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Desserts, Martha Stewart: Simple but Elegant

summer fruit tart

Let me make this clear. I love Martha Stewart. I’ve loved her for years, even before the insider trading scandal and her prison term; I love her now that she’s softened her edges a bit as a result of her time in prison. I understand why people make fun of her. The magazine spreads are sometimes too perfect or elegant, and there are things like Christmas decorations that have you hot-gluing grapes to Styrofoam forms, or articles about hardwood floor care that include lines like “Once a week I get out the electric floor buffer.” (Only once a week, you say? Well, some of us have standards.) But a lot — a lot — of what she offers is simple, practical and good, even for a credit-challenged slacker like me who tries not to iron more than twice a year.

This dessert cookbook is a case in point. Some of the desserts are a bit work-intensive or elaborate. Miniature meringue puffs each topped with a single cherry, tiramisu wedding cake, berry gelatin sandwiched between meringue disks; all are beautiful but a challenge to my attention span. But the majority of the recipes are simple in their elegance. Uncomplicated layer cakes, chocolate-macadamia tart, a simple combination of pears and pecorino cheese. The central tenet of the book is that if you work with good ingredients, you need only do so much to create a stunning and delicious dessert.

I had originally wanted to make the black-and-white peanut bar, which is a simple layering of chocolate and vanilla ice creams with sugar wafer cookies, topped with semisweet chocolate and peanuts—a kind of fancy variation on the Nutty Buddy ice cream cone. But I had limited time to canvass grocery stores and I couldn’t find the sugar wafer cookies, so rather than try to substitute I opted to prepare a different recipe, the summer fruit tart. This turned out to be a great choice; the fruit was a better complement to the pasta with blue cheese and broccoli than the chocolate and nut mixture would have been, and the summer timing meant the peaches and berries I found were top quality.

The tart is fairly simple. You make a pastry dough of flour, salt, sugar and butter; because you do not over-process the mixture the butter is in fairly large chunks. You pat the somewhat unruly dough into a disk and chill it for at least an hour (or overnight, in my case). When you’re ready to bake, slice up some peaches and add a quart or two of blueberries, tossing them with some sugar and flour. Take the chilled dough and roll it out to be about 4 inches larger than the intended size of the tart; lay the crust in your pan, top it with the fruit mixture, and fold the edges in toward the center so you have a mostly open tart with about a three-inch pastry border. Brush the dough with milk and sprinkle with sugar, and bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes.

I admit I was kind of worried as I prepared the dough. The recipe says “dough will be full of butter chunks,” and it was, but I wasn’t sure if I had struck the right balance between blending in the butter just a little more and overworking the dough to make it tough. Then I rolled it out, and found myself a bit constrained by the size of my counter; when I got the crust to the appropriate size, it still seemed awfully thick. I was beginning to think I needed a bigger pan. Even with the edges folded in to the appropriate extent, the tart mostly filled a cookie sheet. The recipe calls for a very generous amount of fruit. And not long after I put the tart in the oven,  I spotted a bit of smoke: Some of that excess butter had dripped onto the oven floor, so I had to hastily wipe it away so that I could bake rather than smoke the pastry. I was afraid that I would continue to get drips and burning, but apparently only one edge of crust had strayed beyond the bounds of the cookie sheet, and the rest of the baking time was uneventful.

So when the timer went off I nervously opened the oven door, and found that my tart was now beautiful. I wasn’t the only one to think so, either.  The thick crust turned out to be perfect for the heavy load of fruit and the baking time. I had managed to mix it right—the pastry was flaky and delicious, not tough, and the butteriness was just right. I served the tart with butter pecan ice cream, sending us all into a major food coma.

Verdict: Success. The actual prep time was minimal and the result was spectacularly delicious. I might try to prepare it in my cast-iron skillet next time; the high sides should prevent butter from dripping and burning.

3 Comments

  1. Sally says:

    Damn, that tart looks tasty. Also, huge.

  2. Quite huge. I might try halving it next time.

  3. Scott Bateman says:

    That tart was soooooooooo goooooooooood.

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