Category Archives: tart

Bye-Bye Summer: Squash Blossom Tart with Leeks and Cheddar

When does the summer end? For those of us living in a cold climate it is definitely not August 31st or September 1st, not even the Labor Day (first Monday of September). The fall in Eastern Canada begins around autumnal equinox time (22nd of September) with sudden gusty winds and rains bending and rocking the trees, blow-drying leaves into their new colors and flocking the birds to swarm into the their long journey down South. Although it’s still possible to make some BBQ, the goose-bumping temperatures usually lock us in to experiment with pies and breads. This tart was a pure impromptu caused by our unexpected garden find – squash flowers. 

I went to collect leftover fine herbs and discovered the bunch of newly spread squash twines carpeting most of the garden with dozens of yellow blossoms that topped the tiny swelling orbs of squash here and there. We already had a first frost the night before, so I rushed to salvage these little heartthrobs into this beautiful savory tart. Leeks and fine cheddar cheese were already in my fridge waiting to blow some lacto-ovo-vegetarian minds and the squash flowers have sparked the tart idea.
Really, what a delight it turned out to be! We couldn’t have enough of it! It has everything in it to say good-bye to the summer and to welcome the colder times in the most appreciative fashion, like: ’Hey, there’s still summer freshness, but you can now also enjoy the fall bounty, both wrapped in winter crust of cheese and flaky dough.’
I understand squash flowers might be kind of exotic at this time of the year, but thinly sliced zucchini, peeled squash, pumpkin or sweet-potato would make some good alternatives.  Naturally, the blossoms give this tart that special freshness raw tang zucchini flowers lovers know so well.
This pie is also featuring Perron Cheddar cheese (generic aged Cheddar or Gruyere are also fine for this tart). 
Earlier this month, I visited Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area, famous for its Boreal-rich agriculture and products, and brought some local specialties with me including Chocolate Coated Blueberries made by monks and few slabs of Perron cheddar cheese, known for its taste and reputation. FYI, Perron is the oldest cheese factory in Quebec, and is the only private company exporting its cheese to England for more than a century. 
They also produce the best fresh curd squeaky cheese I’ve ever tried in my life, so if you are in that area and wish to try a fool-proof best poutine  in the world (I’m not lying), don’t miss the opportunity and stop by a little bistro Chez Perron in the Saint-Prime town. Poutine buffet is its specialty with mountains of their own squeaky cheese on top of fries and variety of exotic gravies. I suggest you pass, however, on the other specialty, fondue, as it has so much pepper it kills the taste of their famous cheese…
And so, equipped with new travel memories, experiences and the stash of nice cheese and leeks, I was back home discovering the squash blossoms… When it came to the crust, I couldn’t decide: flaky pie or puff pastry? So I tried with both and both worked out very well. Flaky pie crust turns it into a quiche category, while the puff pastry sets the tart into appetizer and side dish. Steps took less than then 15 minutes in prep. First, par-baking the crust, sauteing leeks and scallions:
Then making egg-cheese mix.
Pouring the mix over the crust layered with leeks and topped with squash flowers:
In the end, I liked the pie-crusted tart still warm with handful of roasted hazelnuts scattered over and a little arugula salad on a side. As for the puff pastry crust, it was excellent next day at the room temperature to accompany a plate of hot boiled dinner.  
I used the Tenderflake store-bought dough for, both, to save time (I’m supremely confident in their dough: it has been tasted by me for years), but feel free to use this pie dough recipe  for the flaky shell and replace flour by gluten-free if wish be. Enjoy!
1 pie or puff pastry crust enough to fit into 9-inch tart round, or 5×10-inch rectangular pan
1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced (white part only)
2-3 scallion, minced
6-8 squash or zucchini flowers, cut in half if with baby squash part attached, OR 2 thinly sliced zucchini
½ tsp fresh or dried thyme
3 eggs
½ cup 10% cream
1 cup grated savory cheese (Old Cheddar, Gruyere, etc.)
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly pepper
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 375F. Form the crust into the pan. Bake it for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Heat the frying pan to medium-high, add olive oil and saute the leeks with scallions for about 5 minutes until wilted. Spread leek and scallions into the bottom of the pie shell.
Place squash or zucchini flowers over the leeks. Sprinkle with thyme.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Add cream, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the tart.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the egg is set and the cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.  Serve for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner as a main or side course.  

Happy Rustic Berry Tart with Almonds

This berry tart bustling with freshness and happy summer flavors is a real catch when you are up to something special. Not only it will accompany any party table with unique charm, it is remarkably simple in preparation.  The combination of fresh berries, puff pastry and roasted almonds in this tart make a totally out of this world snack, appetizer, side course or dessert, not to mention that it goes hand in hand with array of great cheeses, wine and even champagne.

There are times in our lives when we feel the magic shift has just taken place, except it’s a brief thing and like anything ‘happy’ when such moments arrive all you can do is blurt out ‘wow, thank you’ while, in fact, you are thinking: ‘Wait a sec, what’s going on here?  Am I in some kind of a movie?’ You are so busy worrying that instead of acknowledging the obvious you don’t know whether to pinch yourself or start spinning around and pretending you are a Wonder Woman. Because, all you do know, it has been one of your wildest dreams and now you feel it’s too good to be true. Only when back home you are finally convinced that it was you and your effort that just got rewarded and your life will never be the same. End of story. You can exhale, overwhelmingly happy, and have a good laugh at yourself for being so stressed. Naturally, you celebrate with your beloved ones with champagne and something exquisite and memorable because things like that are much better remembered in retrospect. 

Well, in my state of excitement I would play the jazz flute of destiny if I could, but I made this amazing Fresh Berry Tart instead (following my mom’s spur of the moment recipe) with fresh currants, gooseberries, grapes, yellow plums, rhubarb and wine jelly. What a great partner for any parte-e-e!

Although it looks promisingly fattening, fear not, the amount of sugar in it is minimal and the puff pastry open crust is not exaggerated, but gives that freshly baked state of crisp and buttery flakiness you are looking for in the high-end desserts. The runny berries center, both sour and rich, gives an aromatic citrusy tang with a backdrop of nuttiness from roasted almonds – simply irresistible! Watch the simple steps and follow the recipe below:

Even if the craft of the pastry chef is by necessity highly precise, you can vary the seasonal fruits in this tart, from the super-juicy ones, to more dry by adding more or less jelly and water into the syrup. Try the wine jelly (red or white) instead of the berry for once, it adds an interesting spike in flavor and expands the variety of wines you can take with the tart. 

The other important ingredients besides the berries, jelly and pastry dough are:
Crumbs, which can be Panko, Graham or semi-salted cracker crumbs depending on whether you like it sweet, semi-sweet or salty-sweet.
Roasted slivered almonds and Demerara sugar or (my preferred) cracked or flaked maple sugar.

The number of dishes that can partner with this tart is quite astonishing: from snack and appetizer in tapas or aperitif bar, to BBQ red meats, to desserts with assorted cheeses – it will be a hit in any given combination.

Finally, it is an awesome way to eat the freshly collected berries from your garden, forest, farm or local market.

Call it happy endings, or beginnings or just a HAPPY tart, ultimately, everyone deserves to share a bit of this happiness. Major tip: serve it freshly baked and you will be astonished how many of your guests will take a second piece.  So worth an effort, you won’t regret! T.

Yields: 8 servings
1 puff pastry sheet (1/2 store bought pack of 397g), thawed
3 cups mixed fresh berries (preferably tart, like currants, sour cherries, plums, etc.)
¼ cup sugar
3-4 tbsp. fruit or wine jelly
1-2 tbsp. water
1 cup Panko, Graham or semi-salted crackers crumbs
2-3 tbsp. butter in small pieces
1 cup roasted slivered almonds
1 egg wash
2 tbsp. Demerara or cracked maple sugar
Preheat the oven to 375F. Melt the jelly with water over the medium heat. Add 2 cups of mixed berries and sugar and mix gently. Bring to simmer for 1 minute and set aside to cool for 7-10 minutes.
Roll out the dough on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Optionally, cut the edges of the dough square to make more round/oval tart shape. Spread the crumbs in the middle leaving the ring of about 2 inches around.  Place the bits of butter over the crumbs. Spoon the berries out of the jelly syrup and spread over the crumbs without touching the edges. Reserve the leftover syrup liquid. Fold the edges over the berries, pinching the edges to form the rustic tart and leaving the center open. Brush with an egg wash or 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until the edges of tart are golden brown. Remove the tart, scatter 1 cup of fresh berries, spoon the leftover syrup over and toss with almonds and cracked maple or Demerara sugar. Return to the oven for another 7-10 minutes. Remove and let stand for 5-7 minutes. Cut and serve hot, warm or cold as an appetizer (with cheese), side course (with roasted red meats), or dessert (with ice cream or parfait).

Sour Cherry-Happy Pie vs Phony Fruitcake

Fresh sour cherry summer pie is one of those foods that I just can’t stay away from no matter how hard I try: it’s the best way for me to enjoy those intensely tangy and rich little fruits in season. In the juxtaposition with the neutral and subtle baked pear, the cherries shine even more. I intensified the filling taste with lemon zest, ginger and cinnamon and added a bit of almond flour to the crust dough to give an extra nutty charm to the flaky crunch. I also replaced the standard vanilla ice cream with quick homemade yogurt cream. The result: simply irresistible summer concoction bursting with freshness and flavors!

This pie actually broke my almost 10 days of strict diet regimen. In strive to get more of a bikini body towards vacation time I decided to be more active: I took up running and (almost) eliminated sugar and carbs from my diet (fats die hard with me). My only dessert during this time was a little fresh watermelon cake, the recipe of which I picked up from Better Homes & Gardens (June 2014 issue), although I’ve discovered many of them on Youtube and internet after.

I got really hooked: it was refreshing and innovative with almost zero calories and great quench. I named it phony fruitcake and continued to experiment with the concept of having the no-bake body of a cake made of fresh fruit. I eliminated the frosting part (which was a little too kitsch for me) and just kept carving my phony fruitcakes from melon, pineapple, papaya, etc. topping them with fresh berries and sometimes a lace of berries coulis with maple syrup instead of sugar. The cake didn’t have much of a substance, but I liked the simplicity and the skinny side of it.

The phony fruitcake became my best dessert-friend for a while and I really hoped that our connection would last… Then the sour cherry-picking time arrived and I became ravenous-hungry for an old-fashioned simple rustic pie with lattice crust. (Last summer I already disclosed my weakness for sour cherries here).

So when a friend came with a pack of pie dough in shell (yes, I’ve even cheated on the dough this time) to help me cherry picking and asked me to ditch the diet for once (politely) and whirl the grandma’s cherry pie with her, I gave up. Later that night I was devouring the best cherry pie I’ve had in a long time, even with commercial crust (below is my recipe of the pie dough from scratch).

I quickly traded the previous motivational quote by Kate Moss: ‘’Nothing tastes as good as thin feels’’ (heck, I don’t even remember how thin feels, although I’m sure even Bethenny Frankel often feels like that too) for much more appealing one by Woody Allen: ‘’ When we lose twenty pounds… we may be losing the twenty best pounds we have! We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity, our love and honesty.’’ (What a great soul bargain – I like it!) 

Like anything seasonal, my phony fruitcake has to go into temporary liquidation. Obviously it’s hard to compare these two desserts because both are very different and have almost the opposite designations.   The phony fruitcake might be a great addition to some over-the-top posh micro-cuisine table d’hote, or some special occasion, but sometimes you just need a simple cherry galette to nourish your body and soul. It should be noted, the cherry pie tastes much more complex and interesting than just a piece of water melon and is much more than just an empty calorie. It wraps me mentally in my grandma’s blanket and I close my eyes and realize that I’m already in vacation at so many levels…

I suggest you try them both and tell me which one you prefer: the Cherry Pear Pie or the No Bake Fresh Watermelon Cake.  Cheers!


Yields: 8 portions
For Double Crust Pastry
 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond flour (optional)
1 tsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter cut in cubes
1/3 cup (or more) ice cold water
For Filling & Assembly
 4 cups (1 lb) sour cherries, pitted (about 1 ½ lbs whole unpitted cherries) fresh, frozen or canned
¾ cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
 3 tbsp cornstarch
2 medium size pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tbsp lemon zest
½ tsp freshly grated ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ tbsp butter, to dot
1 tbsp milk for brushing the crust
Combine flour, almond flour, sugar, salt in a bowl or food processor. Add butter and pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (or rub with fingers until the small clumps form).  Add ice cold water gradually while pulsing until the mixture forms a ball.  Divide in two pieces, form each piece into a ball, flatten and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (up to 2 days).
Preheat the oven to 425F. Mix cherries with sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add lemon zest, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla. Add pears and mix. Set aside.
Roll out the first dough disk on floured surface to 12 inch round. Transfer to 9 inch diameter round pie dish. Roll out the second dough disk on floured surface to 12 inch round. Cut 10 ¾ inch wide strips from dough round with pizza knife or similar.
Transfer the filling to dough-lined dish. Dot with butter. Top with dough strips in a lattice pattern. Trim the dough overhang to ½ inch. Crimp the edges to seal. Brush lattice crust with milk. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Place pie on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F. Bake for another 45-50 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown. Transfer pie to the rack and cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with yogurt cream, frozen yogurt, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt
1-2 tsp maple syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract
Mix the three ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

Tart Tatin at Its Best

Somewhere between apple picking, bird watching, making cider and classic apple pies, I managed to make a delicious Tarte Tatin.  It turned out to be perfect this time (well, almost perfect), so here I am with my little tips in the midst of our continued fall adventures. 
The French dessert classic is an appealing combination of a crust and caramelized apples that is equally spectacular and comforting, which explains why this tart has been undimmed by time and is constantly in renaissance. Dozens of interesting tarts have hatched from this ancestor, including fruit upside-down tarts (pears, apricots, pineapples, peaches, figs, plums, etc.), veggies (tomatoes, onion, zucchinis, eggplants) and savory versions (seafood, fish, poultry, mushrooms and game) of Tatin.  The original Tatin, however, was made only with apples.
Created by accident more than a century ago, when the innkeeper sisters Tatin from the Loire region forgot to line the baking pan with dough and decided to place it over the apples, this tart is inherently forgiving. Which is why, the French whimsical culinary invention is also prone to cooking abuse: too little or too much apples, sugar or butter; wrong pastry/baking pan; messy inverting process.  Sooner or later you get it, and here I am posting my little tips on ‘’how to make your tart Tatin a success’’.
The following are my own discoveries on how to turn your tart Tatin from moderately successful to the best possible:
Apples: Royal Gala or Granny Smith make two best choices of apples for Tatin – they hold their shape during cooking and do not melt into apple sauce.  The second choice would be green Golden Delicious or Jonathan.  All other kinds failed (turned into apple sauce) during my numerous experiments.
Dough: Although puff pastry is a popular version, which can also save you a lot of time and effort, I find pâte brisée brings the best out of caramelized apples and delivers unmatched results in taste. Use the food processor to make it foolproof. Rolling the dough over parchment paper (I use my hands rather than roller ’cause the pastry is sticky) and chilling it before placing on the hot apples makes this step easier.
Pans & Caramelized Apples:  A 12-inch non-stick skillet works best for me. I am using a stove top method in which apples are slowly caramelized in a skillet on top of the butter and sugar before baking. This method is not used in many Tatin recipes, but delivers much better and more controllable results, to my opinion.  Once I tried cast-iron frying pan and oven method, I made a complete botch of my attempt at caramelizing apples, with too much butter and sugar – they quickly turned into a burnt apple sauce emanating lots of smoke and disappointment. I did not try the oven method for apple caramel again. Finally, I significantly cut the amount of butter and sugar in the apple caramel compared to most of the recipes to allow the apple ingredient to really shine and make the caramel leaner since pâte brisée crust is sweet and buttery enough for me. But if you are a real sweet tooth, feel free to add more sugar and butter before caramelizing your apples.
Tart filling ingredients:
3 lbs (1.5 kg) about 7 medium Royal Gala or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved
Juice of ½ a lemon
¼ cup (75 ml) unsalted butter
¾ cup (175 ml) granulated sugar
1 pâte brisée pastry crust (see below recipe)
In a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice. Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the sugar.  Stir until the butter is evenly mixed in.  Working clockwise, tightly pack the apple halves into the skillet, laying them on their flat sides. The apples will shrink as they cook, so don’t be afraid to pack them tight. Cook the apples over medium heat until the butter and sugar caramelize for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and carefully turn the apples over to the other side using 2 forks. Make sure that the apples are browned before you turn them over. Pack the apples tightly on their sides. If you see a loose area, rearrange the apples a bit to fill in the gap. Return to high heat and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the apples cool in the skillet while you remove the dough.  Wrap the skillet handle with aluminum paper (if using the same pan for baking), or, transfer and arrange apples carefully with their flat sides up in another baking pan (i.e. stainless steel with oven proof handle, like I did last time).
Carefully slide chilled dough on top of the apples in skillet. Place skillet on cookie sheet to catch drips. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven; let stand 10 minutes.  Run a knife or wooden spatula along the edge of the pan to loosen the tart. With your mittens on, place large plate (preferably with lip around edge) over skillet; carefully invert. Replace any apple pieces that have stuck to the skillet. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or cold with crème fraîche. 
Pastry: pâte brisée ingredients (for one tart):
1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose flour
½ tsp (2 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick or 125 ml) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup ice-cold water
Combine flour, salt, sugar and butter in a bowl of a food processor. Process pulsing about 6 times, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to bowl, add water and stir with fork until combined. Shape dough into ball with hands. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or until needed.
About 1 hour before baking, roll the dough on parchment paper into circle about 12 inches (28 cm) in diameter (or whichever size your baking pan will be), pierce with fork and chill in the freezer until ready to put over the caramelized apples.

Eggs Asparagus Ham Savoury Tart

Here is what can be called ”Breakfast of Champions” way to cook the eggs and asparagus together into a fancy yet delicious quilt pie you will never forget. Baked eggs have all but disappeared from home menus, which was a pity because they taste great and are so easy to prepare. Just like poached eggs, baked eggs are about to be back IN due to the chefs who are trying to re-invent them with some awesome recipes. This is one of them from local celebrity chef Ricardo (Larrivée), which he called ”Savoury Quilt Pie”. 

Right Image: Amédée Varin from “Drôleries végétales. L’Empire des légumes, mémoires de Cucurbitus Ier” 
by Eugène Nus and Antoine Méray, Paris: Gabriel de Gonet, 1861.

This tart is a perfect way to showcase your freshly bought spring asparagus packed with vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, selenium and many other minerals our bodies need after a long nutriments-depriving winter.

I modified the recipe just a little bit over the course of a few tries. Particularly, I reduced ham to 200 g (Ricardo’s version is way too MEATY for me) and used only green asparagus (did not get the white one before the week-end).  The preparation takes about 25 minutes, 30 minutes of fridge time and around 45 minutes of cooking, so give yourself a good hour to make this impressive meal. Once you taste it, you will not regret. Steps are easy: defrost and roll the puff pastry, boil or steam asparagus; chop the ham and mix it with sauteed onions and mustard, spread everything according to the instructions and bake. Add eggs 10 minutes into the end of baking. Mine got little out of whack, but the look and aroma were still amazing.

The recipe below is a version of chef Ricardo unchanged.
400 g (14 ounces) store bought puff pastry dough, defrosted
2 onions, chopped
1/2 pound sliced ham, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
30 green asparagus, each 5” long
30 white asparagus, each 5” long
6 eggs
salt & pepper
Line a 30 x 43 cm (12” x 17”) baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 30 x 43 cm (12” x 17”) rectangle. Place it on the baking sheet. Fold the edges of the dough inward, making a 1 cm (1/2”) upturned edge. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the onions in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool. In a bowl, combine the onions, ham, sour cream and mustard. Refrigerate.
In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the spears to a bowl of ice water. Drain and set aside. With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Spread the ham mixture evenly over the dough. Place the baking sheet next to the work surface, with a long side parallel to the edge of the counter or table.
Mentally divide the pie into 6 squares, 12 x 12 cm (5” x 5”) each. Working from left to right, lay 10 green asparagus spears side by side in the first square. In the next square, lay 10 white asparagus spears side by side, at right angles to the green asparagus. Repeat with the remaining squares, alternating colors and directions to create quilt effect. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven. Break egg onto each square. Bake for 10 minutes more. Cut into 6 squares and serve.
Adapted from: Ricardo Larrivée, ”Parce qu’on a tous de la visite” (La Presse, 10/2008)