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Ask The Chef

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A customer called and asked, “Do you have alphabet cookie cutters?”

“Yes, we have them in two sizes: one-inch and three-inch.”

“How big is that?”

Another customer called and asked, “How big is a 1 1/2 quart baking dish?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“How many inches wide is it?”

“1 1/2 quarts can be tall and narrow like a souffle dish or wide and broad like a gratin dish.”

“I just need to know if the pan I have is the same as what the recipe calls for.”

“I suggest that you pour water into the pan and measure the water.”

Several other customers wanted a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan as required by the cover recipe of this month’s Gourmet magazine. The test kitchen at Gourmet must not have a ruler, since the French tart pans come in 8-inch, 9-inch, 11-inch, and 12.5-inch, but not 10-inch. This differential flummoxed the would-be bakers.

“The recipe calls for 10-inch tart pan, so there must be a 10-inch tart pan!”

“Do you believe everything you read?”

Cooking and baking do not have to be so precise. You can bake the same cake in an 8-inch or a 9-inch or a 10-inch cake pan. The baking time will vary, but the cake will still be delicious. One cake may be a little taller and another a little wider, but the recipe will still work.

Here is a fresh fruit tart recipe that can be make in any size tart pan (and tastes better than that Gourmet recipe, which doesn’t have a custard filling!). If you use a smaller tart pan, you will have leftover dough and filling.

Fresh Fruit Tart

for the dough:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg

Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the size of pellets. Stir in the egg. If necessary, add a tablespoon of water to make the dough come together. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough and fit into a tart pan of your choice. Cover with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights. Bake at 375 until dry, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

for the filling:

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and vanilla. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until pale and ribbony. Fold in the cornstarch. Pour a little of the hot cream into the eggs and whisk. Pour the egg mixture into the hot cream and cook on medium heat until it comes to a boil and is thickened. Let cool. Pour the custard into the tart shell. If there is too much filling for the tart shell, eat the leftovers!

for the topping:

  • fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or any other fruit

Attractively arrange the fruit on top of the custard.


6 Comments for “Size Does Not Matter: Fresh Fruit Tart Recipe”  

  1. Barry

    Ha! “How big is a three-inch cookie cutter”?!?! I love it!

    Reminds me of a story… I had a student in New York who was about to begin an externship at a fancy three-star restaurant. She was nervous and asked me for some advice. I told her what I told everyone… Don’t assume you know it all just because you’ve been to culinary school. Be humble and open to learning new ways of doing what you think you already know, since most chefs have their own ways of doing things.

    Well, on her very first day the chef asked her to boil some cream for a recipe. I guess she took my advice to heart, because she asked the chef, “How will I know when it’s boiling?”

    The school heard from that chef that very afternoon!

  2. Barry

    I have one minor quibble with the statement “you can bake the same cake in an 8-inch or a 9-inch or a 10-inch cake pan.” If it’s a recipe for a chemically leavened cake (i.e., the recipe calls for baking soda or baking powder), the amount of leavening *in proportion to the other quantities* should be reduced as the size of the cake pan is increased. The reason is that batters baking in larger pans take longer to set, and are therefore more fragile (that is, they are in their “fragile” un-set state for a longer length of time.) Since chemical leavening weakens the batter (by enlarging the web of air in the batter) and continues to work until the cake is set, a decrease in the proportion of leavening will make the batter that much stronger and counter the weakening effect of the larger pan.

    Granted, the effect is small (though, depending on the recipe, the oven temp, etc., not necessarily insignificant) for recipes baked written for 9-inch pans but baked in 8- or 10-inch pans instead. But a chemically leavened cake recipe written for a 9-inch pan is sure to be off if all the ingredient quantities (including the leavening) are scaled up the same and baked in, say, a 14- or 16-inch pan.

  3. Anne

    Fair enough, Barry, but the real difference comes when the cake proportions are multiplied and then the ratios are off-kilter. I find that the variations in home ovens are a larger variable than the one-inch difference in the size of the pans.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Barry

    Absolutely right. One or two inches makes little difference. For the home baker the bigger problems always come from other factors, like improper mixing, oven temp too hot or too cold, and even old ingredients. As you say, my point was that when the quantities are simply doubled, tripled or quadrupled and then baked in huge pans…

    Look out below for falling cakes!

  5. Kemp Minifie

    There is a 10-inch tart pan (actually 10.25 inch) that’s available from Sur La Table. Yes, there is a lot of confusion in tart pan sizes and that’s because they are configured in metric, not American measures, so some stores choose to sell them by their exact measures and some choose to round off the number.

  6. Chef

    For the record, Kitchen Conservatory sell the same French tart pans with removable bottoms that Sur La Table sells. Yes, the tart pans are rounded to the next size. The 8-inch tart is precisely 7 7/8 inches. The 9-inch tart is precisely 9 3/8 inches. The 11-inch tart is precisely 11 inches. Any tart recipe will work in any of these pans, so I think the consumer is better served if the recipe calls for “a tart pan (between 8 and 11 inches),” rather than “a 10-inch tart pan” which does not exist!