My Goals

  • Easy, sturdy, buttery crust

  • Quick-to-make, creamy filling that holds its shape

  • Slices that look just as good as the whole tart

A fresh fruit tart is the showpiece of a bakery pastry case—and for good reason. With its clean crust edge and ornate arrangement of fruit glistening with glaze, this dessert is beautiful and conveys a sense of occasion. But anyone who has served one knows that the pretty presentation literally falls apart when the knife meets the tart. Instead of neat wedges, you get shards of pastry oozing messy fruit and juice-stained filling. That’s a disappointing end for a dessert that started out so impressive and required several hours to make.

It seemed to me that the classic fresh fruit tart needed to be reconceptualized from crust to crown. I wanted the crust and filling to be sturdy and stable enough to retain their form when cut, and I wanted to streamline the preparation of these two components. That might mean departing from tradition, but as long as the tart looked pretty and featured a buttery crust complementing a satiny filling and bright, sweet, juicy fruit, I was ready for new ideas.

Crust Ease

As it turned out, there were plenty of published recipes touting innovative approaches to the fresh fruit tart, starting with the crust. The most promising one traded the traditional pâte sucrée—in which cold butter is worked into flour and sugar, chilled, and rolled out—for a simpler pat-in-the-pan crust. This style of crust calls for nothing more than melting the butter and stirring it into the flour mixture to create a pliable dough that is easily pressed into the pan (I was using a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom) and baked. I tried one such recipe: While the result was crisp and cookie-like rather than flaky, it still made a nice contrast to the creamy filling.

Modifying the simple-to-make, pat-in-the-pan crust gives us a rich, nutty version that’s a perfect contrast to our creamy filling.

I had one tweak in mind: Since I would be melting the butter anyway, I’d try browning it to give the pastry a richer, nuttier character. But when I did this, the dough seemed dry and produced a sandy, cracked crust. I realized that by browning the butter, I had cooked off all its water (about 18 percent of butter’s weight). That meant there wasn’t enough moisture for the proteins in the flour to form the gluten necessary to hold the crust together. Hoping the fix was as simple as putting back some moisture, I added a couple of tablespoons of water to the browned butter before mixing it with the dry ingredients. This worked perfectly: The dough was more cohesive and, after 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven, formed a crust that held together.

On to the filling. I wasn’t keen on the traditional pastry cream, since you have to cook it, strain it, and let it cool before it’s ready to use. Plus, it would be good to create a filling that wouldn’t ooze from the crust when sliced. What I needed was something that was thick and creamy from the get-go. Mascarpone, the creamy, tangy-sweet fresh cheese that’s the star of tiramisù and many other Italian desserts, seemed like a good option. Sweetened with a little sugar and spread over the tart shell, it was a workable starting point, but it still wasn’t dense enough to hold its shape when sliced. Thickeners such as gelatin, pectin, and cornstarch required either cooking or hydrating in liquid to be effective, as well as several hours to set up. A colleague had a better idea: white chocolate. I could melt it in the microwave and stir it into the mascarpone. Since white chocolate is solid at room temperature, it would firm up the filling as it cooled.

I melted white baking chips (they resulted in a firmer texture than white chocolate, which contains cocoa butter) in the microwave and quickly realized that the melted mass was too thick to incorporate evenly into the mascarpone. I started again, this time adding ¼ cup of heavy cream, which loosened up the baking chips just enough for them to blend into the cheese. When the filling was homogeneous, I smoothed it into the cooled crust, gently pressed in the fruit while the filling was still slightly warm (once cooled completely it would be too firm to hold the fruit neatly), brushed on a jam glaze, and refrigerated the tart for 30 minutes so the filling would set. I then allowed the tart to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before slicing it.

The filling was satiny and, thanks to the baking chips, nicely firm. But I wondered if I could give it a little more oomph. In my next attempt I added bright, fruity lime juice, which—despite being a liquid—wouldn’t loosen the filling. Instead, the acid would act on the cream’s proteins, causing them to thicken; meanwhile, the cream’s fat would prevent any graininess.

Since heating the lime juice would drive off its bright flavor, I stirred it in with the mascarpone; it paired beautifully with the rich cheese and white chocolate. For even more lime flavor, I added a teaspoon of zest, heating it with the chocolate and cream to draw out its flavor-packed oils.

Edible Arrangements

With a little planning, we came up with a fruit arrangement that looked stunning and didn’t get in the way when slicing.

Up to this point I’d been topping the tart with just berries, since they’re easy to work with and colorful. For even more appeal, I decided to add a couple of ripe peaches, peeled and cut into thin slices. But before I placed the fruit on the filling, I thought carefully about how to arrange it. Many tarts feature fruit organized in concentric circles. These look great when whole, but since you have to cut through the fruit when slicing, it winds up mangled, with the berries bleeding juice into the filling. Why not arrange the fruit so that the knife could slip between pieces?

First, I spaced eight berries around the outer edge of the tart. I then used these berries as guides to help me evenly arrange eight sets of three slightly overlapping peach slices so that they radiated from the center of the tart to its outer edge. The peach slices would serve as cutting guides for eight wedges. Next, I artfully arranged a mix of berries on each wedge. The final touch: I made a quick glaze using apricot preserves that I thinned with lime juice for easy dabbing.

The crisp, sturdy, rich crust; satiny yet stable filling; and bright-tasting fruit added up to a classic showpiece with modern flavor. Best of all, it was quick to make, and each slice looked just as polished and professional as the whole tart.

Keys to Success

  • Easy, sturdy, buttery crust

    Instead of a traditional pastry crust, we make a pat-in-the-pan dough that comes together in moments and doesn’t require chilling or rolling. Browning the butter gives it rich flavor. We replace the water lost during browning, which the proteins in the flour need to form gluten, for a crust that won’t crumble.
  • Quick-to-make, creamy filling that holds its shape

    Melted white baking chips and tangy lime juice thicken the mascarpone cheese–based filling and add balanced flavor, creating a quicker alternative to traditional pastry cream. Adding a bit of lime zest enhances the filling’s fruit flavor even more.
  • Slices that look just as good as the whole tart

    Thin-sliced peach wedges, carefully arranged in lines that radiate from the center of the tart, function as cutting guides for neat slicing. Along with berries, they give the tart a professional, colorful appearance.