One of the things I greatly appreciate about Nagano here is a bounty of fresh local produce. It is particularly gratifying that certain kinds of fruits, such as apricots, nectarines, Italian plums, and rhubarb (technically not a fruit, but still) that would be hard to come by or pretty expensive when I was in Tokyo, are abundant over here. I have always been big on fruits ever since I was little, but I've come to bake a lot more with fresh fruits these last years being in here.
And it was in that summer when I suddenly found myself in the mood for baking fruit tarts, among other things, for some reason. In fact, it was most likely because of the small tart pans I'd bought in Paris a little earlier.
And it actually does involve a little more than what I would get when making my usual suspects, such as scones and crumbles. But in spite of it all, I was suddenly ready to roll.
And the more you make them, the better you get at it, right? That, I'm afraid to say, doesn't seem to be the case with my tart-making skills - or at least not where rolling the dough and lining a pan with it is concerned. But I quickly learned to be forgiving of all the uneven, cracked, and/or flimsy-edged tart shells I bake, and not to let my less-than-perfect pastry get me down too much.
Now, what exactly is it that makes a tart, well, a tart? How is it different from a pie? You can google it away, but there seems to be no definitive, I mean DEFINITIVE, definition of a tart, or a line that sets a tart apart from things like a pie, or even a cake. Not all tarts have a crusty crust; some are like a thinly-baked cake, and others have a yeast-raised dough. It would seem that you can basically call anything a tart if it is thin-ish. And I'm perfectly alright with that.
As a curious baker, I've always been game for baking with different ingredients and recipes, and am always drawn to healthier options. I've enjoyed baking from some macrobiotic books, and vegan and gluten free recipe books, among other things, and the latest addition to my collection of those lines of the baking books is a Japanese title called かんたんお菓子 ('Simple Treats') (Wave Publishers, 2012) written by Hiroko Shirasaki, a cooking instructor and author who runs organic (and egg- and dairy-free, mostly vegetarian) cooking school called Shirasaki Chakai.
So there are already so many recipes for tarts out there, and when you are playing around with the ingredients, the possibilities are endless.
So I decided to do a separate post focusing on the tarts, and it's been a very long time coming but it's finally here, dedicated to tarts and tarlets starring fresh fruits of the season: autumn.
So what follows a rundown on most of the fruit tarts I made in the falls of 2012, 13, and 14. As I mentioned earlier, a tart can take many forms; I took a liberty of using the term 'tart' in a very broad sense.
Now with your permission, let me take you back to the beginning of autumn...
I've been baking with such fruits as plums, peaches, and blueberries since the late summer, but when you start feeling a hint of fall in the air, I like to spice things up a little.
To the fruit mixture I added a bit of spices, cinnamon and cardamom - just a little.
NOW, these are tarts. Definitely tarts.
The not so classic part is that the tart dough did not use butter and the 'custard' was egg- and butter-free, which made these tart almost vegan. Why almost? I know, I know, something that is almost vegan is not vegan at all, but these tarts could very well have been vegan, I mean completely vegan, had I not drizzled them with a bit of honey for a finishing touch. But I did, so that's that.
I would now like to focus on some of my favorite autumn fruits in turn, starting with one(s) of my all-time favorites: peaches.
So I tend to have quite a lot of them lying around in the house in early fall, and although I like them eaten as is (i.e. uncooked) the best, I don't mind using some in baking, too. Besides, the late-season white peaches are typically firmer than their earlier counterparts, and they take very well to cooking.
Something slightly more autumnal now:
Something that's even quicker to make:
All you need is to pat out the dough to cover the bottom of your pan, before placing sliced peaches over it and topping with a crumble-like mixture. Then into the oven it goes.
Another thing that's fruity and juicy, light as a cloud and ready in a flash:
Because, well, there were a plenty of them around.
Like peaches, fresh figs are something I cannot help but pick up every time I see them towards the end of their season in late September and early October, which tends to result in my having quite a lot of them in the house. Also like peaches, figs are very perishable - so you really have to get busy to use them before they go bad.
A little later in the fall, I made them again, using figs and sweetened chestnuts.
And here is something else with fresh figs with another autumnal flavor.
Having had my share of fresh figs in a bunch of tart forms, I was now ready to have them baked...
Now Tender II was definitely one of the books I used the most for making all these tarts, and another one is Baking: From My Home to Yours (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), by a grand dame of baking that is Dorie Greenspan. I can't say I have cooked most of the recipes from this massive volume, but I have quite a few, and all of them have been wonderful.
It is, in essence, a very simple tart, really. But it's really delicious. First, you make Dorie's Sweet Tart Dough, which in itself has become my go-to pate sablee recipe. If you don't have the book, which I really think you should, you can find the dough recipe online, here.
As a variation, Dorie suggests adding some finely chopped fresh rosemary to the almond cream, and being a card-carrying rosemary addict, I was quick to follow this piece of advice, to a fantastic result.
Figs can play solo perfectly, but they work nicely in an ensemble as well.
And the polar opposite of these (sweetness-wise, that is) were this:
I got this book quite a while ago and was always curious about this recipe, and this year I finally made it. My verdict? In two words: too savory. In nine words: a little too savory to pass as a dessert. I'm not saying it was not tasty, because it was - in a rustic sort of way. As long as you don't except it to be a sweet treat, it makes a totally fine snack.
Another one from the 'healthier' dessert department:
Also called frangipane, an almond cream is usually made using ground almonds, sugar, eggs, and butter. A bit like the soy-based 'custard' from the same book that I mentioned earlier, this recipe replaces the butter and eggs with tofu and rapeseed oil. Some of the people who had this tart said they didn't taste the tofu, but I did - but I didn't mind it. It may indeed put some people off, I don't know. I found an addition of some spices to the almond cream (cinnamon and cardamom here) helpful.
Another one with figs and Italian plums:
And what was the 'thing', exactly?
Tarts made using fresh Italian plums and a yeasted dough such as this seem to be originated in Germany, and you can find a lot of recipes out there. Here I used one by Nigella Lawson, again in How to Be a Domestic Goddess （German plum tart).
And two years on, I am still making them every now and then.
Anyhow, Italian plums (aka prune plums) were here.
The yeasted plum tarts I mentioned just now are something I like to make and eat, and I have tried a lot of different recipes.
Another Italian plum one from the same book:
By now you may or may not be wondering, yeasted doughs and puff pastry are all good and everything, but do I ever make a bona fide, I mean classic, type of tart with Italian plums at all? Well, I have!
Actually, it looked a lot more beautiful in the picture in the book, but I seem to have had trouble with stuffing, I mean arranging, the plum quarters in the tart shell. Oh well.
Speaking of, this tart book by Eric Kayser is full of creations beautifully executed and photographed, making it both pleasant to look at and inspiring to bake from for home bakers. I've tried quite a few of them from it, and here is another one of them:
And tasty, too!
And so, grapes.
That said, the double-grape tart above may have been the only one that I've made using fresh grapes alone; in all other instances, I seem to have used them in combination with some other fruits.
Meanwhile, I do remember how I made these:
Okay, back to sweet tarts...
So all I can say is that the intention was good with this yeasted Asian pear and grape tart with lemon thyme and ginger.
While nashi pears generally make their appearances at the store in late August, pear-shaped pears arrive a little later; ours are at their peak in October around here.
I like Asian pears eaten fresh, but with yonashi, I like them in any way - fresh, baked, poached, or even dried. And they make truly fabulous tarts, too.
Okay, a more tart-like tart now:
First I found a recipe (again) in Eric Kayser's Les tartes d'Eric Kayser. Then I was inspired (again) by Simple Treats by Hiroko Shirasaki to create an egg- and dairy-free version, by making the tofu frangipane with ground pistachios in place of almonds. In addition, I made the pastry dough with rice flour and oat flour, thus turning the tart gluten-free as well.
I loved the pairing of pears with fresh figs (yes, I was still buying them, until they disappeared from the store shelves for the season...), but a smaller version I made with raspberries (= pear and raspberry tart with pistachio frangipane) was lovely as well.
And did someone just say raspberries?
That time I went a little nuts and came home with about 7 lb (3 kg) of them. Some of which went on to star in some gorgeous tarts.
Raspberry and mascarpone tart. Need I say more?
Here's another like that:
I ate a few, then turned the rest into tarts.
But they reminded me of how much I love raspberries and chocolate together, especially in the colder months. So here's another with the combination:
And speaking of berries, blackherries are another kind that you can find fresh past summer and well into late fall, or early winter, even. Around here we are not so lucky, unfortunately, but that doesn't keep me from baking with blackberries (from the freezer), when it's cold out. There is something wintery and comforting about them.
Like its namesake treat, macaroons, the tart is loaded with coconut and quite sweet, which makes blackberries a perfect fruit to use in. We enjoyed ours in small slices, with strong coffee.
It was in essence a common combination of a tart shell with almond cream and fruits, but it was, again, (mostly) vegan version using the dough and tofu almond cream from Simple Treats by Hiroko Shirasaki. I say mostly vegan because I dusted the tart with a regular confectioner's sugar, which may or may not be vegan.
But if you want to pair blackberries with another fruit, I think apples would be the best and most solid bet.
That said, some ground almonds sprinkled over rolled pieces of pastry, and the finishing touch with chopped butter and sand sugar, contributed to the great texture and flavor of the finished product, I suppose.
...And so, apples.
As I have mentioned over and over again, you get a whole lot of fruits grown here in Nagano, but apples are special; Nagano has long produced some of the best apples in the country, and this ancient fruit holds a very special place in people's hearts. Some of the early-harvest varieties start popping up at the green markets as early as mid August, but you need to wait until October before they come into their own; the markets are literally dominated by apples of all varieties.
And early in the season, I usually opt for something light.
When I saw the recipe in La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life by Béatrice Peltre (Roost Books, 2012), I knew I just had to make them. And I did, to a great success. And I freely admit that I also attempted to emulate Bea's styling for the picture, too - to not so great a success, perhaps. Anyhow, the original recipe, which you can also find here, makes smaller tarts (thus tartlets); but for a variety of reasons, mine ended up being a lot bigger.
Here's another apple tart recipe that happens to be gluten-free, and is created also by a talented food blogger / photographer / stylist / author:
The original recipe uses pink-fleshed apples, which indeed makes a really pretty tart; but we don't find those, so I just used a red-skinned kind (kogyoku) and left the skin on for some of the apples.
And I happen to have made another one like this.
The author, Liska, is the blogger behind White Plate, which many say is the top Polish food blog, and I'm inclined to believe it. I am very lucky to know her, who was a huge source of information about the food scenes in Warsaw when I visited there a few years ago, both through her blog and in person. It was lovely to meet her there, and this fall, I was thrilled to receive a copy of this new book of hers about apples (thanks!!), and after I got it in mid September, I busied myself with putting sticky notes on a bunch of recipes and did some translation as I waited for kogyoku apples to arrive in October. And when they did, this was the first recipe I tried from the book.
The apple season may span a few months, but kogyoku apples are around only for a few short weeks, and they don't keep for very long as some others do. So I try and do my best to showcase their stunning ruby color while I can.
Again, I didn't follow any particular recipe, but I had seen apple tarts made to look like roses on the Internet or elsewhere, and finally tried my hand at making some. This kind of decoration is totally NOT my metier (my family did a double take as they saw me at it...), but I did my best and I think they (or at least some of them) could be said to look like roses. So can I please call these apple rose tartlets? Thanks.
Another apple roes tart:
The recipe was yet again from Simple Treats by Hiroko Shirasaki, with the tart dough made using rice and quinoa flours and the 'custard' with walnut milk (homemade!) in place of soy milk, hence vegan and gluten-free apple tart with walnut custard. There was much room for improvement both with the pastry dough (too fragile) and the decoration (a bit floppy), but I could live with that.
So it does, as I spend the second half of October busy baking with apples.
So before we accept that autumn is giving way to winter and the markets have nothing left but apples, here are a few tarts that showcase the best of autumn fruits:
As you can clearly see, the style of this tart made it NOT an ideal thing to serve in 'equal' slices, but I'd seen this beautiful tart months before and just had to try making something along the line.
I hope you are, because this one here is a really nice one, too.
The recipe was again by Dorie Greenspan, but from her new book Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). It came out late October and this was one of the first things I tried. Apart from the tart itself which was fantastic, the galette dough recipe is fabulous; very easy to work with, and makes a beautifully flaky tart.
And that's it - tarts with fruits of autumn, about 50(!!) kinds of them.
There are a few reasons why it has taken me this long to put together this blog post, and the biggest one would be the usual; I didn't have enough time. Uh-huh. Right.
But enough with my excuses for my poor blogging habit. What I wanted to say is, the autumn here gives me an abundance of the most wonderful fresh fruits, largely locally-grown, and I find enormous pleasure in baking with them as they come one after another.
After autumn, winter feels rather empty where a supply of fresh fruits are concerned, but I have made some fruits tarts last two winters, and I will this year, too. So expect to see a winter fruit tart post up here, sometime this winter - hopefully before the end of it.
Before I shut up, I am leaving you with one last tart (really!) that I made at the end of November last year.
You'll find a lot of apple tarts in the winter entry, too - consider yourself warned!
>>> Read the next on the "fruit tarts to make now" series: winter