Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savory Tarts
by Eric Kayser
The true secret to making tarts, as baker Eric Kayser proclaims, is all in the dough. There is nothing more crucial to tarts than the crust, be it buttery or crispy or crumbly, as it lays the basic foundation for any number of toppings to be built upon it.
While this seems like the overzealous mantra of a fourth-generation baker, Kayser, who owns Bread Bar in Los Angeles as well as some boulangeries in Paris, makes a good point. Tarts are one of the most versatile of pastries—there is nary a fruit or vegetable or sweet or savory filling that can’t be fashioned into one. Because of this, the cookbook heavily emphasizes dough-making, offering recipes for eleven types of pastry as the base for the book’s dozens of tarts.
The pastry recipes come with many helpful hints, which include everything from selecting the proper flour to allowing dough to sit overnight. Because baking is more of a science than an art, it is crucial to take heed of Kayser’s tips, or you could find yourself with a flaky mess instead of a soft malleable crust, as I discovered when substituting all-purpose flour instead of cake flour for a simple shortbread pastry.
The recipes for the tart fillings, in contrast to the dough, are almost embarrassingly easy. Savory tarts such as the Curried Cilantro Asparagus Quiche and the Chicken Liver and Carrot Tart sound complicated but involve little more than mixing, layering and baking. Sweet fruit and chocolate tarts are slightly more work, involving jellies and custards and creams, but the final product is well-worth the effort. Recipes such as the Salted Caramel Tart and the White Chocolate and Raspberry Tart are particularly mouthwatering.
As with most recipes written by culinary professionals, this cookbook assumes that its readers know the basic tenets of baking and cooking, ignoring the need to explain such frivolities as using proper bakeware and the importance of not stirring sugar while making caramel. Luckily, most tarts are hard to mess up, so novices who have mastered dough-making will have no problem with a basic quiche or fruit tart—just don’t get crumbs all over the cookbook.
Reviewed by Nancy Huang