Continuing with my efforts to review all these lovely cookbooks piled up on my kitchen table/bookshelf/nightstand…This particular tome was an easy pick, and I have my recent trip to Colorado to thank for it.
I mentioned briefly that thanks to Lisa‘s kindness, I was able to stay with her and her family friend while in Boulder. Not only was I given a warm welcome, but I was invited to come with them to dinner every night, which resulted in some of the best meals I’d had in a while.
The first evening after class, we relaxed at a lovely backyard hosted by another of Lisa’s family friends. Let me tell you, Boulder is full of some of the most friendly and hospitable people I’ve ever met (that includes Jen, natch!) and it’s gorgeous – 360 degrees of scenic beauty! Could this place be any more amazing?
While the entire dinner was terrific (eating al fresco in warm summer twilight must be one of the best experiences wherever you are), I was naturally drawn to the dessert, prepared by the inimitable hostess. A single layer of fresh strawberries over a delicate, flaky crust scented with butter and brown sugar, with the faintest dusting of powdered sugar. Perfectly perfect in its simplicity. I absolutely fell in love with the crust (I’m a tart fan, remember?) and I knew I had to have the recipe.
To my delight the tart was from the newly released Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market by Deborah Madison. Madison is the founding chef of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, and the headnote for the berry tart recipe describes it as the creation of none other than Lindsay Shere, of Chez Panisse fame. Talk about going full circle – I travel halfway across the country to discover inspiration by a chef from my hometown.
This berry tart, of course, perfectly encapsulates Shere’s and Chez Panisse’s philosophy – fresh, local, seasonal foods presented with a minimum of fuss to let the ingredients shine. It’s deceptively simple, like cooking an omelette – one would think that anyone could do it, but it takes a certain finesse to truly do it well. In the case of berries, there’s no mounds of whipped cream or pastry cream or drizzled caramel for them to hide behind – just fresh-picked berries with a light brush of glaze, served up on a crust.
Now this may sound intimidating to pull off, but it’s not – it’s the point of seasonal fruit desserts, right? That’s why you don’t make a strawberry tart in the middle of winter when they are bland flavorless cotton balls, and why when summer’s at its zenith you go crazy with the galettes and the crumbles and the ice cream (oh yes, the ice creams). This strawberry tart captured the very essence of strawberries for me – I couldn’t have imagined anything more satisfying that evening.
Madison’s book is an effervescent ode to the beauty of fruit – the first chapters revolve around the simplest preparations of fruit, from macerating blackberries in rosewater or plating apples and persimmons with almonds, to slightly more elaborate recipes like roasting figs or sauteing plums, to favorites like pies and tarts and crisps. This gradual progression shows how easy it is to turn fruit into a dessert – or how fruit is already dessert on its own, and needs so little manipulation to showcase it.
There is a wealth of information on all sorts of fruits both common and exotic in the book – Madison goes so far as to list preferred varieties of fruit in her recipes. It will leave you eager to visit the farmers’ market and bring home as much of the local bounty as you can. There’s also a chapter on cheese and dairy desserts and recommendations on cheese and fruit pairings, for the fromage-ficianados among you. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fruit: it’s both a wonderful collection of information and ideas, and an engaging read that will make you feel like you’re sitting in a sun-warmed orchard every time you open the book.
So, back to this berry tart – I made it with raspberries because they were looking pretty at the market. Although you can make it as a 9 inch round tart, I was really excited to get to use my rectangular tart pan again – it makes presentation so effortlessly elegant. I urge you to try the tart crust: it’s like a pâte brisée, given depth and sweetness with the addition of brown sugar and lemon zest. It’s pleasingly workable – you can roll it out or simply press it in the pan, and it bakes up into a crisp, flaky picture frame for rows of red berries, glazed to a shining gleam. One caveat: this truly is best enjoyed soon after it’s made. Like just-plucked fruit, the sooner you taste it the closer you are to pure pleasure. It won’t be a chore to finish, I assure it. Try it before summer vanishes!
Austere Berry Tart
1 cup(5 ounces) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 to 3 cups (18 ounces) berries
3 tablespoons raspberry jam or red currant jelly
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Combine flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a food processor. Pulse to combine.
Add in butter and pulse until butter is in pea-sized pieces.
Combine water, vanilla, and almond extract and drizzle over the mixture. Pulse to combine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs – it should not be fully combined into a ball.
Turn out mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk about 1 inch thick. If you have trouble making it stick together add a few more drops of water.
Wrap dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Note: the recipe indicates you can also skip the chilling and simply press the dough into the tart pan. I chilled my dough and rolled it out.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10 inch round (to fit a 9 inch round tart pan), or to fit a 4 inch x 13 inch rectangular tart pan. Ease dough into the pan and press into the sides to form.
Chill pan with dough in refrigerator while preheating the oven to 375 degrees F.
Line the dough with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake tart crust for 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes more.
Wash berries and lay on paper towels to dry. Heat the jam with a few teaspoons of water to thin it, then press through a sieve.
Brush half the jam on the tart shell.
Arrange the berries in the tart shell.
Return tart to the oven for about 5 minutes.