Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Spring 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
When in doubt, make a tart.
From rustic to elegant, tarts sweet and savory offer an upscale alternative to pies and quiches. They can be quick to assemble or intricately detailed in elaborately composed rows of glistening fruit over a homemade custard in a from-scratch nut crust.
Chefs and cooks turn to tarts for weekday meals or entertaining guests.
Traverse City chef Cheryl Janz — teacher at Northwestern Michigan College Extended Education program and farmers market tart seller — espouses their versatility.
"Tarts can be sweet or savory. You can put many different things as fillings — all kinds of fruits, combinations of fruits, you can put vegetables in, you can mix fruits and vegetables, you can make tarts filled with nuts," Janz said. "Your crusts can be made of just your basic butter, flour and add sugar to get a sweet crust. You can make it with nut flours. You can make it with cheese — all kinds."
Tart pans come in many shapes and sizes — square, rectangular, even mini and individual serving sizes — and with removable sides to help them remain intact during extrication. Rustic tarts are more free-form, with filling placed on dough and lifted on the sides.
Beryl Striewski of Traverse City, a photographer and cook who loves to bake tarts, describes a rustic tart she makes with ricotta cheese spread and herbs on the bottom topped with thinly sliced tomatoes, salt and pepper in a rustic crust.
"I love the crust," she said. "I love how easy it is to make them. They're just one notch above a regular vegetable dish."
Suttons Bay resident and chef Rose Hollander says the availability of so much local bounty around the Grand Traverse region makes it a tart-maker's paradise — sweet or savory.
“I don’t go one way or the other,” she said. “I tend to be where the mood strikes me.”
As go seasons, so go tarts.
Fresh greens — kale and Swiss chard from Hollander's garden, for example — beg for a savory tart. Local apples or berries set her to making a sweet crust to showcase those flavors. Spring means rhubarb — and asparagus, often in combination with wild ramps.
In the summer, peaches and plums beckon.
“You can do plums and apricots together, or plums and nut-based crusts," Hollander said. “They make a pretty presentation.”
Summer also means berries. For the Fourth of July, Janz creates tarts in patriotic red and blue berries against a white custard backdrop.
Fall brings butternut squash, which Hollander combines with Golden Delicious apples and caramelized onions over a ricotta or goat cheese base, the top dotted with butter and rosemary.
“You can let your imagination go crazy," she said.
Hollander is always ready to whip up a tart because she preps the crust — which requires chilling before rolling — ahead of time.
“If I’m baking one, I’ll make two crusts always at the same time, and one goes in the freezer,” she said.
Oh So Sweet
Making a tart doesn’t have to be rocket science, though it can come close if you’ve a mind to.
"You can make it as complex or as simple as you want," Janz said.
Hollander uses the example of an apple tart, which would have less filling and ingredients than an apple pie. She likes to use a butter crust — even substituting leaf lard (rendered pork fat) for butter, or spreads ground nut paste with a little bit of sugar in the bottom, then layers it with apple slices in concentric circles.
She also likes to glaze with currant or quince jelly, she said.
Janz recommends brushing the top with thinned-down apple jelly or heated and strained apricot preserves.
"You lightly brush it over the top and your fruit will just look gorgeous forever," Janz said. "That's how to make it look pretty and keep shine on top."
Lemon curd tarts can be easy with ready-made lemon curd but Sarah Steele, owner of Traverse City's Sweet Tartlette, said making homemade curd isn't hard.
"It's juice, eggs, butter and sugar over a hot water bath," she said. "And then we add either whipped cream or meringue."
Homemade or store-bought, put cooled curd in the crust and let it chill.
Experimentation is key; Hollander experiments does a walnut crust for a pear tart with clove and lemon or mixes cold filling like cranberry with a baked crust of nuts, butter and some flour.
"Make the cranberry filling, put it in a cooked nut tart base, put it in the fridge. That’s a really good one.”
Using ripe but not overripe fruit can cut sugar sugar in the recipe, or honey and maple syrup can be good sweetners instead, Janz said. Or — chocolate.
Janz adds a bottom layer of chocolate ganache to a pastry cream filling topped with berries for one of her fruit versions. Steele likes to line tart sweet tart shells with chocolate to keep them crispy.
Savor the Flavor
When it comes to savory tarts, the possibilities are endless. Some draw on an egg base — like quiche.
"It's a breakfast, you can have it for lunch, have it with salad," Janz said. "It's got all those goodies in it — the eggs and the creaminess. The French really knew what they were doing when they created quiche."
By day, Steele specializes in sweet tarts in her shop. But at home, she channels Julia Child ("The Way to Cook") to whip up quiche, quickly blending a base of eggs and cream or milk, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg.
Steele's "kitchen sink" version utilizes whatever might be in the fridge, but other favorite savory combinations include ham and cheese, spinach and gruyere and spinach and feta. She pre-bakes the shell about 10 minutes using pie weights or dried beans to keep it from bubbling. Then it's showtime.
"You throw your toppings into a pre-made pie dough, pour royale (the milk/egg mixture) over it and then top with cheese," she said.
Hollander turns to creme fraiche, goat cheese or ricotta cheese in combination with greens and herbs.
“Goat cheese just gives that nice little tang, like putting lemon juice on something,” she said. “It just brightens it a bit.”
One of Janz's favorites is a savory tart with a spicy cheese shell that she bakes, and then layers with fresh heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto, served at room temperature. She also uses vegetables in ratatouille — various squashes, tomatoes and potatoes of multiple colors — to compose another recipe.
"You can cut them out in different shapes and create designs," she said.
While tarts don't have a top crust, Janz says cooks can add texture by sprinkling on cheese, nuts or even breadcrumbs for a crusty topping.
“I think pies and tarts just make people smile,” Hollander said. “They’re a food that’s meant to be shared.”
Black Pepper Parmesan Pastry:
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 T. cold vegetable shortening
2 T. freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t. salt
2 to 4 T. ice water
3/4 lbs. fresh mozzarella, very thinly sliced
1/2 c. pesto
2 lbs. tomatoes, sliced 3/4-inch thick
To make pastry, place flour, butter, shortening, Parmesan, pepper and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of ice water (no cubes) over and gently pulse until incorporated. Gently squeeze a small handful of dough. If it doesn't hold together without falling apart, add more water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition until incorporated, continuing to test. Don't overwork the dough or it will become tough.
Turn out dough on a work surface and form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about one hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with removable rim. Roll rolling pin over the top of the pan to trim dough flush with the rim.
Lightly prick tart shell all over with a form. Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights, beans or rice. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack.
Remove side of pan and slide shell onto a platter. Arrange 1/3 of mozzarella in the bottom of the shell and drizzle with 1/3 of the pesto. Arrange 1/3 of tomato slices, overlapping on top of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat process with next two layers. Serve at room temperature. Makes 6-8 portions.
— Cheryl Janz
Hibiscus Rhubarb and Spring Strawberry Tart
Pie dough (your favorite recipe)
3 c. sliced strawberries
2 c, sliced rhubarb into 1/2 inch dice
2 T. dried hibiscus flowers
1/2 c. natural sugar, divided
1/4 c. tapioca
2 t. orange juice
1 1/4 c. hot water
Roll out dough and place into a tart pan.
Chill the dough 30 minutes. If you are using a recipe that calls for shortening, place the tart pan with the crust in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. Pierce the bottom of the dough with a fork.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line the crust with a layer of aluminum foil or parchment paper. Be sure to extend the foil or paper partly up the sides of the tart. Fill the tart with dried beans or weights.
Bake until the edges of the crust start to turn a golden brown — about 10 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven. Gently lift the foil or parchment out of the tart shell. Discard the dried beans if using. Prepare your filling while the crust cools.
In a small saucepan, heat 1 1/4 cups of water to boiling. Turn off the heat and add 1/4 cup of the sugar to the saucepan. Swirl the water until the sugar dissolves then add the hibiscus flowers to the hot water. Steep the hibiscus for 10 minutes. Remove from the small saucepan and pour into a medium bowl.
Add the sliced rhubarb to the hibiscus water. Steep the rhubarb for approximately 10 minutes. Pour off the tea, but keep the tea concoction. If desired, you can make a nice syrup from the hibiscus tea by adding an additional 1/4 cup of sugar and boiling until the volume reduces by 50% — about 20 minutes.
Combine the rhubarb with the sliced strawberries, tapioca, orange juice and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir well and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
Pour the fruit into the cooled pie shell and pop it into the oven. Bake for one hour or until the juices from the tart look to have jelled. Cool at least 15 minutes before serving. If you made a syrup from the hibiscus tea, you can drizzle the syrup directly onto the tart, or on top of your ice cream.
— Beryl Striewski
Savory Goat Cheese Tart
Pastry (makes one 10-inch tart)
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. (4 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Ice water (about 3-5 T.)
Place flour and salt in a food processer, pulse to mix, then add butter into flour. Pulse butter into flour until it looks like cornmeal, but do not overwork. With the processor running, add ice water a little at a time until dough just holds together when you pinch it between your fingertips. Form dough into a flat ball, wrap in wax paper or plastic and place in refrigerator to chill at least an hour. Bring dough out when ready and let it warm just enough to roll easily, about 15 minutes. Dough can be made a day ahead.
Place dough on a floured surface. Begin to roll out carefully. When the circle is about two inches bigger than the bottom of the 10- or 11-inch tart pan, carefully lift dough and press evenly into the pan. Fold the excess dough inwards, pressing into the sides of the tart pan. Refrigerate tart shell again for at least one hour. (At this point, you can refrigerate dough overnight, or freeze for use another time. You may also pre-bake the shell, then refrigerate until ready to add the filling.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take out tart pan and prick crust lightly with a fork. Place foil over the dough, tucking it in, and fill the pan with dried beans, rice or pie weights. Bake 15 minutes or more until the tart shell begins to color, remove the weights and foil and bake until shell is light golden in color, about 8-10 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool in pan.
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed by snapping each stalk at the bottom
1 bunch (6-8) scallions, halved lengthwise, white and pale green parts only
3 T. olive oil
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
8 oz. fresh goat cheese, room temperature
1/4 c. sour cream or crème fraiche
1/4 c. heavy cream
3 T. chopped fresh herbs: an equal mix of parsley, chives and tarragon, or other herbs of your choice
Grated zest of one lemon
Pinch of cayenne pepper or hot paprika
3 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut asparagus on a diagonal into 1 1/2-inch pieces, separating the tips. Cut scallions into 1/4-inch pieces. Place 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large bowl and add the asparagus (except tips) and scallions, tossing to coat them in oil. Place the asparagus and scallions on a baking sheet in a single layer. Toss asparagus tips in any oil remaining in bowl, then place them off to one side of the baking sheet or on a separate baking sheet (they will be used to decorate the top of the tart). Season the vegetables with salt and pepper and place in oven to roast, shaking and turning the pieces occasionally, until asparagus turns bright green, about 12-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Remove baking sheet from oven and lower temperature to 375 degrees. Allow vegetables to cool while you prepare filling.
Whisk cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, herbs and zest in a medium bowl. Season with fresh ground pepper and salt and cayenne or paprika, then whisk in eggs. Set aside.
Spread the slightly cooled roasted vegetables, except for the asparagus tips, evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Pour in the egg/cheese mixture, then place the asparagus tips decoratively on top.
Bake until the filling is set and the edges of the crust are light brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool at least 15- 20 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.
— Rose Hollander