A perfect crust for a fruit tart


"Oh, blackberry tart, with berries as big as your thumb, purple and black, and thick with juice, and a crust to endear them that will go to cream in your mouth, and both passing down with such a taste that will make you close your eyes and wish you might live forever in the wideness of that rich moment."

Just reading the words of Welsh-born writer Richard Llewellyn makes the mouth water and memories of ripe fruit in sweet crusts come alive.

Summer fruits may be the stars of our seasonal desserts

today, but their supporting cast of crisp and buttery, spicy and nutty crusts brings out the best in their incredibly varied flavors.

In her new book "Great Pies & Tarts" (Clarkson N. Potter Inc., $35), Carole Walter shares tips about making these rich bases for show-stopping results.

European-style tart doughs differ from their American pie-dough cousins by the size of the flakes formed when butter is cut into flour. Tart doughs use smaller flakes of fat, which bake into more compact layers. The finished crusts are sturdier and less fragile than pie doughs, balancing juice-laden fruit fillings perfectly.

These showier tarts are unmolded, making them easier to slice. Put one on your summer buffet table, and you won't have the mess of cutting a pie.

Do your doughs have a ten-dency toward dryness, driving you to overwork the dough to keep it together? Walter has the answer. Spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and don't tap down, which packs flour. If you're a tapper, place the cup right on the kitchen counter and don't lift it. According to Walter, packing can result in up to 25 percent more flour in your dough.

We put this to the test. We made some dough twice, first

using our usual method of dipping the measuring cup into a canister of flour and leveling off the top with a straight spatula. The result was a dry dough that wouldn't hold together and wouldn't roll out. We ended up patting it into a tart pan. The baked crust was a little tough, a natural effect of overworking.

When we used Walter's method, the dough was smooth and easy to work with. The baked crust was tender and nutty, a delicious complement to the peaches and berries.

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