For anyone who watches “The Dog Whisperer” (and I’m a recent convert after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s article about him last week), you will know that dogs are pack animals. For them to behave–for them to be healthy, happy dogs–you have to be their master. Dogs will read you: show any weakness, and they will own you.
Tart dough is like a dog. You have to be its master or it will own you. Last time I made a tart, I got bit: the tart dough wouldn’t roll out, I kept reclumping it, and by the time it was done it was like a brick. That tart was my master.
But it was not so with the tart you see above: the tart you see above was formed and shaped by the new me, the dominant me, the aggressive alpha dog me. Tart tasters all agreed: “this tart is flaky!” “This dough is perfect!” How did I whip that poochy dough into shape? I attacked it with confidence, with vigor, with great assurance. I am–dun dun dun dun!–The Tart Whisperer.
The idea for making this tart came to me when I saw rhubarb at the farmer’s market. Lots of the stalls were featuring rhubarb so I decided to go home and look up a rhubarb recipe. The most tempting, exciting one came to us from Miss Martha Stewart. Her new cookbook–“Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook”–is a beautiful thing: a big, colorful, helpful book with lots of tips and recipes and pictures. Plus Martha’s wearing orange on the cover (prison jumpsuit!) and her hair looks fabulous.
I’ll share the recipe here—I hope Martha’s people don’t sue. Right away I’ll tell you it’s TOTALLY worth doing. It’s a wonderful recipe and Martha’s method for poaching rhubarb should be the standard method for anyone with extra rhubarb on their hands. I had leftover bits that I snacked on and they were delicious.
First we make the cream-cheese tart dough. This is the process (and recipe) that leant itself to such a flaky dough.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp baking paper
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
3 oz cream cheese, cold
Place flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse several times to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until pieces are the size of peas. Add the cream cheese, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Turn the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap…
…use the plastic to help bring the dough together into a ball. Flatten to form a square, and wrap well with plastic. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day before using.
The above steps are not as simple as they sound. As you can see by the picture, the dough is very crummy and when you try to form a ball with the plastic wrap pieces of dough crumble apart. When I flattened it, tears began to form already and I knew that would be bad for the dough. I decided to squeeze the ball tighter because I figured the more compact it is now, the easier it will be to roll out. I think this was wise. I am, after all, The Tart Whisperer.
Now we get to making the tart. Here we go!
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbs sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
1 small red beet, well scrubbed, cut into wedges
1 1/2 lbs rhubarb, leaves trimmed and stalks sliced diagonally into 2-inch pieces
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup sour cream
On a lightly floured pieces of parchment paper, roll out the dough to a 12-inch square, about 1/8 inch thick. [NOTE: Martha’s recipe calls for a square tart pan. I only had a circular tart pan and it worked FINE!] WIth a dry pastry brush, sweep off excess flour; fit dough into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing into corners. Using a sharp knife or a rolling pin, trim dough flush with pan. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork. Chill tart shell until firm, about 30 minutes.
It’s the above step, I believe, that matters the most. Rolling out that dough with assurance, with forcefulness and control will guarantee that you only need to roll it out once. That to me is key: the less you work it, the better. Even if you mess it up and it tears it’s better just to lift the torn dough into the pan than to re-roll it. This is what I’ve learned. I am The Tart Whisperer.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line chilled shell with parchment, leaving at least a 1-inch overhang. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until edges are just beginning to turn golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove parchment and weights; continue baking until crust is deep golden brown all over, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.
Stir together 1 1/2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and beet in a large skillet.
Isn’t that awesome? She has you use a beet to turn the rhubarb more red. That’s a classic Martha trick if there ever was one. And no, it doesn’t make the rhubarb taste like beets. That’s the dumbest question you’ve ever asked.
Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil.
Add rhubarb; turn off heat.
Cover, and let stand until the rhubarb is tender and gives only slight resistance when pierced with the tip of a sharp paring knife, about 20 minutes.
Carefully remove the rhubarb from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and spread it in a single layer in a baking pan lined with several layers of paper towels.
[NOTE: At this point alone, the rhubarb tastes terrific. Put this on ice cream and you have an alternative, somewhat easier dessert.]
Strain 1 cup of poaching liquid into a medium skillet. Cook over high heat until the syrup has thickened to a glaze, about 10 minutes; set aside until cool.
Combine cream cheese, remaining 2 Tbs sugar, and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until smooth. Add sour cream and beat until mixture is very smooth.
Using an offset spatula, spread cream-cheese mixture evenly over the bottom of the cooled crust.
Carefully arrange the poached rhubarb on top of the cream-cheese mixture, and drizzle with the reserved cooled syrup. Chill tart in the refrigerator, loosely covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve, up to 4 hours.
I totally disagree with that last part–4 hours my foot!–you can eat this several days after you make it. I know because I ate it almost every day after I made it. The flavor combination is awesome: tart, tongue-tingling rhubarb, creamy, zingy lemon cream-cheese filling and then the smooth, firm yet delicate crust. This is a tart made for champions. This is a tart made for…The Tart Whisperer. (Dun dun dun.)