Tarts are a special dessert to me. In my Mom’s family, we always had Chess Tarts, usually made by my grandmother Meme, at special gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before she moved into a retirement home, Meme taught me to make her tarts and gave me many of her tart pans so that I could make them on my own. So anytime I get to pull out her tart pans is special but I don’t think I’ve ever used them to make anything but Meme’s chess tarts, using her recipe for the pastry and the filling.
But, inspired by a recent post from Feeding My Enthusiasms for what Elle calls St George’s Chocolate and Qunice Jam Tarts, I decided to branch out. These tarts consist of pastry topped with jam (she used quince, I made some with apricot and some with orange marmalade) which is then topped with a filling made of dark chocolate and ground almonds. They are apparently reminiscent of English Bakewell tarts, though those usually don’t have chocolate in them. I made my own pastry instead of using ready made pie dough. I also used a new recipe for pastry, which I altered from a recipe my friend Stirling found at Cook’s Illustrated. It uses vodka to replace some of the water, which makes the pastry easier to work with but doesn’t make the pastry tough. The vodka evaporates while it bakes, and it apparently doesn’t react with the gluten in the flour the way water does to make it tough.
The tarts turned out pretty well. The new pastry was buttery and flaky, though a little less brown than my usual pastry, and the chocolate filling was rich but nicely complemented by the fruit in the jam. The apricot and orange were both good, but Matt and I both like the orange ones better. I didn’t really think the almonds added all that much though. I felt like they just made the filling heavier without adding much flavor. I think next time I would try using hazelnuts instead, which I think might go better with the chocolate anyway. But overall, it’s a recipe I would recommend. If you want to try the filling, click here for Elle’s recipe. My modified pastry recipe follows.
3 c flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 c butter (1 stick), cut into slices
1/2 c shortening
1/4 c ice water
1/4 c vodka
Measure out sifted flour. Sift dry ingredients. Cut in butter and sugar. Add ice water and vodka, and mash together until just blended. If the dough won’t stick together, add a little more vodka. Pull off a small piece of dough and roll out to fit in tart pan. Place the dough in the pan, and use the palm of one hand to cut off the extra dough from around the pan. Reuse the extra dough scraps for the next tart. This makes enough pastry for a couple dozen tarts or two pies.