredients.
- Add the lemon juice and pulse a few more times. Mixture should look pebbly, just beginning to cling together when you pinch it between your fingers. Add some ice water (keep everything cold!) if the mixture is still too dry.
- Gather dough together and compress into a large disk. Place between two pieces of parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. You can make this a day ahead of time as well. If you do, seal it in a plastic storage bag in the refrigerator, so it doesn’t dry out.
- So the berries stay fresh and firm, you’ll want to prepare the topping just before assembling and baking the tart. This is NOT a do-ahead step! Keep small berries like the blueberries and raspberries whole.
- For the strawberries, cut off the stem ends and slice them in half lengthwise. Take care not to bruise the delicate fruit. Set aside in a bowl.
- Remove the peel and the inner membrane from each section of orange. Here is how to do it quickly and easily:
a. With a very sharp knife, slice the top and bottom off of the oranges (the end where the stem connected, and the end with the “navel”). You should cut in far enough to see the flesh of the orange segments.
b. With the orange sitting on a cutting board on one of the cut ends, cut the peel away with a sharp knife by slicing top down, following the global curvature of the orange. You should cut deeply enough that you also cut away the outer membrane of the orange segments. Rotate the orange and cut the peel away in sections until it’s all removed. You should see bright, orange flesh exposed when you’ve removed all of the peel.
c. Using your sharp knife, cut each segment of orange out of its membrane segment by slicing between the membrane and the flesh on each side of each segment. When you finish, you should have a pile of bright orange, membrane-free orange segments.
- Preheat your oven to 375°F.
- Remove the chilled tart crust dough from refrigerator. Dust the surface with a little bit of extra flour, and roll it out into a thin crust with a rolling pin. Because tart dough is delicate, I like to do this keeping the crust between two pieces of parchment paper. It needs to form the bottom and the walls of an 11-inch tart pan with 1-inch walls, so you’ll need to roll the dough into a 13- to 14-inch round. If the dough is too too stiff (i.e., if you refrigerate it for more than 30 minutes), let it stand for 15 minutes. If the dough becomes too soft and sticky (it has a lot of butter and cream cheese in it), place it in the freezer for a few minutes, to firm it back up. Then take it back out and continue rolling it out.
- Place the rolled-out crust into a large (11-inch), well-buttered tart pan with a removable bottom.
- Dock the tart crust. (That means stab the surface every few inches apart with the tines of a fork. This keeps the tart from bubbling up when you bake it.)
- Blind-bake the tart crust at 375°F for 30 minutes. (That means cook the crust with nothing in it). The goal is to simply firm up the crust, so it can handle the addition of the filling without tearing or smearing.
- Remove the tart from the oven, and spread the almond-ricotta filling in an even layer. Return the tart to the oven and cook an additional 20 to 30 minutes. The surface should set and be firm, but don’t cook it so long it begins
- Remove the tart to a cooling rack, and allow to cool completely. The raised cooling rack is essential. If you place the tart on a flat surface, steam heat will make the crust soggy.
- When the tart has completely cooled, spread ½ cup of the jam on the surface of the tart. This will mainly act as an adhesive to hold the fruit toppings in place.
- Carefully arrange the fruit in a pattern on top of the tart crust, starting at the outer edge and working your way toward the center.
- Meanwhile, place the remaining apricot jam, the wine, the nutmeg, and the tablespoon of butter into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir until reduced by about half and syrupy. It should be thin enough to gently brush onto the fresh fruit with a pastry brush.
- With a pastry brush, gently brush the fruit topping with the apricot glaze. This not only makes the fruit shiny and attractive, it also seals the surface in glaze, so the fruit will not dry out our discolor.
Allow to cool, then serve. MSN