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Chic = pies are squared

Times Staff Writer

SOMETHING’S astir at a few of the best bakery addresses in Paris, and you can tell by the shape of their tarts.

They are decidedly, perfectly, unexpectedly square.

“We were a bit frustrated with round,” says Jean-Charles Carrarini, who along with his wife, Rose, owns Rose Bakery in the 9th arrondissement. “Everyone had round -- and they weren’t deep enough. Rose wanted to change them visually.”

The two designed their own tart molds and had them custom-made by “a bit of an artist” in Paris. So now the white marble counters are stacked with individual savory tarts that people line up for, and they are very square -- the tarts, that is.

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Master baker Eric Kayser of La Maison Kayser, also the owner of L.A.'s two Breadbar stores, has been making square tarts too. They’re featured in his just-translated-into-English book, “Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts” (Flammarion). Almost all of them are pleasantly square: damson plum dusted with sugar and cinnamon, tangerine and almond cream, custardy cherry clafoutis tart, onion and sausage, artichoke and Parmesan, chanterelles and duck.

Kayser says that at his 11 bakeries across Paris, the square tarts are especially popular (“I like the different shape ... and they are easy to eat.”). They’re so appealing because of their sharp corners and clean, straight sides.

These square tarts -- the Carrarinis’ and Kayser’s -- make a bold statement because they also signal a growing appreciation for thoughtfully crafted but wonderfully rustic pastries in a city where fussily fantastic patisseries still rule.

Among all the high-end, uber-chic treats in Paris, these pastries are celebrated for being simple but beautiful. Their fillings are straightforward, their crusts maybe slightly rough-edged (but just so).

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They’re not like patissier Pierre Herme’s tarts, round and intricately constructed with layers of ganache, dacquoise, Chantilly cream, gelees, croquante, tempered chocolate or pastry cream.

Or like those of pastry chef Sadaharu Aoki, whose eponymous shops sell tarts dusted with green tea powder or garnished with shards of white chocolate -- that also happen to be round. (An occasional tart at fancy food shop Fauchon might be square, such as its carre citron, a square lemon number topped with elaborately decorated white chocolate tiles. And pastry shop Gerard Mulot has a square apricot tart, the fruit standing up in rows like soldiers.)

Nor are they textbook tarts, from instructional tomes for pastry chefs, such as the somewhat whimsically titled “Apprenez l’Art de la Viennoiserie et Festival de Tartes” (“Learn the Art of Viennoiserie and Festival of Tarts”), which includes not only photographs of elaborate tarts but also precise technical drawings for “the exact structure of the product.”

The diagrams point to each layer: Breton shortbread, liquid chocolate (applied with a spray gun), jellied berry coulis, pistachio pain de Genes, light pistachio cream, white chocolate decorations and fresh fruit decorations, for example. And none of the tarts at this festival are square.

“When I opened my first bakery, I wanted a bakery that broke with the traditional French bakeries,” says Kayser, a fifth-generation baker known for helping to reinvigorate bread baking in France, selling only breads with levain (made with natural yeast). “It was the same for the tarts. Traditional French bakeries offered too-sweetened tarts with the same fruits.”

Kayser’s tarts are just sweet enough -- many piled high with fruit, some not even baked into the tart -- a mountain of blueberries on top, a pile of strawberries, rows of raspberries, a swirl of tangerine segments.

A favorite is the apricot pistachio tart, layered with stunning apricot halves tucked into a delicious pistachio filling that creates what looks like rolling hills in between the fruit.

Among Paris’ big-name bakeries, wildly popular Rose Bakery is an anomaly, a bit of a square peg in a round hole, if you will. Located in a former chartil (a place where the old fruit barrows for the markets were kept), the bakery serves up date and oat slices, carrot cake and jam sandwich vegan cookies along with its square tarts.

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It’s “fresh and simple cooking,” writes Rose Carrarini in her recently published first cookbook, “Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery” (Phaidon). “I am not very fond of sweet things and sugar, and yet I became a pastry chef.”

There’s another Rose Bakery at the Dover Street Market, the London shop conceived by fashion designer Rei Kawakubo. And more are planned for Paris. “We are looking desperately to open a new concept,” Jean-Charles Carrarini says. “We just haven’t found the right space yet.”

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Eat your veggies

IT’S a good thing they have the right pans though, because they’re not easy to find. “We wanted people to eat vegetables,” says Jean-Charles, and the molds they found were all “a bit too shallow. You could only fill them with the cream and no vegetables.”

Their specially made tart molds are straight-sided (as opposed to fluted) and deep, so the couple can fill their tarts with plenty of vegetables and handfuls of herbs -- mushrooms with long strands of chives or a tomato and ricotta tart chock full of thyme, its pastry crust (made with Lescure butter from Normandy) lined with cheddar from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London.

“We keeping making more tarts and keep having more tart molds made,” Jean-Charles says.

It’s difficult to track down a straight-sided square tart pan, but square tart “rings” are available online at www.meilleurduchef.com (in French and English). They’re bottomless, so your parchment-lined baking sheet becomes the “bottom.”

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Kayser says he uses molds from a “special provider” but recommends steel pans from French restaurant supplier Mora, www.mora.fr (in French only), though they’re not bottomless, nor do they have removable bottoms. That’s fine if you don’t mind being unable to unmold the tart -- you just cut it and lift out the pieces.

Or you can use a widely available fluted, square tart pan.

The shape of one’s tart is almost a philosophical issue. It’s certainly an aesthetic one. Circle or square, circle or square?

Ask the baker who named one of his tarts “Muskmelon in a Geometric State of Mind.” Maury Rubin, owner of the City Bakery in Los Angeles and New York and author of “Book of Tarts: Form, Function and Flavor at the City Bakery,” is squarely in the round camp. Blame it on his affection for the round flan ring.

“I love it purely as an object,” he writes in his book. “As industrial equipment goes, it is beautiful and elegant. Working with the flan rings will expand your baking experience.”

But would he ever make a square tart?

“God, I love that question,” he says. “I can’t begin to tell you how much I love that question. I’m not even going to answer it because it might take the focus off of how much I love the question.”

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betty.hallock@latimes.com

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Almond shortbread pastry

Total time: About 30 minutes, plus chilling time

Servings: Makes a generous amount for 1 tart (9-by-9-inch square or 10 inches round)

Note: Adapted from “Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts.” You can use extra tart dough to make tartlets or cookies. The extra dough also can be frozen for later use. (To defrost, place the frozen dough in the refrigerator the day before you need it to thaw slowly.) Almond meal is available at well-stocked supermarkets and health food stores. To grind almonds, pulse blanched almonds in a food processor until finely ground.

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter, cubed (about 1 inch) and softened

2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 cup powdered sugar

6 tablespoons almond meal or ground blanched almonds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 3/4 cups cake flour

1. In a food processor, cream the butter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. While the machine is running, mix in the granulated sugar, powdered sugar, almond meal and salt just until incorporated.

2. Add the egg, beating continuously. Add the flour and pulse just until the dough pulls away from the sides. Form the dough into a ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

1 tart shell: 2,237 calories; 31 grams protein; 262 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 120 grams fat; 67 grams saturated fat; 413 mg. cholesterol; 834 mg. sodium.

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Apricot pistachio tart

Total time: About 2 hours, plus chilling time for the dough

Servings: 9 to 12

Note: Adapted from “Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts.” The book’s recipe calls for canned apricots (because they tend not to give off a lot of liquid), but since it’s apricot season and they’re so flavorful, this recipe has been adapted for fresh apricots, poached in a simple syrup. If using canned, drain apricots and skip steps 2 and 3. Pistachio paste can be purchased at Surfas in Culver City or Nicole’s in Pasadena. You can substitute widely available almond paste, though pistachio paste is preferred.

1 recipe almond shortbread pastry

20 fresh apricots (ripe but not too soft), or about 4 (15-ounce or 16-ounce) cans

1/3 cup sugar, plus sugar for poaching apricots

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup almond meal or ground almonds

1 tablespoon flour

2 eggs

1 tablespoon pistachio paste

2 tablespoons chopped pistachios (unsalted, shelled)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle a work surface with a thin layer of flour. Slightly flatten the ball of dough and shape into a square. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to slightly less than one-fourth-inch thick and about 12 inches square. Roll the dough around the rolling pin and carefully lift it into the tart pan. Lift the edge of the dough with one hand; use the other to gently press the dough into the bottom and against the sides of the pan. Trim the edges; you will have dough left over. Chill the tart shell in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. Blanch the apricots, a few at a time, in boiling water for 30 to 40 seconds to loosen the skin. Immediately drain the apricots and plunge in a bowl of ice water to cool. Peel the skins from the apricots, and halve lengthwise, removing the pits.

3. In a large saute pan or shallow stockpot, measure enough water to come 2 to 3 inches up the sides of the pan. Stir in the same amount of sugar as water to make a simple syrup. For example, if you used 6 cups water, then stir in 6 cups sugar. Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to barely a simmer. Poach the apricot halves for 1 to 2 minutes (time will vary depending on the ripeness of the apricots) until fork-tender. Drain and cool on a lipped baking sheet.

4. In a mixing bowl, cream the softened butter with a wooden spoon. Add the sugar, ground almonds and flour. Mix until all ingredients are thoroughly blended.

5. In a small bowl, beat one of the eggs and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the remaining egg. Add one beaten egg to the butter-sugar-almond-flour mixture, beating all the time. Then add half of the other beaten egg (about 2 tablespoons; you can discard the rest of the egg) to the mixture. Add the pistachio paste, mixing well.

6. Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator and place on a baking sheet. Pour the pistachio mixture into the pastry shell. Gently pat the apricots with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Arrange the apricots, cut side up and overlapping, and cover with the rest of the filling. Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the filling is set and beginning to color (it will be golden in places). Cool slightly and sprinkle with chopped pistachios before serving.

Each of 12 servings: 363 calories; 6 grams protein; 45 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 19 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 80 mg. cholesterol; 83 mg. sodium.

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Tomato-ricotta-thyme tart

Total time: 1 hour, 50 minutes, plus chilling time for the crust

Servings: 9 to 12

Note: Adapted from “Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery” by Rose Carrarini. The dough will make enough for a 9-inch-square or 10-inch-round tart.

Tart shell

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus extra for greasing

1 beaten egg yolk, divided (use half for the tart shell and reserve half for the filling)

1. In a food processor, process the flour, salt and butter for about 5 to 8 seconds, so that some pieces of butter are left. Combine half of the egg yolk (saving the other half for the filling; set aside in the refrigerator) with one-fourth cup cold water and drizzle through the tube of the food processor while pulsing. Pulse until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides.

2. Alternatively, the dough can be mixed by hand. Put the flour and salt in a bowl, cut the butter into pieces and work it into the flour with your fingertips. Make a well in the middle of the flour and butter mixture and add the half egg yolk and one-quarter cup ice water. Stir quickly with a fork to start bringing the dry and wet ingredients together. When the fork can’t do any more, use your hands just to bring the dough together. Don’t knead or press -- all you have to do is gather up the dry parts as quickly as possible. If your hands get too warm, put them under cold water for a few minutes.

2. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough, lifting and turning it all the time so that it does not stick to the surface. Roll the dough out into a square about one-eighth-inch thick. Roll the dough around the rolling pin and gently lift it into the tart pan, gently pressing the dough into the bottom of the pan and up against the sides. Trim the edges. Chill again for about 30 minutes.

4. Line the tart shell with parchment or foil and fill it with pie weights or beans and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and the parchment or foil and prick the crust with a fork. Continue baking an additional 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Cool the tart shell on a rack.

Cream mixture, filling and assembly

6 plum tomatoes (such as Roma), halved

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

1 cup half and half

2 eggs

1/2 egg yolk (reserved from making the tart shell)

Pinch grated nutmeg

1 tart shell

1 cup packed grated farmhouse cheddar cheese

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup tender sprigs of fresh thyme

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, place a rack in the baking sheet and roast the tomatoes skin-side up for about 2 hours, until the liquid has gone and the skins can be removed easily. Season the skinned tomatoes generously with salt and pepper and drizzle a little oil over them. Allow to cool to room temperature.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat the half and half, eggs, egg yolk, one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-eighth teaspoon pepper and nutmeg until they are well mixed.

3. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and scatter the cheddar cheese over the base of the tart. Place the tomatoes on top of this and spoonfuls of ricotta in between the tomatoes.

4. Pour in as much of the cream mixture as you can without it spilling over the top; you may have some cream mixture left over. Sprinkle with the thyme.

5. Transfer carefully to the oven and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until the filling has set and is lightly golden. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Each of 12 servings: 253 calories; 8 grams protein; 16 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 17 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 100 mg. cholesterol; 192 mg. sodium.


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