There are few culinary joys equal to biting into the still-warm crust of a puff pastry tart. The way in which these crisp but ethereal layers shatter into crumbs all the time makes me giddy with marvel: How can butter be so gentle and feathery? How can air be this wealthy and crunchy?
If in case you have an exacting nature, loads of endurance and a great deal of time, making your individual puff pastry is right. However for the improvisational cook dinner, a field of excellent, all-butter puff pastry stored within the freezer is a wonderfully reputable various, baking up as ethereal and burnished as something I’ve been in a position to make from scratch. They make whipping up spectacular fruit and vegetable tarts a feat you are able to do on the fly. And, when you’ve discovered a number of easy guidelines, the probabilities are huge and straightforward to riff on.
First, although, you’ll want to trace down a superb model of puff pastry, ideally one made with butter. Some supermarkets inventory it solely across the winter holidays, so should you see it then, think about shopping for a number of additional packages. In doing so, you possibly can bake one thing with asparagus or strawberries for Mom’s Day, or have your approach with tomatoes and peaches come summer season. When correctly saved within the freezer, it may final for eight to 10 months.
It’s finest to thaw puff pastry slowly — for at the very least three to 6 hours within the fridge, the place it can maintain for every week or so. In the event you’re in a rush, you possibly can cheat, so long as you’re cautious. Take the pastry out of the field and place it, nonetheless wrapped, on a metallic pan in your counter, then flip it over each quarter-hour till it’s thawed sufficient to unfold, however under no circumstances heat (about 1 ½ hours complete). Keep away from the microwave it doesn't matter what; it can soften some areas of the pastry into sticky puddles whereas leaving different elements inflexible and frozen.
A flabby, underbaked heart is the scourge of puff pastry tarts, and the standard culprits are toppings with a excessive moisture content material or piling on too many elements that may steam and ooze throughout your dough. Be sparing. A little bit topping goes a great distance, particularly when the buttery crust is as a lot part of the attraction as no matter is on prime. Two to 4 cups of fruit or greens is an efficient vary.
Precooking the greens will help cut back moisture and add taste, whether or not you’re roasting, grilling or sautéing them. However there are some quick-cooking, low-moisture greens that can be utilized uncooked: Asparagus, corn kernels and broccolini are wonderful strewn over the crust. And should you’re working with contemporary tomatoes, make sure you drain them on a clear kitchen towel earlier than they meet any pastry, lest sogginess ensue.
I like so as to add a smear of crème fraîche spiked with herbs, lemon and garlic beneath the greens. It makes the tart velvety and provides panache. However ricotta, mascarpone, goat cheese and cream cheese are wonderful alternate options. Simply don’t use something skinny and runny like plain yogurt, otherwise you danger dampening the pastry.
For candy tarts, tossing juicy summer season fruit with slightly cornstarch will bind the liquid and maintain it from leaking, however there’s no precise science on what quantity you must use. Sliced ripe stone fruit and rhubarb want extra, whereas berries and cherries want rather less. (Skip the cornstarch totally for apples and agency pears should you’re trying towards autumn.) Two to 3 tablespoons per quart of sliced fruit ought to do it.
Sugar quantities are equally variable. Plan for about two to 5 tablespoons sugar per quart of fruit, taking into consideration that ripe July peaches will want much less sugar than rhubarb and puckery raspberries. Style your fruit earlier than including the sugar, then wing it. If the tart finally ends up too candy, you possibly can prime it with crème fraîche for tang. And if it’s not fairly candy sufficient, slightly ice cream goes a great distance.
Now that you simply’ve discovered what to placed on prime of your pastry, right here’s my trick for enhancing its underside. For savory tarts, I sprinkle a layer of grated cheese on the pan earlier than including the dough. The cheese melts and browns, giving the underside crust the style and texture of an enormous cheese straw. For fruit tarts, I exploit a sprinkle of Demerara sugar, which caramelizes, turning candylike and pleasingly brittle.
Whether or not you go together with a savory or candy tart, make sure you serve it both nonetheless barely heat, or inside a number of hours of baking. That’s when a puff pastry tart is at its crispest and most-compelling finest.