The art of the tart

I was a student at Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco when I had my first taste of a galette. That's what Mary Risley called the fruit-filled pastry she was showing her students how to prepare. Risley is the owner of the school and was...

I was a student at Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco when I had my first taste of a galette. That's what Mary Risley called the fruit-filled pastry she was showing her students how to prepare. Risley is the owner of the school and was my instructor.

I watched as she quickly used the tips of her fingers to mix a rich, buttery pastry dough that would become the base of a rustic free-formed fruit tart or galette. She explained that the tips of the fingers are the coolest part of the hand. Using them as a tool for mixing pastry prevents the butter from getting soft and melted. Little bits of butter in the dough will result in flaky pastry.

With gentle authority, Risley rolled the dough into a round. She folded the thin disk of dough in half, then in half once more before she placed it on a baking sheet. After unfolding the dough, she topped it with fresh California nectarines and blueberries and baked it.

It was at that moment I thought, "Why make pie when I can so easily make a tart full of rustic character?"

Country-Style Peach, Plum and Almond Tart is a dessert I developed to take advantage of the sweet, fresh stone fruit that is available in stores right now.


The not-too-sweet pastry holds a hint of nutmeg and gets bright flavor from a bit of orange zest. I like to use lemon zest sometimes rather than orange zest along with some minced fresh lemon thyme. The dough is moist and easy to work with. If it cracks a little along the edges when you're rolling it out, just pinch it back together again. The baked pastry is flakey and tastes like a cookie.

Sweet ground almond filling layered between the crust and the topping of peaches and plums is what turns this tart that might otherwise be OK into something fabulous.

This tart always tastes best the day it is made. But, just like a fruit pie, it can be heated in the microwave the next day and will still deliver wonderful flavor. At Tante Marie's Cooking School, we ate the tart with sweetened whipped cream. Ice cream melting over the warm tart is marvelous. And drizzled with homemade caramel sauce, it's absolutely divine.

Call it a tart or call it a galette. Or maybe call it a funny looking pie. It's the way I like to eat fruit.

Country-Style Peach, Plum and Almond Tart

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
Zest of 1 orange, grated
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold water

Almond Filling:
1 cup whole almonds, toasted
2 egg whites
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound dark plums, halved, pitted and sliced 1/2-inch thick
3/4 pound peaches, peeled and sliced ½-inch thick
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks


For Crust, combine flour, orange zest, sugars, salt and nutmeg in a mixing bowl or food processor. Mix ingredients well. Add butter and process or cut with pastry blender until mixture looks like bread crumbs or oatmeal flakes.

Mix water and egg yolk in a small bowl until blended. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and mix just until it holds together when pinched with fingers. Gather into a ball. Knead the dough 2 or 3 times. Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

For Almond Filling, grind almonds in food processor or blender to a fine texture. Add remaining ingredients and process until blended. Set aside.

For Topping, in a small bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour. Place peach and plum slices in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle cinnamon spice mixture over the fruit and toss.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough to form a 12-inch round. Fold dough in half, then in half again, and carefully pick up and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet. Lay the round of dough flat.

Spread Almond Filling over the dough leaving a 2-inch border all the way around. Arrange fruit on top. Fold 2-inch border of dough over the fruit. Dot the fruit with 2 tablespoons of butter. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes. If dough looks like it is getting too dark, place a piece of aluminum foil loosely over the tart to prevent over-browning of the crust.

Remove tart from oven. Allow to cool on pan for 10 minutes. Gently slide the tart onto a cooling rack. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


Tips from the cook

--Use a baking sheet without sides to make it easy to slide the hot tart onto a cooling rack.

--To peel peaches, use a thin-skin peeler or place peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds, then immediately place them into a bowl of ice water. Remove from water. Skin will peel away easily with a paring knife.

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