About a month ago I took a class called Simple Summer Tarts at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) taught by Chef-Instructor Michael Laiskonis. It was all thanks to a gift certificate given to me by good friends for my birthday. Most definitely a wonderful and thoughtful gift.
During the four hour class we were taught several pastry techniques, including how to make pastry cream, work with chocolate, and whip up Italian meringue. We started out by first watching the instructor make Pâte Sucrée, the sweet shortcrust pastry dough that gives tarts a sturdy, tender base for custards, creams, and fruit.
Taking the extra time to make the dough properly is important, and so is having the patience and planning for chilling the dough, carefully rolling and shaping the dough to ensure that it's of uniform thickness so that it bakes evenly and doesn't break, and allowing the tart shell to properly cool before filling.
It also helps to have all the necessary ingredients and tools on-hand, a phrase the French call mise en place, or "putting in place", as in set up. It's used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. This is a practice we should all definitely bring into the home kitchen if like me you've had to run out to the grocery store in the middle of cooking or baking for missing items. I may make the effort if I'm determined to make that particular recipe but nine out of ten times, I'll throw in the towel and make something else.
After the instructor's demonstration we were given the task of making our own pâte sucrée, something I felt comfortable doing as I'd perfected my own pie crusts. It takes light and deft hands to quickly roll out, cut out, and place the dough into tart pans without breaking or over-handling the dough. I definitely learned new methods I've already incorporated into rolling out my dough.
While three dozen or so mini-tart shells baked in the oven, the instructor gave us demonstrations on how to make basil pastry cream and a frozen lemon 'sponge' (a gelatin sugar, water, and lemon juice concoction) for a Blueberry, Basil, and Lemon Tart, how to make apricot caramel and chocolate ganache for an Apricot Caramel - Chocolate Tart, how to make frangipane for a Banana-Almond Tart, and how to make passion fruit cream and Italian meringue for a Passion Fruit Meringue Tart. I really enjoyed the class. The only drawback was that there just wasn't enough time for the students to try their hands at making the tarts.
Nothing inspires me to bake more than a good mood, a beautiful summer day, and Cole Porter or Etta James in the background. So, I decided to thaw out the frozen pâte sucrée dough I brought home from class, and pick up ripe peaches to bake a Peach Tart. This recipe is super easy and the results are delicious. Make sure the peaches are ripe and of good quality to ensure their sweetness. There is nothing worse than under-ripe, hard as a baseball peaches.
Read the recipe all the way through because if you are making the crust from scratch, it will need to chill and rest for a minimum of 30 minutes, several hours being better. If you already have a tart dough ready to roll out, you can follow the recipe from the filling directions. Preheat the oven to 425º.
250g unsalted butter, softened
40g almond flour
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 whole egg, room temperature
400g all-purpose flour
1g baking powder
- Cream together the butter, sugar, salt, and almond flour in an electric mixer.
- Slowly add the egg and the yolk, scraping down the bowl.
- Add the flour and baking powder, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add water.
- With minimum handling, shape the dough into a disk, then wrap in saran wrap. Chill; allow to rest for several hours.
- Roll out to fit an 11" tart pan, about 1/8" thickness. Trim excess dough from edges. Chill while you prepare the filling.
3-5 small ripe peaches
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vanilla or almond extract
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 425º.
- To quickly remove skin from the peaches- boil water in a big pot, drop in peaches for 30 seconds, then immediately remove with slotted spoon and drop into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. After 10 seconds, grab the peach, and pinch a piece of the skin to get started, then simply peel. The skin will slip off easily unless they aren't ripe enough. In this case, use a paring knife to remove the skin. Slice peaches into thin even slices.
- In a bowl combine 3/4 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons flour (3 if peaches extra juicy), 1/4 teaspoon salt, and butter. Using your fingers, pinch the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly, with a mixture of fine granules and tiny pebbles. OR you can do as I did and now add the peach slices and gently stir into the mixture. However, this creates a sticky mess when arranging the slices into concentric circles, which I didn't mind but you may.
- Starting on the outside, arrange the peaches overlapping in a concentric circle over the pastry; fill in the middle with whatever pattern makes sense. The peaches should fit snuggly. If you didn't mix in the peach slices with the sugar, flour, butter mixture, then now sprinkle the pebbly butter mixture over the top (like a crumble). Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until shiny, thick bubbles begin enveloping the fruit and the crust is slightly brown. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or room temperature, preferably with a generous dollop of whipped cream.