Dessert: The Final Flourish

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Spring and summer bring a multitude of occasions for great desserts. (Courtesy Christy Rost)

The dessert course goes by many names – a pudding, the grande finale, la piece de resistance – but no matter what one calls it, I’ve always believed guests may not remember what they had for dinner, but they always remember the dessert!  A beautifully crafted dessert can elicit oo’s and ah’s from family and guests, and let’s face it – every cook and chef lives for those moments when time and effort in the kitchen are rewarded by smiles, gasps of surprise, and words of appreciation.  There’s little doubt those reactions influenced my passion for creating desserts that look as fabulous as they taste, and so I began my career in the kitchen at the tender age of twelve by baking a lemon meringue pie.

My grandmother Henrietta was known for her impressive desserts.  Her cookies had delicate flavors I can still taste in my memories, her pies featured the flakiest crusts, and her cakes were always a masterpiece.  While I don’t remember baking together in her kitchen – a regret to this day – I was a great imitator, and so I replicated in my mother’s kitchen the desserts I loved in my grandmother’s.

What I learned in those early years in my mom’s kitchen is that baking is ritualistic and comforting.  The very act of dipping a large spoon into flour, filling a measuring cup, evening off the top, and dumping the flour into a mixing bowl is a ritual that’s gone on for generations.  There’s a rhythm to the step-by-step process of mixing dry ingredients with eggs and liquid to create a cake, or of cutting ice-cold butter into flour to make a pie pastry, and that rhythm can be comforting.  Perhaps this is the reason why I still stir the flour mixture into creamed butter and sugar by hand when making cookies, because I enjoy the rhythmic sensation (and tantalizing aromas) created when I sit on a kitchen stool with a big bowl in my lap and a large spoon in my hand, rather than using an electric stand mixer.  Of course, I also love the fact that hand-stirring results in a more tender cookie!

With spring’s arrival and summer not far behind, a multitude of occasions will call for great desserts – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, family reunions, wedding showers, backyard cookouts and barbecues, pool parties, and the Fourth of July.  Having an easy, never-fail dessert recipe in one’s arsenal means you’re always ready-to-impress, no matter the occasion.  And, when the recipe features make-ahead aspects, so much the better!

This month, I’m delighted to share a mouthwatering recipe for a beautiful fruit tart with a rich, buttery crust and decorative lattice top.  For this easy filling, I’ve combined canned cherries and fresh blueberries, but as spring gives way to summer, orchard-fresh peaches, plums, nectarines, or even autumn’s first apples would taste equally divine.  Keep in mind that stone fruits such as peaches and plums don’t necessarily need to have the skins removed before slicing and baking.  In fact, when red plums are baked with their skins on, the filling turns a lovely shade of pink.  By keeping the skin, you’ll not only be retaining vitamins, you’ll also save lots of preparation time, and the rustic flavor and texture of the filling is appropriate to summer’s more-relaxed atmosphere.

This pastry takes only minutes to make in a food processor, but best of all, it can be prepared in advance, chilled overnight, or wrapped well and frozen for several weeks.   We’ve nearly all had the experience of cutting into a slice of pie with a fork, only to have the pie nearly fly off our plate!  Tough piecrusts are the result of over-mixing the dough and too little moisture.  The keys to perfect pastry are ice-cold butter, ice water, and a minimum of mixing and handling of the dough.  Master these three techniques, and you’re on your way to creating your own final flourish!

Christy Rost is a lifestyle authority, author of three cookbooks, public television chef on PBS stations nationwide, and a longtime resident of The Park Cites and Preston Hollow. For additional recipes and entertaining tips, please visit her website www.christyrost.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @ChristyRost.


Editor’s note: The Cherry Blueberry Tart recipe included with Christy Rost’s April column ran incomplete in print editions. Find the full recipe here. People Newspapers regrets the error.

Cherry Blueberry Tart

• 2 cups flour

• 3 tablespoons sugar

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

• 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

• 1 21-ounce can cherry pie filling

• 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained

• 1/3 cup sugar

• 1 egg, for egg wash

• 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

• 1 tablespoon clear sparkling sugar or 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

• 1 10-inch round tart pan with removable bottom

Place flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse just until it is pea-size.

Add almond extract and 4 tablespoons ice water, and process at low speed until the pastry is crumbly. If the mixture appears dry, add the remaining ice water and process just until the pastry comes together and forms a ball. Remove the pastry, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes or until cold. Pastry may also be wrapped well and chilled overnight or frozen for several weeks.

In a large mixing bowl, gently stir together the cherry pie filling, blueberries, and sugar until they are well blended; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a floured pastry cloth or counter, roll the pastry into a 12-inch circle. Fold the pastry in half and transfer it to the tart pan. Unfold the pastry, fit it into the pan, and trim the excess pastry by running a rolling pin over the top of the tart pan. Gather the trimmings together into a ball, roll it out, and cut the pastry into ten ¾-inch wide strips using a pastry wheel or knife. Place 5 strips of pastry across the top of the tart, then turn the tart one-quarter turn and place the remaining pastry strips across the top to form a basket weave pattern. Trim any excess pastry along the edges with your finger.

In a small bowl, whip the egg and water together with a fork. Brush some of the egg wash over the pastry strips and along the edges of the tart and sprinkle them with sparkling sugar.

Place the tart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to catch drips, and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove the tart from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool.

Yield: 1 10-inch tart

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