This recipe comes from a treasured New York Times clipping that my friend Helen sent to me back in 1998. Helen and I used to work together in the late 80′s. She was older than I was, a good friend, and she made a real impression on me. She was sophisticated and worldly in a cool way, not snobby or pretentious. Her first husband was French and her second husband was British. She ate her salad after her entree. She grew up in one of those famous old Manhattan hotels (it was owned by her family). We shared a love of fine baked goods and humorous obituaries. She got me on the board of a local non-profit (she was on it too). She sent me Christmas cards that I’m sure she picked out just for me.
I’m so glad I still have this clipping because I no longer have Helen. Not because she died or anything like that. What happened was, a couple of years after she sent me this, she simply cut herself off from our mutual circle of friends. Just like that. No one was really sure why – or at least they never told me. Helen invited my husband and I to dinner shortly before the split and our last contact was a voice message I received from her telling me she had to cancel dinner because of a family crisis. I remember feeling unsure as to how to respond and do you know what I did? Nothing. I’m not sure what I was thinking – that we would talk soon? Why couldn’t I have just sent a note to say I was thinking of her and wishing her the best? I’ll always feel that I let her down and in my mind that’s the reason for the split, but how does that explain the break with everyone else? And my goodness, you are probably wondering when I am just going to get to the tart already!
It is a fine-looking piece of pastry, isn’t it? That’s a Maury Rubin pastry crust that was shaped using a flan ring. Do you know Maury Rubin from City Bakery in New York City? His book, Book of Tarts, blew me away when it came out. I was really excited about what he and Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake in San Francisco were doing with pastry at the time – it was like architecture! So exciting. I visited his bakery in 1996 when Dwight’s oldest brother got married in the same hotel that Helen lived in as a child. It was just a small place then – the bakery, not the hotel. Looks like Maury Rubin is running a much larger operation now.
So here’s a link to Florence Fabricant’s article and the recipes. If you like to think about food like I do, you’ll probably find the whole piece very enjoyable. What Ms. Fabricant does is compile her favorite bits from NYC pastry shop tarts into her idea of perfection. She includes a recipe for the dough (Mr. Rubin’s), the pastry cream, and finishing the tart (including folding whipped cream into the pastry cream and a glaze for the strawberries). Note that the glaze is not shown in the photo above. I skipped that part, but you probably shouldn’t.
Now let’s talk about those tart shells because Ms. Fabricant’s ideal was one large tart, whereas I went for the Maury Rubin look this time. I never heard of flan rings before I saw this technique in his Book of Tarts. They are just metal rings and I gather that they are typically used when making flan. Check the book for more detailed instructions about how to do this. What I did was divide the dough from the Times recipe into eight pieces after it chilled. I rolled each piece to about 1/8″ thick, pricked the dough all over with a fork, and picked up each piece and pressed it into a ring, trying for a 90 degree angle between the bottom and sides. I rolled over the top of each ring with my rolling pin to trim the excess dough (sounds odd, but it works). Then I put the unbaked shells in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking for 15 minutes at the same temperature indicated in the article recipe. Once baked, I removed the flan rings with tongs (that was great fun) and moved the shells to a rack to cool with a spatula. You can see from the photos that they didn’t turn out perfectly, but this is the best I’ve ever been able to make them. This is a keeper of a recipe – delicious, easy, very forgiving dough – you won’t believe you made such a fine crust! It would be fun to invite some people over just for dessert, maybe on a Sunday afternoon. You could have them create their own tart with the shells that you make and their choice of fillings like pudding (buy), lemon curd (buy – I love Trader Joe’s), whipped cream (make) and fruit.
Well I hope the passing years have been good to Helen and her family. I’m glad I had her in my life when I did. I hope you enjoy this tart if you decide to give it a try.