Whenever I write for Culinate, I naturally have Portland in mind, and when I think of Portland, I often think of Ayers Creek Farm and all the wonderful foods they produce there, including berries.
At the various farmers markets in that area, I have taken pictures of all colors of raspberries and blackberries, as well as currants and other small fruits. I’m well aware, even jealously aware, that Oregon is berry country and that dry New Mexico is not.
Next to white peaches, I think raspberries are the most divine fruit of all, and discovering the two together is like finding both ends of the rainbow touching the earth. Both are hard to find where I live in New Mexico, but the raspberries are more reliable than the peaches. They grow wild in the mountains, which is a good omen for cultivating varieties at lower altitudes. Still, they are breathtakingly costly — about $5 a handful — which means I think twice about buying them and then, once home, about how to use them.
One of my longtime favorite tarts — which happens to work well when berries are limited — is one I learned from my pastry mentor at Chez Panisse, Lindsey Shere. Lindsey, who has a restrained hand and believes that less is more, came up with an ideal tart for when berries are not exactly plentiful, although I don’t think that was her reason as much as her nature.
It’s a perfect tart that contrasts the sweet, warm, barely acid fruit with a crisp buttery crust. No pastry cream or custard is involved. Consisting of nothing more than a single layer of fresh berries warmed briefly on their crust to tease out their perfume, this tart exemplifies her minimalist approach perfectly.
You need only three things to make such a tart: good fruit, the patience to arrange it with care, and a well-made raspberry jam to anchor the berries to the shell and to glaze them. And you need to serve it within an hour of its making, though if you don’t manage that, you’ll eat it anyway. I know.
If you have to buy berries from afar that have been packed in plastic containers, it’s a good idea to buy an extra package, as invariably some will be damaged. Berries — raspberries in particular — are fragile fruits.
It takes a few cups to fill a tart, even in a single layer. If I had lots of berries to use, I’d choose a square, rectangular, or large round tart pan. Since I don’t, I use a narrow long pan, which doesn’t take quite so much fruit, but looks very handsome when sliced.
If you don’t have it, I highly recommend Lindsey’s book, Chez Panisse Desserts. In the meantime, here is my version of her recipe. Thank you, Lindsey.
Lindsey’s Austere Berry Tart
Serves 6 to 8
Tart Dough, below
3 tablespoons redcurrant jelly or raspberry jam
2 to 3 cups berries (or 3 6-ounce packages)
Softly whipped cream flavored with kirsch or vanilla
Make the tart dough, below, and use it to line either a 9-inch round tart pan or a rectangular pan measuring 4-by-13-inches. (If using the latter, you will have extra dough that you can use to patch any cracks and/or make a few cookies.) Make sure the base is evenly pressed, as the tart will be completely pre-baked before adding the fruit, and you won’t want any thick, uncooked areas. Chill it while you heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Remove the shell from the refrigerator, line it with foil and pie weights, set it on a sheet pan, and bake for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the foil (if it sticks, return the shell to the oven for a few minutes more before removing), then return it to the oven to finish baking, another 12 to 15 minutes.
While the tart shell is baking, lay the berries out on a towel without washing them. Heat the jam in a small pan with a few teaspoons water to thin it. Force any jam through a small strainer so that you have just a clear, sweet, sticky liquid without seeds. Brush about half on the tart shell. Starting with the larger berries, arrange them around the edge of the tart shell, working in towards the center with progressively smaller fruit. Wedge them close to one another, but make just a single layer. If you’re using a rectangular pan, make lines of similarly sized berries.
Return the tart to the oven for 5 minutes to warm the fruit. Reheat the jam again, adding a little water or kirsch if it seems thick; then, using a pastry brush, dab a little on or over each berry.
To serve, remove the tart from its pan, set it on a serving plate, and dust the edges with powdered sugar. Serve with softly whipped cream flavored with a little kirsch or vanilla.
For one 9-inch tart, or one small rectangular tart, with leftover dough
1 cup all-purpose flour, or 2/3 cup white plus 1/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon organic sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon grated orange, lemon, or tangerine zest, when called for
8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 tablespoon cold water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and/or ¼ teaspoon almond extract
Put the flour, sugar, sea salt, and zest, if using, in a food processor, and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until it has broken up into pieces the size of baby peas. Drizzle in the water-vanilla mixture and pulse just until large, moist-looking clumps of dough form.
Gather the dough into a mass. It should stick together. If there is any dry flour left in the bowl, add a few more drops of water to bring it together, then add it to the rest of the dough. Shape the dough into a disk about an inch thick and refrigerate. If rolling the dough, refrigerate for about 30 minutes; otherwise, go to the next step.
Put the dough in the center of your pan and start pressing it out using the heel of your palm. When you get to the edge, begin building the dough up the sides of the pan. The walls should be about ¼ inch thick. It will probably take some going over the dough to get it evenly distributed, but 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 downwards during baking, it won’t be too thick. Put the tart in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to bake.
Related recipe: Lindsey’s Austere Berry Tart
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