Endless Tart Versatility

April 29, 2008

10 Min Read
Endless Tart Versatility

Tarts can be the little black dress of the menu. Elegant or rustic, sweet or savory, classic or contemporary, theyre endlessly versatile, always appropriate and always perceived as a little bit special.

Similar to pies, tarts traditionally consist of sweet or savory fillings in a crust. But while pie fillings are often enclosed in a second top layer of pastryor perhaps a lattice pastry or crumb toppingtarts typically are open-faced with artfully arranged fruits, vegetables, nuts or other fillings providing attractive presentations. Usually made in shallow, straight-sided baking pans with removable bottoms and fluted edges, or sometimes in tart rings called flans, tarts can also be free-form. These more-casual, rustic versions feature pastry crust simply rolled flat and topped with ingredients, with only the edges of the pastry folded up to contain the filling.

Old and New World examples

The most famous examples of tarts throughout history include both structured and free-form types. In France, for instance, classic quiche Lorraine is made in tart pans or pie plates that contain its luxurious custardy filling of cream, egg, onion or leek and bacon. French galettes, on the other hand, are rustic, free-form, open-face tarts wherein a thin, crispy pastry crust holds sweet or savory fillingsthinly sliced apples, for instance, or potatoes and leeks. And one of Frances most famous tarts, tarte Tatin, named for the Tatin sisters who created it (reportedly by accident) at lHotel Tatin in the late 1800s, is an upside-down apple tart in which the apples are caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked.

Outside of France, Italys crostata resembles a galettea baked, free-form, open-face dessert tart traditionally prepared by folding the edges of the dough over the top of a fruit, jam or thinly sliced vegetable filling. Austrias famous Linzer tart, created in the city of Linz, features a nut crustusually almonds or hazelnutsfitted into a fluted-edged pan, filled with raspberry jam and topped with lattice strips of the rich nut pastry.

Such classic tarts continue to be popular, especially on bistro and Mediterranean-style menus, but their popularity is expanding well beyond these traditional niches as American chefs give tarts their own unique spin. With a simple crust as a carrier, virtually any combination of fillings makes them easy signature menu items at any time of day and on any part of the menuwhether breakfast, lunch or dinner, appetizer, entrée, snack or dessert.

Whether savory or sweet, adapting current menu trends to tart presentations is easy, and ingredients that make producing dough and fillings that stand up to freeze/thaw processing are widely available and infinitely customizable.

Savory layers

On the savory side, tarts are increasingly popular baked in individual, single-serving portions, menued as breakfast items or appetizers, or paired with a side salad as a light entrée. Hand-held options, too, with fillings fully encased in tart crust, are gaining favor as foodservice operators look for new ways to satisfy insatiable consumer demands for convenience and on-the-go foods.

Whatever their size or shape, a trick to developing great savory tarts is to think in terms of layering flavors and incorporating or complementing key filling flavors into the crust. For example, a tart featuring a chicken, sun-dried tomato and goat cheese filling delivers truer flavors after freeze/thaw and bake-off if the tomato and cheese flavors, in the form of powders or liquids, are added to the dough. The chicken should be enhanced with complementary flavorsmaybe rosemary, or basil and balsamicby marinating it prior to assembly.

Meats for tart applications, in general, benefit from marinating to add more flavor. Vegetables, too, can be marinated or seasoned, and should always be individually quick-frozen (IQF) vs. fresh for best performance in prepared tarts.

Any desired flavor can be easily and consistently enhanced via such techniques in prepared, frozen tarts. A blackened chicken tart can incorporate blackening spices into the crust. A caramelized onion and pancetta tart gets an extra boost from pancetta flavor. Enzyme-modified cheese powders add an extra bite of cheese flavorfrom feta to Asiago, blue or Parmesanto crusts and fillings alike.

Enhancing flavors up front and layering flavors at each phase of production not only ensures a richly flavored end-product, but also adds value from a menu-merchandising standpoint. For example, grilled marinated vegetable and goat cheese tart with savory herbed crust has greater appeal on a menu and commands stronger pricing than simply grilled vegetable and goat cheese tart.

Certainly, as in product development across the board, bigger, bolder flavors and ethnic twists are driving tart innovations. At a recent ideation session, for example, we sampled savory tarts with fillings such as roasted portabella and caramelized onion, mango tandoori chicken, black bean and chipotle chicken, spicy chicken chorizo, spinach Florentine, Thai peanut, and smoky barbecue with Gouda cheese.

However, keep in mind that theres fusion of flavors, and then theres confusion of flavors. Fusion is great and can be very successful, but dont overdo it. Stick to a couple of key flavors and really make them sing.

In developing savory tarts, weve also taken cues from popular items in other menu categories, deconstructing them and rebuilding them as tarts. From the sandwich menu, for instance, we created individual turkey-Rueben tarts; from pizza, we developed Margherita tarts; and from the breakfast menu, we created an egg, cheese and caramelized-onion tart with a hash-brown crust.


To be sure, creativity in the savory-tart category isnt limited to filling combinations. While crusts can be simple, traditional, pastry-style offerings, they can also be approached more creatively to lend specific culinary appealas in the flavor-enhanced examples mentioned above. In addition to herbs and spices, cheeses and nuts can be added. And nontraditional doughs like brioche, phyllo and fortune cookie make for easy and interesting alternatives. Brioche crust, for example, delivers more flavor and depth than traditional pastry and, due to the addition of eggs and yeast, it is more breadlike, stronger and holds up better during freeze/thaw. Phyllo performs well, too, and can be a great choice for tarts such as Florentine or Mediterranean-style feta, tomato and olive to help carry the theme and ethnic authenticity. For the same reason, a fortune-cookie-flavored crust is a perfectly themed base for an Asian chicken and vegetable tart.

Like flavor enhancers and filling ingredients, doughs are highly customizable. Just keep in mind that its important to use dough thats been specifically formulated and conditioned with emulsifiers to stand up to the demands of freeze/thaw processing and prevent sogginess from the transfer of moisture from the filling to the crust.

Sweet: vary components

As with savory tarts, sweet versions easily go from classic to contemporary to completely creative. Standbys like warm tarte Tatin, refreshing lemon tart, glazed fruit tarts, velvety chocolate tart and nutty Linzer tart are always in style. And new flavor and ingredient combinations are limited only by the imagination.

Look at flavor trends in the beverage category for inspiration, and think about popular bakery and confectionery products that can be broken down into their key components and built back up in a tart format. Traditional apple pie, for instance, can be reborn as apple-cobbler tart with cinnamon pastry crust. For even more-authentic flavor and unique texture, cinnamon-flavored pie dough nuggets can be incorporated into the filling. Monster cookies become monster tarts made with a buttery oatmeal crust and peanut butterchocolate filling sprinkled with color-coated chocolate candy pieces.

Cheesecake and crème brûlée are two more examples of familiar, well-loved desserts that can be presented in new and nontraditional ways. Using a simple cookie-crumb or graham crust and any of a number of inclusion ingredients for unique flavor and texture, cheesecake tarts give new life to an old favorite. Try chocolate-covered-toffee, cookie-dough or crème-brûlée nuggets incorporated into the cheesecake filling. Such inclusions, widely used in ice creams and other confections, and available in various sizes, are often specially formulated to provide not only excellent flavor results, but also to maintain texture during processing.

Still another possible retro redux hit is smores, all grown up and presented in tart form. Its an example of the type of product thats easily customized and produced via Kerrys proprietary triple threat, or triple-layer extrusion, technology. It might feature a graham crust base topped with layers of chocolate and marshmallow, or maybe a traditional pastry crust with key lime filling and cream custard topping. This new technology is great for producing convenient hand-held tarts.

As on the savory side, sweet crusts increasingly are varied to add interest and signature appeal. The most-basic crust is traditional pâte sucrée, or sweet tart pastry, which contains egg yolk, sugar and vanilla in addition to flour and fat to produce crumbly, tender, sweet dough suitable for a wide variety of tarts. Also popular are crumb crusts, made from any type of finely crushed cookie (chocolate chip and gingersnap, or vanilla and chocolate wafers, are popular examples), brownie crumbs or crushed nuts blended with a bit of sugar and butter for cohesion and pressed into tins or pans. The addition of flavors to sweet tart dough and crumb crusts alike can yield virtually infinite customized possibilities.

Some exciting new crust concepts in the sweet-tart category are coming on strong, as well. One example that borrows from the ice cream parlor is waffle coneflavored crust. Paired with fillings that pick up favorite ice cream flavors, such as cookies and cream, turtle or peanut butter, its again offering something familiar in a whole new way.

Also gaining in popularity are crusts that play to both the sweet and savory sides. Examples here are chocolate-pretzel crust made from crushed, salted pretzels and chocolate flakes, and caramel pretzel crust with sea salt.

In fact, chefs nationwide have discovered the appeal of adding savory flavor touches to sweet desserts, and tarts are a great way to tap the trend. Sea salt; black pepper; herbs like rosemary, thyme and lavender; and even chile peppers and vegetables are being paired with sweet ingredients like chocolate, lemon, vanilla and honey to rave reviews.

Think its a stretch? James Beard Awardwinning Chef Roberto Donna has featured Carrot Zabaglione Tart with Candied Carrots in Napa Cabbage Sauce at his Galileo restaurant in Washington, D.C. And Chef Khanh Tran at Cosmos in Minneapolis has offered Warm Chocolate Fig Tart, spiced with brandy, cinnamon, cloves, anise and black pepper, paired with Smoked Hot Chocolate Froth, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Salted Almond Praline.

Bottom line: Whether sweet or savory, think of tarts as a blank canvas. As long as the flavors and ingredient pairings make culinary senseeven, and sometimes especially, if theyre unfamiliarthey can open up a whole new category of on-trend, operationally easy and profitable menu and frozen convenience product possibilities.

Chef Adam SchreierAdam Schreier ([email protected]) is a corporate chef for Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, Beloit, WI, where he supports new product development. He holds an associates degree in culinary arts and a bachelors degree in hotel/restaurant management from Kendall College and has studied with leading chefs in the United States, France and Italy. He is a member of the Research Chefs Association.

Chef John NamyJohn Namy ([email protected]) is vice president of foodservice applications for Sweet Ingredients at Kerry Ingredients & Flavours. He is an American Culinary Federation certified executive chef, and a member of the American Culinary Federation, Research Chefs Association and Institute of Food Technologists.

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