Tart-O-Matic: Improvising Fruit Tarts


Sally Schneider

Years ago, I learned a wonderfully simple method for making freeform fruit tarts modeled after French galettes, whose charm lies in their rustic imperfection. The recipe involves little more than rolling flaky pie dough into a rough free-form round, piling cut-and-sugared fruits into the middle, and folding the dough up around it. It is the quickest method I know of creating a delectable fresh fruit pastry— about 20 minutes once you make the dough—akin to a pie but without the bother. It is the perfect dessert to make during these last weeks of summer and the early weeks of fall, with the last, lush peaches, plums, and berries, or the new crop of apples and pears...

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Make variations of this tart throughout the year with whatever fruit is in season. The only variables are how the fruit is cut and the amount of sugar it needs to reveal its full flavor. You can improvise endless combinations of fruits and flavorings, from vanilla to nutmeg to thyme to kirschwasser, though simply tossing the fruit with lemon and sugar is enough to make a gorgeous tart.

You can use your own homemade dough, or a prepared pie dough that is sturdy enough to roll and handle. I make this tart so often that I divide big batches of dough into well-wrapped disks to keep in the freezer for when I am pinched for time.

Recipe: Improvisational Freeform Fruit Tart

This "master recipe" gives the essentials you need to know to improvise with just about any fresh fruit. You can combine two or three fruits and/or add additional flavorings such as half a vanilla bean—split, seeds scraped out and mixed with the sugar—or one to two teaspoons pure vanilla extract; 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon ground spices such as cinnamon or clove, or a few scrapings nutmeg; one to two teaspoons eau de vie such as framboise, poire William, or kirsch; or one to one and a half teaspoons minced fresh thyme or rosemary or a pinch of lavender flowers.

Apples and rosemary make a sensational tart.

Serves 6

    • 1/2 pound Easy Butter Dough or your favorite flaky pastry dough
    • 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons flour for thickening the juices, plus extra for rolling the dough
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 3 cups ripe fruit (peeled, pitted, and cut into ¼-inch thick slices as appropriate) such as pears, plums, peaches, apricots, bananas, berries, cherries, or rhubarb, in any combination
    • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (2 tablespoons for apples)
    • ¼ to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
    • 2 to 3 teaspoons unsalted butter
    • 2 teaspoons confectioner's sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rough circle about 14 to 15 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and refrigerate it while you prepare the fruit.

In a small bowl, combine one tablespoon sugar with two tablespoons flour (two and a half tablespoons for very juicy fruit, such as berries, rhubarb, and cherries); reserve.

For the filling, place the fruit in a bowl and toss it with sugar, lemon juice, and any flavorings you like. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle the reserved flour-sugar mixture evenly over it, leaving a two-inch border uncovered. Arrange the fruit evenly over the flour-sugar mixture. Gently fold the rim of dough over the fruit, creating overlapping creases as you go. Moisten your fingers lightly with water and gently press the creases together so that they hold their shape. Shave the butter over the fruit.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden brown, the fruit tender, and the juices syrupy, about 40 minutes, covering the tart half way through if the crust is browning too rapidly. Let cool 10 minutes before sliding the tart onto a serving platter.

Just before serving, sift the confectioners' sugar evenly over the crust.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.

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