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What Is a French Fruit Tart?
A French fruit tart is composed of five separate elements:
The pastry shell is the foundation of the tart, while the pastry cream serves as a creamy conduit for marrying the pastry crust, fruit, and jam, the last of which is used to add pops of intense fruit flavor. The last element is a clear glaze, also called a nappage, which helps seal in the moisture of the fruits on top, preventing them from drying out, oxidizing, and looking unpleasant.
What Is the Difference Between French Fruit Tarts and Fruit Pies?
In a French fruit tart, the tart shell is baked ahead of time, then topped with room-temperature or cold fillings: jam, pastry cream, fruit, and the glaze.
Unlike an apple pie, in which the fruit is baked together with the crust, every component of a French fruit tart is cooked separately, and assembled just before serving. The crust on a French fruit tart— called a sablé tart shell—is crisp, unlike a flaky pie crust or the graham cracker crust on a cheesecake. French fruit tarts feature raw fruit that is lightly coated in a clear glaze to preserve its freshness.
Learn more about the difference between pies and tarts here.
5 Tips for Making a Perfect Tart Shell
Follow these tips for a perfect tart shell.
- Add dry ingredients at the end. For the tart shell, tough dough—which can come from over-mixing, gluten content, and not letting it rest—is the enemy. So you want to add all the dry ingredients at the end of mixing, even finishing mixing by hand if necessary, to ensure the dough is handled only long enough to incorporate the dry ingredients. This will produce a light and crisp pastry base for your delicate fruit tart.
- Blind-bake in advance. Since tarts are filled with creams or mousses (which can’t be baked), you’ll have to bake the tart shell in advance of filling it. This particular tart dough won’t rise too much, so if you don’t blind-bake the tart shell in advance, it’s still going to be okay. Some tart or pie crust recipes will tell you to “dock” (or pierce with a fork) the bottom of the dough before baking to prevent it from puffing up. You don’t need to dock this dough as it won’t rise too much, especially as it’s being weighed down with pie weights during the blind-baking process.
- Bake, but don’t fill, in advance. Tart shells can be baked in advance, but don’t fill them with your creams and fillings too far in advance.
- Freeze extra dough. Any excess dough can be frozen, covered tightly in plastic wrap and stored in an airtight container for two to three weeks. It can also be refrigerated, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in an airtight container for two to three days.
- Use bold flavors. Using whole vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract will give your tart shell (and pastry cream!) a more pronounced vanilla taste. Since the fruit tart is so simple, you want each element to be very flavorful.
6 Tips for Making the Pastry Cream
Think Like a Pro
James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Dominique Ansel teaches his essential techniques for making delicious pastries and desserts in his first-ever online class.View Class
Follow these tips to get the pastry cream just right.
- Try infusions. When it comes to making your pastry cream, feel free to flavor it with whatever complementary flavors you like. For the strawberry tart, Chef Dominique sticks to traditional vanilla, but for an apple tart, he infuses the milk for the cream with a cinnamon stick to extract its flavor.
- Temper. To make the pastry cream, you add some of the warm milk to the egg yolks, then pour the egg mixture into the rest of the remaining pot of milk. This process is called tempering, a cooking technique in which you gradually raise the temperature of a cold or room-temperature ingredient (in this case, eggs) by adding small amounts of a hot liquid, to prevent the cold ingredient from cooking too quickly or too much. If you add all of the hot liquid into the eggs at once, you’re going to end up with lumpy scrambled eggs in your pastry cream.
- Watch the foam. As you will see once it begins to cook, a lot of foam will form on top of the pastry cream mixture. This is a result of all the whisking to combine the ingredients. Once you see it start to disappear as the pastry cream cooks, you can take it as a sign that the cream has started to thicken and will be ready shortly.
- Whisk hard. Constant and consistent whisking is imperative for making a silky smooth pastry cream, as it prevents cream from sticking to the bottom of the pot and becoming overcooked.
- Allow the cream to cool first. A common misstep in making pastry cream is to add the butter to the hot cream as soon as it’s done. You want to avoid this because it will break the emulsion of the butter and result in a grainy, greasy pastry cream. Instead, allow the pastry cream to cool to a degree that is just slightly warmer than room temperature before incorporating the butter. That way, the two mixtures blend together smoothly and your pastry cream stays velvety and light.
- Wrap tightly. Once the pastry cream is finished, make sure to press the plastic wrap against the surface of the cream so that it does not form a “skin” or firm layer on top, another enemy of the smooth texture you want in your pastry cream.
4 Tips for Making the Jam
Follow these tips to get the jam just right.
- Select ripe fruit. When making the jam for the tart, do not use fruit that is going bad, but rather fruit that is at its peak of ripeness to ensure the most vibrant flavor.
- Mix pectin thoroughly. When incorporating the pectin into the fruit, it’s essential to mix it with the sugar first and also slowly sprinkle it into the hot fruit purée while whisking constantly. Both steps ensure the jam stays smooth, avoiding any hard lumps that could ruin the texture of your tart. Learn more about pectin in our guide here.
- Spread evenly. Make sure to sprinkle the sugar and pectin mixture evenly over the purée, rather than dumping the whole mixture in at once as it may clump into a ball.
- Avoid runny jam. To test for when the jam is set, spoon some onto a marble surface or plate, let cool for 1 minute, then run your finger through it to see if the jam stays put and doesn’t run back together. If it stays put, then it’s ready!
5 Tips for Assembling the Tart
Tart assembly can often be the trickiest part of the whole process. Follow these tips to get it right.
- Cool completely. Always make sure your tart shell is fully cooled before you start assembling any cream-based tarts. If the shell is still too hot or warm when you pipe in your pastry cream, you’ll end up with a soggy-bottomed tart.
- Use smooth jam. Other jam-like condiments, like rhubarb compote or apricot preserves, often have large chunks of fruit in them–great on your morning toast, but not ideal for a sleek, modern tart filling–which would compete for attention with the beautiful fruit on top of the tart.
- Be selective. Pick the best looking and tasting fruits you can get since those will be on full display with nothing to hide any imperfections. In the strawberry tart, look for berries that are uniform in size. When placing them on the top of the tart, start with larger berries at the perimeter of the tart and use smaller berries as you work your way toward the center. For an apple tart, use a mandoline to cut thin, uniform slices of apple, if your knife skills are not expert-level. To use the most you can from the apple, cut off its “cheeks” in thirds from the core of the apple so you have three even lobes to work with. With the apples, vary the colors slightly so you can produce an ombre effect when fanning out the slices over the top of the tart.
- Exercise care with the glaze. The glaze should just drape the fruit. As Chef Dominique notes: “Like applying fingernail polish, you want to start from one end and move toward you in one clean motion.” If your glaze is too hot, it can damage the fruit. If it is too cool and thickened, it will just sit on top like a jelly and will be unpleasant to look at it. Always make sure the glaze is no warmer than room temperature so you know it’s the proper consistency.
- Chill the fruit first. Because your nappage is hot when brushed on, make sure whatever fruits you’re brushing it onto are cold so that it doesn’t wilt them. The nappage should set solid within 1 minute.
Chef Dominique Ansel’s French Strawberry Tart With Pastry Cream Recipe
As with all baking, but especially in pastry, mise en place is crucial to success. French for “everything in its place,” the term refers to having all your ingredients measured out and ready to go so once you start making a component, you don’t have to stop, which makes the whole process that much more relaxed.
For the vanilla sablé tart shell:
- 81g (1⁄2 cup + 2 tbsp) confectioners’ sugar
- 127g (9 tbsp) unsalted premium butter, softened (plus more to butter your tart ring)
- 50g (1 each) large egg
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
- 186g (11⁄2 cups) all-purpose flour (plus more as needed for dusting)
- 47g (1⁄3 cup + 1 tbsp) cornstarch
- 1g (1⁄2 tsp) kosher salt
For the strawberry jam:
- 700g (4½ cups) fresh strawberries (hulled and cut in half) or store-bought strawberry purée (you can also use blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, or huckleberry purée)
- 200g (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 24g (7¾ tsp) apple pectin (sold for making homemade jams and jelly)
- 30g (2 tbsp) lemon juice
- 20g (4 tsp) rum
For the pastry cream:
- 533g (21⁄4 cups) whole milk
- 128g (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
- 184g (9 each) egg yolks
- 48g (1/3 cup) cornstarch
- 108g (8 tbsp, or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cubed
For the clear fruit glaze (nappage):
- 139g (3⁄4 cups) granulated sugar
- 346g (11⁄2 cups) water
- 15g (11⁄4 tbsp) NH pectin, available online
To assemble the strawberry tart:
- 1 8-inch vanilla sablé tart shell
- 150g strawberry jam
- 300g pastry cream
- 2lb fresh strawberries, hulled
- 50g (½ cup) clear glaze, rewarmed
- Stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment
- Rubber spatula
- Rolling pin
- Sheet pan
- Parchment paper
- 8-inch tart ring with a removable bottom
- Small paring knife
- Marble surface or plate
- Pastry brush
- Cardboard cake circle
- 2 uncut piping bags
Make the vanilla sablé tart shell:
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the confectioners’ sugar and butter for 30 seconds on low speed. Add the egg, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and mix on medium speed until evenly combined.
- Working on a cutting board, press the vanilla bean flat, then use the tip of the paring knife to halve it lengthwise, from tip to tip. Turn the knife blade over and use the back of the blade tip to scrape the seeds from the center of each half.
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the flour mixture and vanilla bean seeds until just combined and no more dry patches are visible, about 10 seconds more. Finish mixing the dough by hand to ensure it is not over-mixed. The dough should be creamy, smooth and have the consistency of cookie dough.
- Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper on your work surface and sandwich it with another sheet of parchment paper, flattening it into a 1-inch thick disk. Transfer the dough disk to a sheet pan or baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Liberally flour the work surface and a rolling pin. Unwrap the dough and transfer it to your work surface. Roll out the dough out into a rectangle about 1⁄8 inch (3mm) thick. (Make sure to work fast so the dough doesn’t get too warm.) Place on a sheet pan and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. (If you feel your dough is still cold and easy to work with, you can proceed directly to the next step without chilling the dough sheet.) You can also roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment, if you find that your rolling pin is sticking to the dough. It also helps when transferring the rolled out dough onto the sheet pan before chilling in the fridge.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and slide the dough sheet to a work surface. (Peel off the layers of parchment paper, if using.) Using the tart ring as a guide, cut a circle from the center of the dough sheet that is 1 inch (2.5 cm) wider than the outside of the ring, so that the dough round will be big enough to come up the sides of the ring.
- Now: the fun part. You’re going to “fonçage” the tart dough, or form it into a tart shape in the tart ring. First, butter the inside of the tart ring. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the tart ring at the center of the pan. Place the dough round on top of the ring. Push down gently with your fingers and press the dough along the inside of the ring, making sure to get into the inside edges. It’s important here not to press too hard and to keep the tart shell an even thickness so that it doesn’t bake unevenly. Use a paring knife to trim the excess dough hanging over the edge of the ring. Return to the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Tip: If your dough starts to feel warm and lose its shape, return it to the fridge for 15 minutes. Chilling the dough allows the gluten to rest. Working with dough that’s too warm or overworked will cause the finished product to shrink while baking.
- While the tart shell is chilling, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F (175°C) for conventional or 325°F (160°C) for convection.
- Blind-bake the tart shell by lining it with parchment paper or a large coffee filter so the surface of the dough is completely covered. An easy trick to folding the parchment is similar to folding a snowflake, where you fold it in quarters and keep folding smaller segments to the point, cutting in a curve to form a circle. Press the parchment completely to the side of the tart dough.
- Fill with enough rice or dried beans to hold down as weights. Bake the tart on the center rack for 15 to 20 minutes, until it’s a light golden, sandy color and you don’t see any wet spots. This particular tart dough won’t rise too much, so if you don’t blind-bake the tart shell in advance, it’s still going to be okay.
- Bake the tart shell on the center rack for 8 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for 8 more minutes or until the tart shell is a light golden brown. Unmold the tart shell while still warm. Let cool completely at room temperature.
Make the strawberry jam:
- Purée strawberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. If you prefer your jam to be seedless, strain out the purée with a fine mesh strainer.
- In a small bowl, combine sugar and pectin.
- Pour the strawberry purée into a medium pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the lemon juice and rum.
- While whisking, sprinkle the sugar and pectin mixture on top of the simmering purée and mix until incorporated.
- Continue cooking the purée for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the purée has reduced to a thick jam texture.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer the fruit jam to a bowl. Chill in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, until you’re ready to use your homemade strawberry jam.
Make the pastry cream:
- In a large pot over medium heat, bring the milk and half of the sugar to a boil, slowly stirring to prevent the mixture from burning on the bottom of the pot.
- In a bowl, whisk together the other half of the sugar with the egg yolks. (Do this immediately to prevent the yolks from “burning” on contact with the sugar.) Stir in the cornstarch until smooth then slowly whisk in 1⁄2 cup of the warm milk and sugar mixture, stirring until evenly combined.
- While stirring, pour the egg mixture back into the pot of milk. On low to medium heat, while stirring constantly, heat the mixture up until it noticeably thickens. It takes about 3 minutes or so to thicken and a further 2 minutes more, once thickened, to cook out the raw taste from the cornstarch. It will continue to thicken as it cools, so remove it from the heat before you evaporate off too much water.
- Look for the foam on the top of the custard to start disappearing. This is a sign that the custard is almost finished cooking.
- Remove from heat and allow the custard to cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. Add in the cubed butter and whisk until evenly combined. A good pastry cream is rich and smooth, with a pale yellow color and a glossy, velvety texture.
- Strain through a fine mesh sieve to help remove any lumps. Cover with plastic wrap pressed up against the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Make the clear fruit glaze:
- In a medium pot, bring half of the sugar and all of the water to a boil.
- In a bowl, whisk the other half of the sugar with the NH pectin. Once the syrup is boiling, sprinkle the sugar-NH pectin mixture into the syrup, whisking constantly until dissolved. It’s important to combine some of the sugar with the NH pectin first, and then sprinkle it into your sugar water slowly. If you were to add just NH pectin in all at once, you’ll end up with a clumpy glaze.
- Continue boiling the syrup, whisking constantly, to dissolve and activate the pectin, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Pour the nappage into an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 week.
- When you’re ready to glaze, microwave the glaze until it’s hot and liquidy, so it’ll easily and evenly pour on or brush onto fruit (you may add a little water to loosen it up if it’s too thick). If it looks like it’s slightly separated, use a hand blender to blitz it together. Make sure to tap the container a bit so that the bubbles from blending go away.
Assemble the strawberry tart:
- Place the tart shell on a cake stand or cardboard cake circle.
- Fill 1 plastic piping bag with the jam, then twist the open end of the bag to close. Snip the tip of the bag off and pipe the jam in a spiral pattern evenly over the bottom of the tart shell until it’s mostly covered. Reserve about 20% of the jam in the bag for later use.
- Fill a second plastic piping bag with the pastry cream, then twist the open end of the bag to close. Snip the tip of the bag off and pipe the pastry cream in a spiral pattern evenly over the jam.
- On a cutting board, halve the strawberries lengthwise, making sure to group large halves at one end of the cutting board and group smaller halves toward the opposite end.
- Starting with the larger halves, arrange them cut side up and tips pointing outward along the entire edge of the tart so their points extend about 1⁄4 inch beyond the edge of the shell. Continue arranging halves in this fashion until they form a ring, then continue making concentric circles with the halves, working toward the smaller pieces, until they meet in the center and completely cover the pastry cream. From the top, the tart should look like a blooming flower.
- Gently brush the warmed glaze over the cut side of each strawberry only, working from the base toward the tip like painting a fingernail, to make a thin, delicate layer.
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