Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Caramel Fruit Tart

My mom makes the best fruit tarts in the world.  Really.  I have given up on trying other fruit tarts or experimenting with other recipes because it's just not worth it.  This one is The One.  With men, sometimes it's not always clear, but with baked goods, you just know.  So I'm telling you, you don't need to look anymore; I am sharing the secret with you.

Why is this fruit tart recipe so amazing?  Besides the fact that the pastry cream is delicious and honestly tastes just as good when it is hot and freshly made as it does when it is chilled and ready to be served, this tart also has an extra little oomph that no other tart has: a caramel crust.

After baking, the tart crust is covered with pure caramel—no cream, no butter, just pure, golden, melted sugar.  The beautiful amber liquid solidifies to add a textural dimension that is unique to this tart.  One bite and you'll know that nothing else will ever compare.  This tart will ruin all other fruit tarts for you.  And the caramel is what makes this tart The One.

If you look at the picture below, you may feel that the layer of caramel is too thin, but really the idea is not to smoother the crust in caramel, but to just have that surprising "shatter effect" upon biting into the tart.  Also, adding too thick of a caramel layer throws off the balance of sweetness.  I don't like my fruit tarts too sweet.

The recipe here is enough for two fruit tarts, which, trust me, you'll want to have, even if it sounds like a little bit much.  Remember, it's always nice to share!  But if you're feeling conservative, you can half the pastry cream recipe and only bake one tart shell.  And while the recipe instructions say not to wait more than six hours after assembly to consume this piece of art, I've eaten leftovers from the fridge more than a day after making the tart, and I've still found it to be delicious.

Assembling the fruit tart.

Caramel Custard Fruit Tart
adapted from The Dessert Lover's Cookbook by Marlene Sorosky

2 pre-baked tart shells

For the caramel
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp water (a little over)

For the custard
6 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar (roughly 115g)
1/3 cup all purpose flour (50g)
2 cups hot milk
1 tsp vanilla sugar (or extract)
1 stick salted butter, cut into small pieces
pinch of salt (optional)
assorted fresh fruit, like peaches, plums, kiwi, and strawberries

To make the caramel
Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar turns copper. Watch carefully, as it burns easily once it has reached this point.
Working quickly, pour the caramel onto the baked crust, rotating and turning the crust to even coat the bottom. Do the same for the second crust (try to divide the caramel evenly).
Set the tart aside until the caramel cools and hardens. Remember, hot caramel causes very painful burns so use care.

note: If you prefer to have a more caramel, simply increase the proportions to 3/4 cup sugar and 3 tbsp water.

To make the custard
Whisks the yolks in a medium-sized heavy saucepan. Add the sugar and flour and whisk until creamy (I use a hand mixer here).

Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly until the mixtures begins to bubble. Lower the heat slightly and continue cooking, stirring constantly until thick and smooth.
Remove from heat and stir in butter, a small amount at a time. Stir in the vanilla.

Allow to cool. The custard can be refrigerated overnight, just be sure to stir before using.

No more than 6 hours before serving, spread the custard over the caramel crust. Decorate by arranging an assortment of sliced fruit in concentric circles.  My favorites to use are peach, kiwi, and strawberry.

Optional: To make a glaze, combine 1/3 cup apricot jam, seedless raspberry jam, or orange marmalade with 1 ½ teaspoons of water. Bring to a boil in a small saucepan. Brush the glaze over the fruit to cover.

Refrigerate until ready to serve, but not more than 6 hours, or the caramel will soften and melt and the tart shell will become soggy.

Serves 8.

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