The Tart, a High Form of Pastry
Pie, in general, is a good sturdy food. Rustic and versatile, it can be served sweet or savory. It’s reliable, like an ak47 or borax. But periodically occasion calls for something a little more refined, more elegant. Something like a tart…
Since its inception the tart has been considered a higher form of pastry than that of the pie, taking an additional 200 years to perfect, it was a favorite among nobility from the start.
The pie, in contrast, was a tasty way to utilize and mask the true identity of offals; and was generally thought of as commoner’s fare.
Aesthetically speaking, it’s easy to see why nobility had a penchant for tarts. Pie, though delicious, is a hulking lumpish thing when placed next to the tasteful simplicity of a tart. With its sloping sides and weak infrastructure, the pie cannot visually hold a candle to the crisp edges and neat straight sides associated with a well-made tart.
To the average eater, the differences between the tart and the pie seem rather obvious, albeit inconsequential to their gastronomical enjoyment. But for some, the categorization of their food is important and so in the name of transparency, I shall expound upon the manifold differences between pie and tart.
Pie crusts are made of flour, salt, water, and fat (generally in the form of lard, butter, or shortening) and are prized for their flaky qualities. Tart crusts, in contrast, have the addition of powdered sugar for sweetness and eggs for added strength. This allows us to remove a tart from its pan or ring whereas to do the same with most pies would prove cataclysmic.
The method of creation differs somewhat between pies and tarts as well. For pie dough dry ingredients are whisked together in a bowl, then cold butter is added and combined with the hands until crumbly. Tarts require the butter to be creamed with the sugar first and the remaining ingredients added after. This technique ensures a firmer, sturdier, crust.
Because of the added sugar and egg yolk, tart dough is sweeter and richer than pie dough and thus requires a gentler touch when rolling out and handling. Whereas pie dough tends to be slightly savory especially when lard is the fat of choice. An excellent counter to some sweet fruit fillings, but decidedly different from the tart.
According to the folks at Domino Sugar tart crusts are “always” open-faced and “always” blind baked prior to being filled. Although I am fairly certain that I, along with many others, have broken both of these rules and still dubbed the resulting dish a tart it is at least another firm rule of differentiation if nothing else.
But before another blow is dealt, and we are categorically paralyzed for life, let us instead turn to a recipe for a tart among tarts.With its dense chewy interior, this Caramel Walnut tart is as close to perfection as this world will allow. With an added crunch from walnuts and frangipane, it lacks neither interest nor texture. Surprisingly easy to prepare, and even easier to consume, this tart is sure to make even the staunchest pie advocate ask for seconds.
The Caramel Walnut Tart
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 cups almonds, blanched preferably
17 Tablespoon unsalted butter softened
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
Place ¼ cup of the sugar and the almonds into the bowl of a food processor. Process in bursts until the almonds are finely ground. Add all the remaining ingredients except the flour and process until a thick paste forms. Add in the flour and mix just until combined. The frangipane is now ready to be used or can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week and the freezer for as long as a month.
⅔ cup sugar
1 ¼ cups chopped walnuts
½ cup heavy cream
1 9-inch sweet tart shell (Patêe Sucrée), unbaked
1 cup frangipane
3 Tablespoons Apricot Glaze
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Have a large 9×13-inch baking pan at the ready.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan combine sugar and 2 Tablespoons of water. Bring the combination to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir continuously just until the sugar has dissolved. As soon as you no longer feel the granules under your spatula promptly stop stirring. Wash down the sides of your pan with a pastry brush dipped in water, effectively removing all traces of remaining sugar crystals. Without stirring, continue to boil until the mixture turns a lovely shade of amber, roughly two to three minutes. When the right color is achieved remove from heat and stir in the chopped walnuts, continue stirring for approximately 20 seconds, this slightly toasts the walnuts and brings out their highest flavor. Now carefully stir in the cream, the mixture will bubble up, but do not be frightened. Return to the heat and continue to stir until any lumps have broken down and you have a more uniform lumpiness. Pour into your baking pan, and refrigerate until cool, at least 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350℉
Scrape the cooled caramel into the unbaked tart shell, smoothing it out into an even layer. Spread the frangipane on top, smoothing everything over with a spatula
Bake the tart for 35-40 minutes, until you’ve achieved a golden brown top, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.
⅓ cup Apricot preserves
In a small saucepan heat the preserves over medium heat, until bubbling. Strain immediately and use when still warm. This can also be done in the microwave in 30 to 45-second bursts. The heat should be enough to allow you to strain and easily use your preserves but if you have heated it adequately and feel it is still too thick do not be afraid to add a couple tablespoons of water.
When the tart has reached room temperature, brush the entire thing over with the warm apricot glaze. Cool again before serving, and then, right before presenting it to your guests, dust with powdered sugar.
This tart offers a fairly smooth top that just begs for decoration, arranging some toasted walnuts into an attractive design is an option or using a cake stencil to make a design with the powdered sugar also looks quite nice. I leave the aesthetics to the chef.