Both of my grandmothers made truly excellent pies and tarts, but they went about it in different ways. One made piecrust as if she were diffusing a bomb –quiet, concentration and plenty of elbow room were required, and there was a certain amount of tension in the air. The other just seemed to whip it out, apparently without a moment of worry or even a break in the conversation. The results were the same –light, flavorful pastry– but they achieved them, I think, at very different psychic costs.
I’m from the whip-it-out school. It’s pastry dough, after all, not plastique, and the worst that can happen is that the crust is just a tiny bit tougher than it needs to be or or shrinks a little when it bakes, and I can live with those risks. You probably won’t face them, though, if you follow the extremely simple recipe here –a cup of flour, a stick of butter, a tablespoon of water– and remember to rest the dough in the fridge before rolling it out and freeze it before baking.
The rest of the recipe follows a good rule for dealing with fresh seasonal produce –do as little to it as you can. Apricots are wonderful right now, and a little sugar and a pinch of salt are all they need to help concentrate their flavor in the oven. The only trick is to use fruit that’s still firm and slightly under ripe: soft, ripe fruit will make a bland, mushy tart.
For the crust:
1 cup (240 ml) of all-purpose flour
1 stick (1/4 pound, 115g) cold butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (if the butter is unsalted)
About 1 tablespoon ice water
1. Cut the butter into thin slices and put them in a large bowl or directly on a clean, cool work surface.
2. Add the flour, toss and work the mixture between your fingertips. Don’t incorporate all of the butter: stop when about 1/3 of the mixture is made of cornflake-sized pieces of butter and the rest has the texture of coarse damp sawdust. (Just eyeball this –no precise measurement is required.)
3. Pour the ice water over the mixture and gather it up into a rough ball. (It should just barely cling together.) Move to a lightly floured work surface, knead a few times until there are no dry spots, and then form the dough into a disk about an inch thick. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least a half hour (or for up to a couple of days). Again, don’t try to fully incorporate the butter — you should see flecks of it in the dough.
4. About 40 minutes (or longer) before you’re ready to bake, roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it’s about 1/4 inch thick. Go for uniform thickness rather than shape.
5. Transfer the dough to your (ungreased) tart pan, using a metal spatula to loosen it from the board if necessary. Don’t worry about tears or a poor fit to the pan. Press the dough into the tart pan with your fingertips, healing tears, patching holes and filling gaps as you go. Again, focus on uniform thickness rather than appearance as the filling will cover the scars. Place the crust in the freezer until it’s frozen solid, about 30 minutes. This will prevent the crust from shrinking and slumping into the filling as the tart bakes.
For the filling:
About 1 pound (.5 kg) of apricots (firm, slightly under ripe fruit is best)
1/3 cup (80 ml) sugar
2 generous pinches of kosher salt
1. Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).
2. Wash and cut the fruit in half to remove the pits, and then cut it into quarters. Toss the apricot quarters with the sugar and salt in a large bowl.
3. Remove the crust from the freezer and arrange the fruit in a single layer (either randomly or compulsively in a pattern such as this). Make sure to scrape any sugar left in the bowl and drizzle it over the tart.
4. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender, shrunken, and its edges begin to caramelize.
Cool on a rack and then gently remove the sides of the tart pan before serving. Devour with whipped cream or ice cream (more on that later).