French Kitchen Table Tartes and Pies
The French people I know don't normally embark on fancy pastries or layered cakes at home. You won't see a cookie jar in a typical French kitchen either, home cookie baking not being one of the pastimes that the French have delegated their time to. Cupcakes are positively unheard of, and the American 'Moofin' and 'Broonie' have just made their way to French boulangeries in recent years. Many accomplished French home cooks leave the majority of their baked goods up to the professionals. Chances are, if you go to any kind of semi-formal dinner where people are following the rules in a French home, they'll most likely bring out a magnificent dessert done by their favorite local pâtisserie, purchased in a bakery.
This is why as an American in France, when I come bearing home baked cookies, the angels sing and a bright golden halo forms above my head. It's a nice little trick. It came as a shock the first time this happened to me. On a whim, I made chocolate chip cookies for a family friend who had children. The father kept repeating: You MADE these? They crowded around, and everyone took one and tasted it carefully, and then another, and even the mother had three. They seemed astounded, and full of glorious praise. I was taken aback, because, well, you know, cookies are cookies. But this is not so in France.
I learned in France that cookies are American, and Cookies Americains are different from petits fours, galettes, sablés, biscuits, tuiles, madelines, palmiers, or any of the other lovely cookie shaped things we have here. Of course there will always be exceptions somewhere, but this is the general rule. In the past year, mini chocolate chips have begun to appear on the shelves in the hypermarchés. I wonder if they will catch on or if it's just a fad.
There are many home-made French desserts that appear without fanfare in French kitchens, don't get me wrong. Don't think that the home cook in France doesn't prepare sweets! I would venture to say that the French tarte, or pie, is something like the American cookie. It holds a special place in the French kitchen, and is quite common. A home cook will throw one together whenever there's fresh fruit. I am constantly asounded at the endless simple lovely variations on this theme that keep appearing on the kitchen tables of my French friends. When I had lunch with Aude last week, I was struck by the simplicity and ease with which she pieced together a Mirabelle Tarte.
Yes. We still have a couple of pounds of mirabelles left. Funny, I thought I'd be sick of them, the way I got sick of cherries in June, but after eating roughly a half pound of fresh fruits daily for the past 12 days, I can say with certitude that I love them. My love is unwavering. They hit the spot. They have kept rather well in the refrigerator, but won't for much longer. I plan to blanche and freeze those last ones, but last night, I made a couple of tartes (one mirabelle and one delicious myrtille, or blueberry, which we ate last night in the dark - no photos.)
This is how Aude did hers at lunch last week and how I did mine last night.
Small Mirabelle Tarte (can be made with any small plum!)
1 batch basic Pâte Brisée
enough mirabelles or other small plum to cover half the bottom of the tarte pan
Granulated sugar, as desired
Half a lemon (for its juice - optional, depends on how your fruit tastes)
Note on the pâte: Last night I used cold water instead of crème fraîche, adding just enough cold water to help pull the dough together. I did this because we didn't have any creme fraiche on hand. The crust turned out fine.
Note on pre-baking the crust: Pre-baking the crust is optional for this recipe, and it really depends on how thick you roll it. How thick you roll your crust depends on how juicy your fruits are (the juicier, the crustier). If you plan to roll the crust out nice and thick, prebaking is a good idea. If you roll your crust thin, there's really no need.
-Prepare your basic pâte brisée as you would at any time.
-When it is chilled, divide the dough in half (or not, if you are making a large tarte), quickly make it into a ball, and roll it out.
-Turn on the oven to 450F/210C.
-Grease a small tarte plate (ours is a bit smaller than a dinner plate since there's only two of us. Your family tarte plate may be larger!) and line it with the rolled out dough. A few rough edges at the edge are fine.
-Pierce the crust with a fork to avoid bubbles forming in the bottom as the tarte cooks. See note on pre-baking the crust above.
-Pull the mirabelles apart into two pieces, and remove the pits. Place the mirabelle halves inside down all over the bottom of the tarte shell.
-Sprinkle with sugar and then lemon juice (if you use it) directly from the half lemon, being careful not to let the lemon seeds fall into the tarte. Bake for 15-25 minutes, until the fruits begin to brown on top and the crust is golden brown.
The reason why this photo is of only half a tarte is because Loic got up early and ate half the tarte for breakfast before I woke up.