Rustic Tarts: The Ultimate Carefree Dessert

Article excerpt

A French friend once told me that those glamorous tarts for which the French are famous are merely open-faced cousins of American pies. But, he qualified, they are generally more refined than their "homier" relatives.

Intimidated? Don't be, especially when it comes to rustic tarts, the carefree ones I love to make.

By definition, a tart is a single-layer pastry dish -- most often sweet -- that's just like a pie but with an open top that lets the filling shine. A crostata, a native of Italy, also is a tart, but one that can be prepared by folding the edges of the dough over the top of a fruit filling. This technique creates a rough or rustic look rather than a uniform, circular shape. Likewise, a galette is an open-top tart of French origin that's made with a flaky crust and often filled with almond cream and slivers of citrus peel, although this is not a requirement.

A tarte Tatin, named for the French sisters who invented it, is a tart that's not particularly refined. It begins on the stovetop in a skillet with the bottom of the pan covered with butter and sugar. When the butter and sugar caramelize, apples are added and the fruit is topped with pastry -- piecrust, puff pastry, even soda bread dough can be used. After baking, the tart is inverted onto a serving plate and -- voila! -- the caramelized fruit becomes the topping.

What makes these topless, rustic pastries so appealing for the home cook is that they require only one crust and can be made with any fruit, from strawberries and rhubarb in spring to peaches and plums in summer and apples and pears in autumn. For fast and easy tarts, you can substitute frozen puff pastry or refrigerator pie crusts. Free-form tarts also mean that there's no fussing to create smooth edges; the filling simply is placed in the center of each round of dough and then the edges are folded up and over the filling. These rustic tarts are then baked until the crusts are nicely browned and the juices start to run in delicious imperfection!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Galette

Butter, for greasing pan

Flour, for dusting work surface

1 sheet frozen puff pastry from a 17.3-ounce package, defrosted according to package directions

5 to 6 stalks fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3/4 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Creme fraiche or whipped cream for topping

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9- or 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Dust a work surface with flour. Roll out the pastry to a 12-inch circle. Transfer to the prepared pan, pressing the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan, leaving a 2-inch overhang.

In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar and cornstarch. Spoon the filling into the center of the pastry. Fold the overhanging pastry border up over the fruit and crimp it into a scalloped or pleated border. Brush the border with the melted butter and place the tart pan on a baking sheet (to catch the juices).

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the crust has browned. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Push up the bottom of the pan to release the sides. Sprinkle the top of the tart with confectioners' sugar, cut into slices, and serve with creme fraiche or whipped cream.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Plum Tart with Cabernet Syrup

For the Cabernet Syrup:

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup cabernet wine

For the filling:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

6 to 8 red plums, halved and pitted

Flour, for dusting work surface

1 sheet frozen puff pastry from a 17. …