The meaning of pie … and tarts

Lemon curd raspberry tartlets

If there is anything I love as much as making and eating macarons, it’s making and eating tarts and pies. There is something comforting and “homey” about running your fingers through sandy clumps of butter and flour, or wielding your rolling pin to flatten chilled discs of dough. And when heat transforms these marbled sheets of pastry into tender and flaky layers replete with the heady scent of butter, a mystical cloud of coziness blankets ones kitchen and soul.

I’ve been trying to figure out why, despite a parade of elegant and architecturally worthy desserts, I’ve always circled back to the simplicity of the apple pie or any iteration thereof like tarts or galette.

Apple tartlets

I believe memories of childhood are deeply rooted in the fiber of who we become especially in affairs of the stomach. Even if we grow more sophisticated in our taste buds and are willing to be more adventurous, in times of stress, gaiety or moments when we just want to indulge, we become a youngster again and seek the satisfaction of food that brought us so much comfort in decades past.

Growing up in our bakery kitchen, I bore witness to sacks of flour, pounds of butter and crates of eggs being morphed into cakes, bread, pies or brownies. Of all these, I couldn’t wait for the apple pie or the brownies to come out of the oven. Cake, I often can do without, unless of course it’s chocolate. Risking the wrath of my parents {and often against the cautioning of those who knew better}, I would cut eagerly into warm just-baked pies – basically ruining its profitability – just so I can have it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and enjoy that hot and cold melty mess. Ahh, I can be a brat sometimes specially when the tunnel vision to apple pie begins.

I now make my own pies, thankfully and obviously learned that it is indeed better to let them cool down before partaking of a piece. However, I wonder if my preoccupation with mini sweets have something to do with this idea of independent pieces not affecting the whole.


I’ve been obsessed with tartlets lately maybe because they look gorgeous and make perfect small treats. I used to be annoyed with tart doughs because they break easily. But after reading almost every baking book about them and finally having a chef instructor tell me the same, there is no secret to them except to keep them well-chilled, which can be difficult in the summer when most fruits are begging to be turned into tarts. It’s best to start rolling them just on the side of being too cold because the eventual friction from your rolling pin is going to warm them up quickly. When all else fails, this dough is very forgiving and you can always pat the pieces into your tart pan.

One I’ve always used is by Kate Zuckerman and can be found here. There are two types used in tarts, pate sucree and pate sablee. It’s almost hard to tell the difference between this duo except the latter is usually referred to as shortbread. Both are used for tarts but I prefer to refer to mine as pate sucree which is sweet tart dough.

I recently compared three new recipes, one from a tart class I took from the University of Richmond’s Culinary Arts Center (URC), one from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s (RLB) Pie and pastry bible and the last from Deborah Madison’s Seasonal Fruit Desserts (DM).

All worked really well. From the picture below, URC’s tart crust {on the right} is very similar to RLB’s, {on the left} except the latter is a bit flakier because  chilled butter was used. The tastiest and flakiest was DM’s {middle} but I couldn’t use it in an apple tart because it got too soggy. For a lemon curd tart though, it was perfect.

From left to right, tart crusts: Rose Levy Beranbaum, Deborah Madison, University of Richmond Culinary Center (Chef Tom Parfitt)

For lemon curd recipe, see here.
I used Helen’s {Tartelette’s} grandmother’s apple tart recipe except I skipped the cardamom and used cinnamon. To make the tart, you make an apple compote, let it cool and then fill that into a partially-baked tart shell. Then you top with apple slices and bake until the top is brown.

Book Giveaway:


I am also giving away Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Seasonal Fruit Desserts! In my cookbook buying frenzy last Christmas after seeing Anita’s best of baking books of 2010, I apparently added two of this to my shopping cart. I am bad with returns and since I’m going to pay the shipping costs anyway, why not just send it to a reader who would appreciate the book. With the bounty of summer fruits just at our doorsteps, there’s nothing like the perfect time for this book. To be entered into the book giveaway, leave a comment about what kind of tarts you like or wish to make. The winner will be picked by the random number generator, announced on Tuesday, June 7,2011. Sorry, U.S. residents only.

Here’s a dessert table I did for the Lululemon store opening. Mini-tarts add a refreshing look to your sweet table.

Lululemon sweet table

Tart dough recipe at the jump:

Tart Dough
from Deborah Madison’s Seasonal Fruit Desserts

1 cup all-purpose flour or 3/4 cup white plus 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon organic dark or light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange, lemon, or tangerine zest, when called for
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 tablespoon cold water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and/or 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Put the flour, sugar, salt, and zest, if using, in a food processor; pulse to combine. Add the butter is broken up into pieces the size of baby peas. Drizzle in the water-vanilla mixture and pulse just until large, moist-looking crumbs have formed
Gather the crumbs together into a mass. The should stick together. If there is any dry flour left in the bowl, add a few more drops of water to bring it together as well, then add it to the rest of the dough. Shape the dough into a disk about an inch thick and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
If patting the dough into the pan, put it in the center of your pan and then start pressing it out using the heel of your hand. When you get to the edge, begin building the dough up the sides. The walls should be about 1/4 inch thick. It will probably take some going over the dough to get it evenly distributed, but don’t worry – it won’t toughen. Remove the dough that rises over the rim with your fingers and use it to patch another part of the tart that looks thin. Use a finger to make a slightly shallow impression at the base of the rim so that when the dough slides down during baking, it won’t end up too thick at that point. Refrigerate the tart until ready to bake.

You can pre-bake these at 350F for 15 minutes or until golden.


19 thoughts on “The meaning of pie … and tarts

  1. I’m a big fan of blackberry pie and tarts. When I was a freshman in college, one of our family friends actually fedexed me her blackberry tarts in tupperware. When I’m in the kitchen though, I like making custard-based tarts, stuff like buttermilk and chess pies. I’ve been interested in the Southern tradition lately, so I’ve gravitated to those particular recipes.

  2. I am a big fan of tarts! They are so soothing, versatile and delicious. Berry tarts are just out of this world…



  3. I love the delicateness of tarts and one of my favorites is a Macadamia, Chocolate Ganache, Caramel Tart! It’s so decadent. For a lighter tart, I love a Frangipane and Pear tart! 🙂 Awesome giveaway!

  4. In the past, I’ve made dark chocolate tortes but think I’d like to try something with grilled mango.

  5. I usually make fruit galettes– fig is a favorite. But recently I made a delicious strawberry and marshmallow tart. I think I’ll be making that one again soon! Your sweet table looks lovely, esp. the red/white theme of the cake pops(?).

  6. i’d love to win your extra book – as books are very expensive lately. i would love to try pecan tarts with caramel and top with meringue. also, thanks for sharing your thoughts re miette pastry shop in sfrancisco. i recently went there and the very first thing i did was to go to miette- you are so right. the macarons were such a delight. i find it very delish than the ones at bouchon. i tried all their flavors.

  7. Hi Veron,
    Just popped in to say Happy Macaroon Day and lo and behold what to my wondering eyes should appear but gorgeous tarts! Simply lovely…

    Thanks for sharing, Veron. YOU a “brat?” I don’t think so:)

  8. Hi Veron,
    Love to check fb only when I see you have posted something…inspires me to bake…
    I would love to try the lemon curd but I also want to try anything with MANGOES in it…
    do you have a recipe for it or have you tried one?
    Love your site….Have a great day highschool classmate!!!

  9. I’ve had that book for months but haven’t used it yet – shame on me!
    Your tartlets look so adorable, Veron! I love the green touch you gave with the pistachio. Beautiful!

  10. Love that you compared the three dough recipes. I’m always trying new ones, but have never done so the way you have here. Makes it interesting and very instructional — not to mention delicious! Gorgeous little tarts — so perfect — as is the imagery you created with your writing.

  11. Gorgeous, gorgeous tarts. I especially love the apple galette. You’ve received so much wonderful training – how wonderful!

  12. Beautiful tarts! Your obsession has served you well, Veron! I have the Deborah Madison book and it’s wonderful. In fact I bought it just for the raspberry recipe on the cover, and it came out perfect. Then I read the fine print, which says “eat the same day” so I quickly organized a spontaneous dessert party!

  13. Apricot almond tarts are positively dreamy. Or raspberry. Or anything citrusy. Or anything with jam and nuts. Actually I’ve never met a tart I didn’t like.

  14. So excited to try this tart dough. We always go blackberry picking in June so can’t wait to make blackberry tarts. Thanks for the inspiration!

  15. I’m relatively new to tarts, but I’ve always wanted to make a pear and almond frangipane tart.

  16. Pingback: The meaning of pie…is a pie pop! | Kitchen Musings

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