Fruit Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry

Fruit Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This fruit tart with homemade puff pastry is made with nothing more than ripe pluots (apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, any other stone fruit or berries will also do), lemon zested sugar and a sheet of puff pastry. Super elegant in its simplicity. The tart is from Rory O’Connell’s new book, Cook Well Eat Well. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting him during my epic tour of Ireland last week, hosted by Kerrygold butter. More to come about that trip, but let me back up a minute to 1998, when I was working at an Irish restaurant in Minneapolis, The Local. It was an Irish pub on one side and fine dining on the other, with a kitchen run by the James Beard Nominated chef, Steven Brown. I was the pastry chef and knew a lot about baking, but nothing of Irish food. I went to the book store and bought The Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen, published in 1977. That cookbook was by my salvation and influenced nearly every dessert I created in the kitchen that year. Last week I went to Ballymaloe and met Myrtle Allen’s children, Fern and Darina, who took over the restaurant and created a cookery school with Darina’s brother, Rory. I am not typically one to fan-girl over celebrities, but being in the presence of these folks was a dream come true. You can see pictures from my visit to the Ballymaloe cookery school, where Darina gave us a spirited and brisk (meaning I couldn’t keep up with her) tour of the exquisite gardens, farm and school. Darina is like the Alice Waters of Ireland and has created the Irish food scene, by educating just about every chef in the country and beyond. If you are at all interested in taking cooking classes as an enthusiast of home cooking or potential professional, I couldn’t recommend this experience more highly. Here is a link to the school!

After our tour of Ballymaloe, we settled in for a cooking class with Rory. Not only is he an accomplished chef, a TV personality and a terrific teacher, but he is one of the most charming and lovely people I have ever met. This happens to be true for everyone we met on our journey through the countryside of Ireland and in Dublin. What a welcoming and generous people. Rory made us several dishes, all quite simple, made with local, fresh ingredients and absolutely delicious. He also gave us a copy of his new book, which is where I found this Fruit Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry. I don’t always make my own puff pastry, but it really is worlds above the store bought and not difficult to make, if you have a decent amount of time to devote to it. I will show you how in my Instagram video or you can attend the cookery school in Ballymaloe! Rory would have walked through the gorgeous gardens to pick perfectly ripe fruit, but I had to settle for what’s available in my local farmers market or at the grocery. I went with pluots, because they were beautiful and ripe. They are a combination of plums and apricots; the flavor is sweet, but also tangy, and they are JUICY. Depending on the fruit you use, you can increase or decrease the sugar.

The puff pastry was made with Kerrygold Unsalted Butter. This is a recipe that is four ingredients, flour, salt, water and lots of butter, so use a butter you’re in love with. I walked in the emerald fields, over looking the sea with the cows who produce the milk that goes into Kerrygold. The grass and the dairy cows are revered above all else in Ireland. I heard this from the farmers, but also the taxi driver who took me to the airport. I commented about how lucky we were it didn’t rain the entire time we were there and he said, “but we need the rain for our grasses. Without it we wouldn’t have the beautiful green lands and the milk wouldn’t taste so good.” Seriously, it couldn’t have been better scripted. The cows grazing on those green fields produces a golden butter that tastes good enough to eat alone. The butter in Ireland (and all of Europe) has a higher fat content than the butter made here in the states, so the texture is creamy and luscious. It truly makes for a superior puff pastry, so I highly recommend you find some. This is one of those recipes where it will make a big impact. 

You can watch me make this tart in my Instagram video. (more…)

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Onion Tarts

Onion Tarts with Cherry Tomatoes, French Olives and Feta Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

On FB a fellow food blogger commented that by 5pm she’s so exhausted by her day in the kitchen that she can barely come up with a single thing for dinner. Oh, the irony. Truth be told, at my house there are typically 3 (or more) desserts on the counter, along with several loaves of homemade bread, but when it comes time to eat dinner I am scrambling around to cook something, anything. On any given night I would not call my meals inspired. I love to cook, but after a day of “working” (baking all the desserts and breads that are sitting on the counter cooling), I don’t always leave myself enough time to make something creative, tasty, and healthy. I have vowed in the past to widen my savory repertoire and as a result have made Julia‘s Beef Bourguignon, The Smitten Kitchen‘s meatloaf and short ribs, American Masala‘s lamb burgers and The Splendid Table‘s lasagna to wild raves from my family, but I mostly find myself trying to answer my kids’ hungry requests for dinner, with a blank stare. I tell them we have a “European” eating schedule, since I usually manage to get a meal on the table by 8pm, ok usually later. I know this isn’t ideal and I am saying it in front of all of you, “I will try at least one NEW savory recipe a week (this is so doable) AND I’ll get it on the table by 7pm (8pm at the latest).

Here I go, a tasty beginning to a more savory life. I admit, onion tarts aren’t exactly a meal, but we have to start somewhere and appetizers are a great way to keep my kids happy until I can get the rest of the meal figured out. A sheet of puff pastry, an onion, some herbs, cherry tomatoes, French olives, and a very soft feta all happened to be in my refrigerator and came together in a beautiful little treat. Try this combination, but really these tarts are a quick and easy way to clean out the little jars of yummy morsels in your cupboards. (more…)

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Pineapple Quesito (Puerto Rican Breakfast Pastry)

Pineapple Quesito and Coffee | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

This is a Quesito (Ke-see-toe) and it is delicious. Seriously, it is so perfect in its simplicity; flaky puff pastry wrapped around sweetened cream cheese and buttery pineapple. And it’s beautiful, in a shabby chic kind of way, nothing fussy, just rustic goodness with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. The best thing is that you can whip this together in about 5 minutes and instantly satisfy your craving for something sweet. I’ve made them three times for breakfast since I returned from Puerto Rico. You see, I am desperately grasping to my memories of being there. I just returned, less than a week ago, and already I miss it. It was paradise, which is enough to make one long for its sandy shores, perfect weather, gorgeous waters, friendly people, and the discovery of Puerto Rican pastries like Mallorca and the quesitos. But, returning to Minnesota and having to shovel my car out from the snow, in APRIL, was frankly, more than I was mentally prepared to handle. So, I make quesitos, shut my eyes, hold a shell to my ear and pretend I am still lying on the beach.

Puerto Rico | ZoeBakes

You can too!  (more…)

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Puff Pastry Pears

Puff Pastry Pears | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Everything tastes better wrapped in puff pastry. Just like bacon, it makes everything near it better, no matter if the filling is sweet or savory. It’s the thousands of little layers of dough and butter that bake up together into a gorgeously flaky package. Last week I poached a bunch of pears in chai tea, then drizzled them in chocolate. They were delightful and will make a terrific Thanksgiving dessert. But, then I got to thinking about how those luscious pears would taste if they were encased in puff pastry and served warm with the ganache. Well, they rock. I suggest you serve the poached pears for Thanksgiving and then wrap the leftovers in the pastry to bake up warm for breakfast the next morning.

Puff pastry is one of those things that I think is just fine to buy if you are trying to save time. However, if you have a long weekend with nothing else to do, go for it and make your own. You will join the ranks of the proud, brave souls who can boast that they’ve survived homemade puff pastry. Just kidding, it really isn’t difficult, just time consuming, but well worth the effort. Having said that, you can find it in the freezer section of your grocery store. (more…)

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Pear Galette from The Salty Tart!

Pear Galette from The Salty Tart | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

2/17/11 update: Michelle was just nominated for her 3rd James Beard Award!!!! So well deserved. Find more information from the Beard winning journalist Rick Nelson’s Star Tribune article.

I met Michelle Gayer’s desserts many years before I ever met her. When I was still a pastry assistant I came to work with Charlie Trotter’s Desserts, which Michelle wrote while she was the pastry chef at Trotter’s, and convinced the team to make everything out of it. Her style was entirely about the food, elegant, but not architectural and overly fussy. I did manage to bake and cook my way through her book and probably landed the Executive Pastry Chef job as a result. Fast forward a decade and I was introduced to Michelle by a mutual friend. Michelle had just moved to Minneapolis from Chicago with her family to create the desserts for a national bakery. It was one of the finest days in our fair city’s history of sweets. We became fast friends, not in the kitchen, but on the playground with our kids. The very first day I met her we talked about her dream of opening her own bakery, which seemed as inevitable as snow in Minnesota.

The Salty Tart at Midtown Global Market - Michelle Gayer

Just about 3 years ago she finally got the chance and opened the Salty Tart. It is an award-winning treasure in the Midtown Global Market. Filled with artisan breads (she uses a sour starter she got when she worked with Nancy Silverton), French pastries, to die for cookies and cupcakes. We did an event together last summer for a Farm-to-Table dinner at the Walker Art Museum and I got to work in her kitchen. Not only were her desserts lick-the-plate-clean-delicious and gorgeous, but her team at the bakery loved every second of being there with her. She opened her dream bakery and it is as wonderful and fun as she is.

Michelle has generously shared her recipe (below) for this stunning Pear Galette, which is rustic and easy to make. She, of course, makes her own puff pastry at the Salty Tart, but you can create this pear galette very quickly by using a store-bought pastry.

Congratulations to the winners of last week’s American Masala Giveaway, details at the end of the post:

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Apple Blossom Blackberry Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry (two Le Creuset winners!)

Apple Blossom Berry Tart Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I admit I enjoy the detailed work of an elaborate dessert or cake on occasion. I was a fine arts major who couldn’t paint or draw particularly well, but loved being in the midst of all that creativity in the art department. It wasn’t until I found myself in a pastry kitchen that I realized food was the medium that allowed me to express myself. Fussing over gum paste and fondant is relaxing to me. But, there are times I want to create something that is just pure and simple. When flavors are the end all and their natural beauty unadorned.

I’ve been reading A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis. The executive chef from Chez Panisse who has the most enviable career I’ve ever heard of. He spends 6 months of the year cooking at Alice Water’s acclaimed restaurant and the remainder of his time in France. Just one chapter in and you can’t help but hate him for having figured out the perfect life. He eloquently describes shopping in the morning at the outdoor produce market and then cooking with his friends while drinking local wines and nibbling on aged cheeses. His entire philosophy is simplicity. In fact, the book’s one downfall for me is that there is no challenge in any of his desserts, they are all simple to a fault. Gorgeous and as delicious as a fresh fig, but where is all of the fussy detail that I often crave. 😉

I want to be David Tanis when I grow up! (more…)

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