By now most of us have our what-I-did-to-stay-sane-during-the-COVID-lockdown stories down pat. Thankfully, we can now file them under “Personal History,” or even “Family Lore.”
My story is this: I spent that time publishing another book. This one might be called a cookbook, but that’s just the half of it. I gathered together sixteen essays I’d written over the years about my mostly dramatic culinary experiences as a caterer in NYC and attached to each of these essays at least one favorite, tried-and-true recipe. What these recipes have in common is this: They’re all for sweet tarts.
As I wrote in the front matter of the book: “Of all the things I’ve loved to cook and to bake over the years, making sweet tarts for loved ones and special occasions has topped the list. This book is a compilation of some of my favorite sweet tart recipes, along with their stories, drawn from my twenty-year culinary career. I hope that Sweet Tarts will inspire you to make one or two — or more — of these recipes from time to time, especially on special occasions, and enjoy them with your own sweethearts.”
During the COVID lockdown I lived in a small studio apartment on the third floor of a townhouse in the Guadalupe neighborhood of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Because my neighbors downstairs and I lived under the same roof, we considered ourselves a safe “pod,” a quasi-family. We socialized in each others’ apartments – eating, drinking, and making merry as if tomorrow we might die of COVID. We had fun.
And so my Sweet Tarts project became something of a collaboration. My neighbor, Kharin, in the first floor apartment, became the designated photographer, taking professional-quality photos for the book of my tart-baking process, step by measured step.
My neighbors Sy and Bill, gourmands who lived on the second floor, happily became my tart tasters. They dubbed me “The Queen of Tarts,” and to this day they address me as “Your Majesty.”
So here we are now, two years later, out of the COVID woods, we all hope. It’s summertime in half of the world, and luscious fruit is in season locally. This is the best time to make a sweet fruit tart. So why not give it a go, as the Brits would say?
The following recipe, from my Sweet Tarts book, is for a galette — an old-fashioned, French, farm-style, free-form tart – which uses fresh plums (but other stone fruit should work as well). This plum galette is simple to make, stunning to look at, and beyond scrumptious to eat. (Just ask Sy and Bill.) Making it doesn’t require a special tart pan, so you have no excuses.
As background, I originally found this recipe in the August 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine, a publication I relied on heavily for fail-proof recipes when I was a New York caterer. Sadly, Gourmet died at the end of 2009, after nearly seventy years of publication, due, they said, to “shifting food interests among the readership.” For me, though, Gourmet’s recipes live on.
1 recipe galette pastry (see below)
2 tablespoons semolina (or Wondra) flour
8 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 large black or red plums (1-1/2 pounds), halved, pitted, and each cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
¾ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 tablespoon Armagnac or Cognac (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large (17 x 12-inch) baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round. Transfer to baking sheet.
- Stir together the flour and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and spread evenly over dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange plums, skin sides down, in 1 layer on top of sugar mixture, then sprinkle plums with 3 tablespoons granulated sugar.
- Fold in edge of dough to cover outer rim of plums, pleating dough as necessary.
- Bake galette, loosely covered with a sheet of foil, 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake until fruit is tender and juices are bubbling, about 5 minutes more.
- Transfer galette on baking sheet to a rack and immediately brush hot juices over plums using a pastry brush. Dust hot galette with confectioners’ sugar (sugar will melt and help glaze galette). Cool to warm or room temperature, about 30 minutes.
- While galette cools, stir together crème fraîche, Armagnac (if using), and remaining 3 tablepoons granulated sugar in a bowl until sugar is dissolved. Serve galette with Armagnac cream.
(Makes enough for a 13” circle)
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose plus ¼ cup cake flour)
3 tablespoons sugar
a pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, frozen
1 egg yolk
3-4 tablespoons ice water
- Sift flour, sugar and salt together into a medium bowl.
- Using the largest holes on a hand grater, grate the frozen stick of butter into the flour mixture, tossing with your hand from time to time to distribute the butter evenly. Pinch the flour-butter mixture with your fingertips to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and ice water and pour into flour-butter mixture.
- Working quickly with your fingertips, form into a dough and pat the dough into a disk. Wrap disk with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold and firm, about one hour. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days.)
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Sweet Tarts for My Sweethearts is available from the publisher, Nighthawk Press, http://nighthawkpress.com/titles/sweet-tarts-sweethearts/ or from Amazon.com.