An elegant fruit tart is easy to make with this recipe. The cookie crust and quick custard support the fruit design of your choice!
The first time I tried to make a fruit tart was 37 years ago. I lived in Paris and I was eager to try all kinds of cooking. I know exactly when it was because I still have the recipe written down in the notebook I was using at the time. It was from the August 1983 issue of Bon Appetit and it was called Crème Brulee Tart Jimmy. It consisted of a pastry shell, baked and brushed with chocolate, then topped with blackberries and custard. It was finished with a layer of sugar that was caramelized under the broiler. It sounded (and still does sound) divine. And none of it worked for me.
I couldn’t make a pastry crust that would stay together when I took it out of the mold.
I couldn’t get the custard to thicken and set up firm.
And I couldn’t get the sugar to caramelize without burning.
That was the first of many failures.
Today I am here to tell you that it can be done. You won’t fail and you are going to impress yourself and your friends!
Start with the pastry.
This pastry recipe bakes up almost like a cookie. It has a good bit of sugar and an egg yolk which helps hold it together when you unmold it. Unfortunately, it also makes a wet dough which can be a little hard to work with. It holds up well to being handled so it’s okay if you end up picking it up and putting it into the pan in pieces. So long as you press it together well in the pan.
Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of your processor fitted with the metal blade. Give it a whirr or two mix it together and then add chilled butter, cut in small pieces.
Process the mixture in 7 second pulses until the butter is mixed in and it looks like cornmeal or sand.
With the processor running pour in an egg yolk mixed with ice water and vanilla. The dough should come together into a ball. If it is super wet, add another tablespoon or two of flour.
Take it out of the work bowl, form it into a ball and flatten it into a disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chilled for thirty minutes before using. (You can make it the day before and refrigerate it, just bring it out of the refrigerate for about 30 minutes before trying to use it.)
Make the custard.
While the dough is resting, make your custard.
I can not tell you how many hours I have spent standing over a stove, stirring a custard over low heat waiting for it to thicken. Eventually I get a custard suitable for pouring but never one thick enough to use as filling. Then, this Christmas, I was researching an Australian recipe and came across a custard base which included corn starch. Hallelujah!
How had I never seen this before? Corn starch is a thickener and adding it to the custard base means that the sauce will thicken before the egg overcooks. Pour it through a sieve and you have a creamy, thick, eggy custard.
Beat eggs yolks, sugar and corn starch together until the mixture turns pale yellow.
In a medium sauce pan, heat milk and butter together until it’s just beginning to boil. You can add a vanilla bean or some lemon or orange flavor to steep in the milk while it heats if you want. Or you can add your flavoring at the end of the process.
Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for a minute before slowly pouring it into the egg and sugar mixture while your mixer is running. (Remove the peel or vanilla bean first!)
Put the custard into a pan and cook it over medium heat until it is thick.
Immediately pour it through a sieve into a bowl, using a rubber spatula to push it through. Add up to two tablespoons of vanilla, lemon juice or a flavored liqueur (like Grand Marnier or Framboise) and stir until it is well mixed. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to cool. You can do this up to three days in advance.
Bake the tart shells.
Once the tart dough has rested, it’s time to bake it. For this you will need parchment paper and something to weigh down the dough as it cooks. This can be pie weights, raw rice or uncooked beans. You need something that will spread out in the pan and won’t react to the heat of the oven.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and place it on a floured board. This is going to be a sticky dough so flour your rolling pin and sprinkle flour over the top of the dough as well. Bang the dough four or five times with the rolling pin to start to soften it and flatten. Now start to roll it. Initially you will need to stop and move the dough often, reflooring the board and the rolling pin as needed to keep it from sticking. Roll it out to about 1/2” to 1” thickness.
Carefully lift it off the board and place it in the tart pan. It may tear or break. That’s okay. Use your fingers to push it into place making sure the dough is even spread in the tart shell. You have enough dough for one rectangular tart pan (13 ¾” x 4 ½”), eight mini tart pans, or one 9” round tart. It’s okay to make a double batch of dough for a larger pan as you have extra custard.
Cover the dough in the pans and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough in the tart pan and add a layer of pie weights. Bake the tarts for 20 minutes, remove the paper and weights and bake it for another 10 minutes until lightly browned.
Let the tarts cool. As they do the crust will shrink away from the sides of the pan a bit. When it is cool, remove the tart shell from the pan.
Pat yourself on the back.
Assemble the tarts.
This is the fun part.
Spoon the custard into the tart shell and spread it out to fill it.
Then place the cut fruit onto it in a pattern or design.
You choose the design on the tart the way you want and use the fruits you like.
If you are unsure of how it will look you may want to draw an outline of the tart on a piece of parchment paper and place the fruit in the intended design on it to see how it looks.
I think it’s nice to try to keep within a season or location for the fruit. I chose to do a citrus tart using a variety of different colored citrus fruits for my circular tart and for the others I went with tropical fruits on some and winter fruits on some of the others. (A stray raspberry or two may have snuck in there too. I’m not a total purist!)
Although best served on the day you make them, the tarts will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Now I’m thinking of trying the Creme Brulee Tart Jimmy one more time.
- 2 c whole milk
- 4 tbsp butter
- 2 tsp vanilla or one vanilla bean
- ½ tsp salt
- 5 egg yolks
- 3 ½ tbsp cornstarch
- Peel of ½ orange and 2 tbsp Grand Marnier or peel of 1 lemon and its juice
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp ice water
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 ¼ c flour
- 1/3 c sugar
- Pinch salt
- 8 tbs cold butter
To Assemble the tart
- Assorted fruits
Make the custard.
- Heat the milk, citrus peel and vanilla bean (if using) with the butter and salt in a medium saucepan until the butter has melted and the mixture is almost simmering.
- Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until very pale yellow. Add the cornstarch and whisk to mix well.
- Remove the citrus peel and the vanilla bean from the milk mixture and with your mixer running, slowly pour in the heated milk mixture.
- Immediately return the custard to the pan and place over medium heat. Stir constantly until the custard has thickened.
- Remove the pan from the heat and pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. You made need to use a rubber spatula to press it through.
- Stir in the Grand Marnier or lemon juice (and vanilla extract if you are using it).
- Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the custard and refrigerate until needed (up to three days).
Make the pastry.
- Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice to mix.
- Add the butter and pulse in 7 second intervals until the mixture resembles sand.
- Mix the egg yolk together with the ice water and, with the motor running, add it to the flour. Process until it just holds together. Add 1-2 tablespoons more flour if the mixture is very sticky.
- Remove the dough from the processor, shape into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If the dough is quite cold, let it warm for about 30 minutes on the countertop.
- Roll the dough out on a flour board. The dough will be sticky; you will need to flour the top of the dough and your rolling pin. Once the dough is rolled into the right shape (it should be an inch or more thick), carefully lift it into the tart pan. Press together any tears as needed.
- Cover and refrigerate for an additional 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- Remove the tart from the refrigerator and line it with parchment paper and pastry weights.
- Cook for 20 minutes then remove the weights and paper and cook for another 10 minutes until the tart is golden brown.
- Cool completely on a wire rack and carefully remove the tart shell from the pan.
Assemble the tart
- Have ready your fruits, cut and peeled as needed.
- (If you want, draw an outline of the tart on a piece of parchment paper and create the fruit design on this then transfer the fruit to the tart.)
- Fill the tart shell with the custard using a knife or offset spatula to spread it evenly.
- Use the fruit to create a design on top of the custard.
- Serve the custard immediately or refrigerate until needed.
- Tart will keep for at least 3 days in the refrigerator.