Rich Tart Dough

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I admit it. I’m sometimes scared of making pastry. Yes, it’s true. I would like to say my confidence is as high and secure as that of the most successful pastry chef, or even my late grandmother. But let’s face it. Usually when we have to make pastry it’s for a special occasion like Thanksgiving or Christmas or a celebratory summer gathering. So the pressure is on.

Here, though, is a recipe I have developed and used repeatedly for a variety of desserts and savory items. It is just right for folding over fruit to form a rustic tart; shaping a pretty unbaked shell for quiche; or, as the method below reveals, forming a perfectly golden prebaked base for a savory or sweet large tart or mini tartlets.

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Unlike traditional pie dough, this is a rich, almost cookie-like pastry. Slightly yellow in color from the egg yolk and just a bit sweet from a small amount of sugar, it bakes into a beautifully formed golden vessel.

As with all pastry, keep your ingredients cold and work quickly. As soon as the dough just starts to come together in the food processor (it will appear a bit crumbly and shouldn’t form a ball), turn it out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and set it aside to rest in the refrigerator. If the dough becomes too hard from chilling, let it set out for a few minutes until it is workable. If you need to prepare the dough ahead of time, this recipe will keep well in the freezer for about two months.

Makes enough for one 8-inch tart pan or 16 to 18 tartlet pans

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into about 1/4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons water

1 large egg yolk

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment. Pulse several times until the ingredients are incorporated. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. The pieces of butter should be no larger than peas or lentils.

Whisk together the water and egg yolk in a small bowl and, while pulsing the processor, gradually incorporate the liquid mixture. The dough might look dry, but should just begin to clump. If it does indeed appear too crumbly, drizzle in a bit more water. You don’t want the dough to gather into a ball, however. Drier is better here. Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, gather it into a flat disc, and wrap tightly. Set in the refrigerator to chill and rest for at least 20 minutes.

Butter sixteen to eighteen 2 1/2-by-3/4-inch tartlet pans and set aside on a large baking sheet. (Of course, you can use any size you prefer.)

Using about 1/2 of the dough at a time, roll it out on a generously-floured work surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into discs using a 2 3/4-inch round cutter. If you find the discs are becoming too soft, arrange them on a baking sheet and set in the refrigerator to chill a bit. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner, re-rolling the scraps, as necessary. Fit the rounds of dough into the prepared tartlet pans, pressing down the sides to create stability and removing any excess from the edges by scraping it off neatly with your fingers. Arrange the prepared tart shells once again on the baking sheet and set in the refrigerator to chill until fairly firm, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prick the bottoms of the formed tart shells, using the tines of a fork. (This will help prevent the dough from puffing in the oven.) Bake until the tart shells are golden brown and fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool at least to warm before carefully turning the shells out of the pans to cool completely. If not using immediately, store the prepared shells in an airtight container in a cool dry area for up to 5 days.

Tomato Jam

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ImageTomato Jam

This sweet-tart jam is a great way to utilize a basket-full of late-summer tomatoes. It does take some time to prepare, but it’s worth it in the end. Keep it on hand to dollop on top of slices of manchego or Comté cheese and whole-grain crackers, drizzle over warm baked Brie, or even add to a vinaigrette. For a special hors d’oeuvre, spoon a bit over a tartlet shell filled with herbed cream cheese, goat cheese, or Boursin. Packaged in a pretty jar with a decorative tag, this addictive condiment would also certainly come as a welcome hostess or holiday gift.

The following canning method relies simply on sterilized jars for vacuum packing, but if you are experienced in sealing your preserves in a boiling water bath, try it. Your jam will last even longer and won’t require refrigeration.

Makes about 6 cups

6 pounds tomatoes, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more as desired (optional)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Combine the tomatoes, sugars, salt, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar in a large (at least 8-quart) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the jam is thickened and reduced to about half, about 2 1/4 hours.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and the vanilla extract. Fill sterilized jars, seal with lids, and set aside to cool and create a vacuum seal at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

Caramelized Onion and Olive Tartlets

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With the holidays approaching, I am once again seeking inspiration for yummy nibbles and hors d’oeuvre to serve with cocktails for when friends and family pop in for a visit. These days, though, with three small children at home, my creative hours in the kitchen are few, so I’m not only on the lookout for delicious dishes, but also for recipes that I can make ahead. The holidays are busy enough with shopping, children’s school activities, and special events that laboring at the stove, even for those of us who like to cook, just isn’t practical. I have found that by spending a little time here and there preparing a variety of dishes, I can easily have something delicious and satisfying on hand to serve almost at a moment’s notice.

Reminiscent of the gorgeous Niçoise flatbread, pissaladière, these caramelized onion and olive tartlets are my new favorite savory two-bite treats. They are just right for holiday parties, as they are not only delicious, but can be prepared ahead in parts or in their entirety, as well. Tender pastry is just the right complement to a combination of sweet caramelized onions and salty oil-cured black olives. They are delightful hot right out of the oven or at room temperature, and would be lovely with a variety of cocktails, in addition to a full-bodied Chardonnay or a fruity Gewürztraminer or Riesling. Make the pastry and filling ahead of time, or put them together in an afternoon and keep them on hand for several days—if they last that long.

Caramelized Onion and Olive Tartlets

Makes 18

Pastry

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 to 4 tablespoons cold water

Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 small onions, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped

To make the pastry, combine the flour, salt, and butter in a large bowl and, using your fingertips, break up the pieces of butter in the flour until they are about the size of lentils. Do this as lightly and quickly as possible so as to prevent the butter from becoming too soft. Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with your fingers or a fork to form a dough. Shape it into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and set in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.

To make the filling, heat the olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, salt, pepper, and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the olives, and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble the tartlets, roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out 18 rounds, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, and fit each round into the cup of a mini muffin tin. Crimp the edges decoratively and set in the refrigerator to chill for about 15 minutes. Divide the onion mixture among the chilled pastry cups and bake until the pastry is golden brown the tartlets are fragrant, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve the tartlets warm or at room temperature. Store cooled tartlets in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.