I couldn’t find more than four of my small tart rings. They are probably buried in the backyard somewhere. Or being used as some sort of contraption for Batman. Or hidden somewhere with my brain.
Not looking forward to running out to the cooking supply store with two kids in tow, I was trying to think of any alternative when I remembered something I’d seen on Pinterest…canning jar lids as tart pans. Hooray for Pinterest!
This lesson was a departure from our previous projects as it was the first time we made two different pastry components which we then brought together to form frangipane and apple tartlets.
First up, the tart dough, also known as pate sucree.
We talked about the differences between pie dough and tart dough. Typically, the first is flakey, and not overly sweet. The latter is sturdier, (to stand unsupported by the pan), sweet, and crunchy or sugar cookie-like.
Now the ingredients are not wildly different in the two doughs; the primary distinction is how the butter is incorporated into the flour and to what degree.
Me: “Does anyone remember how we mixed our butter into our pie dough?”
“We cut it up into little squares?”
“Was it supposed to be cold?”
They recalled cutting the cold butter into the flour, and I reminded them that we did that to avoid completely mixing it into the dry ingredients. Those chunky bits of butter gave us the flakiest dough.
I explained that tart dough is more like a cookie dough, so that is how we would mix it. Just like our gingerbread cookie dough, we would start with room temperature butter which we would then cream together with the sugar.
Me: “If we are using room temperature butter should we try to mix in a cold egg?”
Flour was measured and added and, that was that.
Tart dough. Easy peasy.
Again, just like our cookie dough, we would need to let this dough rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let the flour absorb the liquid from the egg and allow the butter to firm up enough to roll out.
I had some dough already made and ready to go. And roll they did.
We worked on keeping our hands closer together to even out the pressure of the pin on the dough.
And what to do if the dough started getting too long or misshapen in one spot: “Turn it!”
As well as how to use small bits of dough to press into and patch the spots they weren’t happy with.
We tried to roll “around the clock” to keep things somewhat circular.
Once the dough was bigger than the tart ring, we gently picked it up and placed it over the top of the tin. I showed them how to lift the outer edge of the dough and use their thumbs or fingers to ease it into the bottom contour of the lid.
We didn’t worry about getting a perfect round, but aimed more for an even thickness. At one point we even got something that resembled the continent of Africa, though there was some discussion about whether it looked more like Louisiana.
Once the dough was settled nicely in the pan,
we rolled the pin over the top to make a nice edge.
Further refinements could be made once the extra dough was removed.
The tartlet cases were then placed in the refrigerator to chill while we made our almond filling.
Frangipane, or almond cream as it is also known, is very versatile and besides being used for filling tarts, it can be swirled into a quick bread or pound cake, spread onto pastry or yeasted dough and rolled up cinnamon bun style, or even spooned over fruit in a dish and baked as is. Another cheer for multifunctional items!
But back to the task at hand…
The first step required a food processor. The kids were excited to see an actual piece of cooking equipment as up until then we’d mixed every other recipe by hand.
To avoid making almond butter, we ground the sliced almonds with a little bit of sugar, pulsing the blade until the nuts were a fine meal and beginning to climb the side of the bowl.
We creamed room temperature butter with sugar and salt, then added our reserved almond mixture.
Finally, the egg and vanilla were beat in with a tiny bit of milk. We finished the filling about the time that the tartlet shells were sufficiently cold.
The kids took turns scooping the frangipane into their shells, (yes I did label the bottoms so there wouldn’t be a question of which belonged to who!), not quite to the top of the pastry.
They used a spoon to spread the frangipane over the tartlet cases while I sliced some apples. We kept the slices together and just pushed them slightly forward to get a nice fan. These were placed directly on top of the almond filling.
We had extra frangipane, which they had ideas for…
About 25 minutes later the small tarts emerged from the oven, slightly puffy and nicely browned.
I warmed up a bit of apricot jam to glaze them with and removed them from the tins.
I think we even won over the “non-almond” person in the group. There were only crumbs left on the plates.
Sweet Tart Dough yield: two 9″ tart shells or six 4″ tartlet shells
1/2 c + 1T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 t salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 3/4 c all purpose-flour
Either by hand or using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until smooth. Mix in the egg. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the flour all at once. Mix until just incorporated. Divide the dough as necessary and shape into a disk about 1/2″ thick. Wrap well and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Let dough sit out of the refrigerator for a few minutes to take the chill off and become just malleable enough to roll. Roll to 1/8″ thick and line tart pans. Patch as necessary. Chill until firm, about 15 minutes.
Frangipane yield: about 1 1/2 cups
1 c sliced almonds **
1/2 c granulated sugar
7 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/8 t salt
1 egg, at room temperature
1 T whole milk
1 t vanilla
In a food processor, grind 2 T of the sugar with the almonds until fine. Set aside.
Either by hand or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the remaining 6 T sugar and salt. Add the almond mixture and beat until combined. Add the egg, milk and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.
** Alternately you can use purchased almond meal. I chose to grind the almonds because commercial nut meals are more likely to have been processed on equipment also used for processing peanuts. Just FYI for those with allergy considerations. Also, grinding your own is a bit cheaper.
To assemble and bake the tarts: heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread frangipane over chilled tart shells. Add fruit. Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until nicely browned.