TOMATO-GOAT CHEESE TART

You’ll need one disk of dough from Perfect Flaky Pastry, along with some really good tomatoes, tender scallion greens, and creamy goat cheese.  Basil, oh most definitely, and we’ll top it all off with shredded Parmesan.

But possibly the most important ingredient is patience.  Patience to let the dough mix just enough, but not too much.  Patience to let it rest after mixing, then again after rolling and shaping.  Patience to bake it in such a way as to “set” the bottom crust so that it isn’t soggy.  Soggy crust is so disappointing, don’t you think?

Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator.  Flour your work surface, then set the unwrapped dough on it (keep the piece of plastic; you’ll need it again).  Flour the surface of the dough as well.  Be generous with the flour; you’re in no danger of working any more into the dough, and the true danger here is if the dough sticks and tears.

Rolling pins:  which is best, marble or wood?  I love marble pins.  Marble is always 10 degrees colder than the ambient temperature.  It’s also really heavy, so you can make fewer passes with the pin.  That said, I’m just as happy to use a good wooden pin.  What is important with either is to use adequate flour for rolling.  Equally important:  NEVER wash a wooden pin with soap and water!  Wood is porous, and will absorb moisture, eventually warping the pin from the center out, and it won’t roll well if at all.  Scrape off anything stuck on with a white plastic scraper curved around the pin, then wipe it with a dry towel.

Begin rolling from the center towards the edges.   Pull up the rolling pin just before you get to the edge on each stroke.  Going over the edge is called “breaking down,” and it causes the edges to be way, way thinner than the rest of the dough.  Those thin edges will want to both stick and tear easily.  Roll in a 12:00-6:00, then 10:00-4:00, and finally 2:00-8:00 pattern.  After every few passes, pick up the dough and swish it around to be sure it isn’t sticking.  By moving and turning it around, you can maintain the clock-face rolling pattern still be certain to cover the entire surface including the edges, and end up with a dough whose thickness is uniform.  As the dough becomes thinner, you’ll see leaves of butter extending extending out through it.  That’s going to be a tender dough!  Work quickly; you don’t want your dough to have a chance to warm excessively.

When do you know if your dough is large enough for your pie plate or tart mold?  Crossing your fingers and hoping the whole experience will soon be over is certainly one way.  But a more reliable one with fewer unpleasant surprises is to set the pie plate upside down in the center of the rolled dough.   A tart pan can be set right-side-up because its sides are straight up and down.  For either, look for a perimeter that extends 1 1/2″ beyond the edge of the vessel.  Use a paring knife to cut the circle of dough.  Slip the knife underneath the edge of the pie plate or tart pan to gently lift it off.

There are a few ways to transfer the dough to the vessel.  You can gently fold it in quarters, pick it up and move it, then unfold it.  You can gently roll it up onto the rolling pin, then unroll it into your plate/pan.  Or you can gently slip your hands (flat!) under the dough, lift it, and move it into place.  If you’ve worked quickly and confidently, the latter will not be a problem because the dough should still be adequately cool and firm.

We’re going to be using a round tart pan with a removable bottom.  It’s a versatile, inexpensive baking form, and I have several in different shapes.  I especially like using them during summer because they are shallower than a conventional pie, and therefore bake more quickly so that the oven is on for less time.

Once the dough is in place inside the pan, use your fingers to gently press the dough down into the corner all the way around.  This is one instance where the greater warmth of your fingers is just right for softening the dough to fit into that 90 degree angle.  If any dough extends up beyond the upper edge, use your hands to press it down over that edge.  One of my favorite steps in making a tart is to use the rolling pin to trim the excess dough.  There is something enormously satisfying in hearing that “brrrrrp!” as the pin rolls over the ridged edge.   Pull the trimmings away.

Set your tart pan on a large dinner plate (to minimize the chances of inadvertently picking it up as you would, say, a plate, and removing the removable bottom long before you really want to), and drape your piece of plastic over the surface of the dough.  It doesn’t need to be tightly sealed.   Set it in the refrigerator for a 30-minute rest.  This rest period will again permit the gluten in the dough to relax.  Have you ever made a tart or a pie and had the crust shrink significantly, even asymmetrically, during baking?  It’s likely because the dough was overworked and the gluten therefor overdeveloped.  If at the same time you didn’t give the dough its two rest periods, well, you sort of lined yourself up right behind the 8-ball.  Rolling dough stresses gluten just as mixing does.  Allowing the dough to rest before you fill and bake it lets the gluten relax so that it doesn’t tighten and shrink excessively during baking.

We have plans for the scraps of dough, so gather pick them up and shake some of the excess flour off.  Gather them together in your hands, and gently press them together just until they appear relatively homogenous.  They’re going to be a garnish, so I’m not too concerned that they’ll be a bit tough.  Flatten the dough into a disk about 1/2″ thick, and set it in the refrigerator on top of the plastic covering the tart shell.

While the dough is resting, I’d like to address an excellent question posted by Diana B:

I take it you are not a fan of the America’s Test Kitchen trick of replacing half the water with vodka, which doesn’t activate the gluten the way water does? They also recommend returning the crust to the refrigerator for about 15 minutes after you’ve laid it in the pie pan and crimped the edge, which is supposed to help keep it from shrinking. Both of these make sense to me, but I haven’t made their recipe since I found it because I’m more of a croustade kinda gal. What do you think of these two suggestions?

First, let me say that I’m not remotely not a fan of America’s Test Kitchen.  I have great respect for their rigorous testing methods and analysis of results.  I find their equipment tests especially useful because I nearly always agree wholeheartedly with their recommendations as to what is genuinely useful and what can be done without.  In teaching, I love that I can frequently reference ATK’s tests in suggesting a really good tool because of the deep credence they’ve established with their readership.

The vodka method comes up every time I give a pie and tart class.  Let me also say that I’ve not read the article in question, but I’m happy to address the logic of using it as well as why I don’t use the method myself.  Of the 7 ingredients or techniques which change the original nature of a protein, two of them are acid and alcohol.  Both cause protein molecules, which are long and sinuous, to literally shorten, to break into small parts.  Another ingredient that appears on that list is fat.

Top-shelf vodkas should have a neutral pH in the 6.0-7.0 range.  I suspect that using a top-shelf vodka in a pie crust is akin to using a $30 bottle of wine to make boeuf bourguignon:  not gonna happen.  At least not in my house.  Lower-tier vodkas are typically “stretched” by adding a bit of citric acid (because by law they can be, similar to water which can legally be added to meats and seafoods), which drops the pH into the 4.0-5.0 range, making them acidic.  So, the thought that vodka doesn’t develop gluten the way water does is more than a question of semantics.  By replacing a portion of the water called for in a pie dough recipe with vodka, you’ve actually increased the protein-tenderizing ingredients beyond just fat.  In fact, vinegar or lemon juice will do the same thing, though you’ll use far less of either because they are more acidic than vodka (in the 2.0-3.0 range).  One woman in a recent class mentioned that she remembers her grandmother adding a teaspoon of vinegar to her pie dough – which, for the record, was made with lard.  She also said that she remembers the vinegar actually leaving a residual taste to the crust; vodka, on the other hand will bake away leaving no flavor behind.

I suspect that the theory of replacing a portion of the water with vodka (or adding a small amount of another acid) is designed to give the baker greater leeway in handling the dough.  If you’ve added two additional tenderizing ingredients – alcohol and a mild acid – you’ve also made it possible to over-handle the dough in some way, and still have a tender, flaky result.

Back to Diana B’s question:  why don’t I follow the vodka method?  It isn’t that I deliberately don’t follow it.  Rather, I really like knowing how to handle a dough in such a way as to respect the properties of its ingredients, mixing and handling the dough in ways that make the best use of each in pursuit of that flaky, tender crust.  I love knowing why cold butter and ice water are critical.  When I want or need a pie or a tart or a quiche or a crostada, I build in adequate time for both rest periods.  Most of all, I love explaining all those whys to bakers who want to do a better job of something they love.  And to be able to do it consistently.

As for the second rest period, which is best:  15 minutes or 30 minutes.  I honestly don’t know.  In culinary school, when I had to unclench my sweaty palms and embrace mastery of pie/tart dough, I was taught the first and second 30-minute rest periods.  Either I’m a good student or a lousy tester of reality, or both.  But I have a theory that ATK’s shorter second rest rides in tandem with increasing protein-tenderizing ingredients:  because of them, the 15-minute rest before filling and baking appeals to wanting to get to the finished product a bit faster.  Ultimately, I do believe that patience is the most important ingredient.

Diana B, thank you profoundly for asking such an excellent question!

TOMATO-GOAT CHEESE TART

Makes 1 10-inch tart; will serve 6-8, depending on how generously you slice it

10-inch removable bottom tart pan lined with flaky pastry dough, refrigerated for 30 minutes

6 ounces goat cheese

Greens of 6 scallions, 1/4 in dice

6 small or 4 large tomatoes

Sea or kosher salt, grinds of pepper, pinch of red pepper flakes

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

4 to 6 basil leaves, chiffonade

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Remove tart shell from the refrigerator and transfer it to a baking sheet.
  3. Crumble goat cheese with your fingers and distribute over the bottom of the tart shell.
  4. Slice the scallions greens on a pretty diagonal, then scatter over the surface of the goat cheese.
  5. The cores on small-ish tomatoes (Early Girls, for example) are tender enough that I don’t bother removing them.  Cut them into eighths.  If using larger tomatoes, core them, then cut into 3/4″ cubes.  Arrange the tomatoes over the goat cheese and scallions.  Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  6. I used the dough scraps to cut some lattice strips.  I knew I wouldn’t have enough to cover the entire surface, but I was pretty sure I could weave a corner.  Roll the scrap dough into a long oval at least 10 inches in length.  Use a rolling cutter or a paring knife to cut as many 1/2″ wide strips as you can.  Lay the longest ones across the center, then proceed towards the nearest edge, alternating strips in each direction.  Lift preceding strips as needed to lay new ones under them, creating the weave.
  7. Set baking sheet in the oven.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees.  At this point, scatter the Parmesan and basil over the top of the tart.  If you add them at the beginning, they’ll be toast, so to speak, by the time the tart is done.  Bake for 10-12 minutes more.  The higher initial heat will “set” the bottom crust by gelatinizing the proteins in it.
  8. When done, the crust will be a deep golden brown.  Don’t hesitate to bake some color into it; pale, anemic pastry has no taste, and remember, the crust is going to be part of the total flavor profile.  Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  9. To remove the tart from the pan, pick it up with hot pads on both hands.  If you’re right-handed, grip the top edge with your thumb, and gently lift the bottom up with your fingers.  As the bottom raises, carefully slip your left hand underneath it and lift it out.  The ring will have cooled quickly, the the bottom will still be hot.
  10. Cut the tart into wedges and serve with a great green salad.
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About thesolitarycook

I'm a chef, a cook, a teacher, a reader, a writer, a bike-rider, a dog- and cat-woman
This entry was posted in Entrées, Pies & Tarts, RECIPES, Solitary Cook, Vegetarian. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to TOMATO-GOAT CHEESE TART

  1. Pat says:

    My mouth is watering!

  2. sybaritica says:

    That looks very good. Excellent description of the rolling technique too!

  3. Looks great, a beauty of a tart. I never use vodka or vinegar in my pastry dough. Never felt the need. I love the combination of the tomato and goat cheese and the lattice makes the tart a real show piece.

  4. Bevi says:

    LOvely lOoking tart. Reading your post is like reading an MFK Fisher piece.

  5. Love your appropriately thorough pastry lesson! I feel smarter now 😀

  6. Diana B says:

    Thank you for such a clear answer to my questions! You may be unsurprised to hear I have another…lol

    I like the Irish butter that’s now pretty widely available in grocery stores, Trader Joe’s, etc. I notice when I take it out of the fridge, however, that it’s always softer than the butters we usually get in the U.S. Can I use these butters in the pastry crust? And if so, should I pop them in the freezer for a bit before trying to use them in the crust? Or are they just so inherently soft that they’ll be unsuitable for the purpose?

    • Great question. It sounds counterintuitive, but because Irish butters have a higher fat content than conventional ones, they do indeed soften faster, so it’s not your imagination. I think putting it in the freezer for a good 30 minutes should make it perfect for a pie dough. Be prepared, at the same time, for the fact that it’s going to behave more like lard or shortening when you begin mixing. The friction of mixing is going to soften and incorporate it faster, so think about mixing it to a larger size than hazelnuts before adding the ice water. I’m looking forward to hearing how it works for you, and I suspect many others are, too. So please let us know!

  7. I really enjoyed this post with the in-depth discussion around the use of vodka in pastry dough. I didn’t know the reason for why it might be added, although I suspected it would help create a flakey crust (although for entirely different reasons than you explained here). This tart sounds delicious and thank you so much for sharing it with Made with Love Mondays! Welcome to the series…

    • Thank you kindly. I’ve been wanting to participate for some time, and finally managed to keep the idea in mind long enough to act on it. You’ve developed a lovely and lively forum for a wonderful topic.

  8. ldpw says:

    Wow, this is the most informative tart recipe ever. You should write a cook book. This is great.

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