Lazy Holiday Tarts
Around the holidays all I want for dessert is some flaky pastry, sweet apple, and a little spice. This recipe delivers on that in a minimum of effort. The base is a rough puff pastry that makes enough to freeze for later (aka Christmas). It’s then topped with jam, nuts, spice, and fruit. The jam and nuts are optional, making this a really minimal tart if you want. The shaping of the dough is left somewhat vague on purpose. There’s no need to be specific about the size, you just need to decide if you want individual squares or family-style slabs. Yield is variable, minimally serves 12 generously.
Gordon Ramsay’s Rough Puff Pastry (with slight modifications):
250 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sticks salted butter, frozen
about 150 milliliters (approx. 5 fl. oz. or ⅔ cup) very cold water
about 1 heaping tablespoon apple or fig jam per serving, optional
4 ounces (by weight) pecans, walnuts, or macadamia nuts, optional
Cinnamon, Apple Pie Spice, or Pumpkin Pie Spice to sprinkle
a little salt
1 small apple or pear per serving
about 1 tablespoon softened butter per serving
Make the rough puff pastry:
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Mix together with your fingers.
On the large holes of a box grater, grate the butter into the flour. It will look like it’s way too much. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until you have big chunks of paste and noticeable pieces of butter.
Make a well in the center and pour in about two thirds of the very cold water. Mix without kneading until you have a firm but rough dough. Form into a square shape no thicker than a half inch, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 20 minutes.
Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Roll the dough in only one direction (I like to roll away from me to create a vertical strip), taking care not to push the dough, until it’s about 3 times its original size. You should be seeing streaks of butter creating a marbled effect. If you don’t, don’t worry, it just won’t puff up as much but the flavor will still be great.
Fold the top third down to the middle, then the bottom third up to cover it. Turn one quarter turn to the right so the fold is to the left and the exposed edge is to the right. Roll out again to triple length, fold, and turn. Repeat the roll-fold-turn once more for three times total. Cut in half, wrap each half in plastic wrap and chill at least 20 minutes again; the longer the better at this stage.
Make the tarts:
Preheat an oven to 400°F with a rack in the upper third position. Decide now how you want to serve the tarts: individual squares or family-style rectangle slabs. Also decide how many servings you’ll make. You’ll need one half sheet pan per half of pastry and each half pastry will make about 6 servings.
For each sheet pan, line with parchment or silicone baking mat. To get parchment to lay flatter, crumple into a ball then carefully un-crumple and smooth out.
Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Working with one of the wrapped pieces of pastry at a time, roll out into a big rectangle-ish shape. The size is up to you, but you want it to be about ⅛-inch thick (rolling pin bands are a big help here). Work quickly, it gets hard to handle when it gets warm. Using a sharp knife, trim the edges so you get a nice even rectangle. Stack the scraps on top of each other and refrigerate.
Cut into two or three long rectangles, then down into squares if you want to serve that way. Pat off any excess flour from the bottom and place onto the lined sheet pan about a half-inch apart. Immediately place into the freezer or the coldest part of your fridge to chill firm. Repeat with the other half of pastry if using. If not using, wrap tightly in another layer of plastic wrap, label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Decide now if you’ll be slicing or dicing your fruit. Slicing gives a nice elegant appearance but requires some care. Dicing is much easier but gives a more casual appearance. If using nuts, crush up the nuts into powdery small bits; I just lightly pound them in their packaging with the side of my rolling pin.
If using jam, once the tarts are firm to the touch spread each with a layer of jam leaving about ¼-inch border all around for leakage. Squares will take about a tablespoon of jam each, rectangles will take 3-4. Use your best judgement and don’t overdo it. Sprinkle the crushed nuts all over if using.
Sprinkle with cinnamon/spice mixture and a tiny pinch of salt. If slicing the fruit, thinly slice but don’t let any slices slip out of order. Slightly fan out to be about the size of the tart. If dicing, halve widthwise, then slice into thin batons, then slice crosswise into small cubes. Place the fruit onto each tart, dot with butter, sprinkle with a bit more cinnamon/spice, and chill at least 10 minutes or until you’re ready to bake.
Bake from 30 to 40 minutes for smaller tarts and 45 to 60 minutes for larger. You’re looking for golden brown edges all around and a golden brown bottom. Once done, let sit on the pan for a few minutes then remove to a cooling rack to cool further or serve immediately.
With the scraps, roll out and cut into strips. Roll in sugar, twist, and bake until golden brown. Enjoy and don’t let anyone else have any.