It is difficult sometimes to come up with a unique party-worthy dessert idea for summertime occasions. Finding a recipe that is light and refreshing, looks nice and will stay that way for the entire event, but also takes limited time in the oven or on the stove can be a lot to ask. (Even with the a/c on, my kitchen heats up at the drop of a dime.) So, this was all at the back of my head when a friend asked me to make her a birthday treat for the end of August. Her directive was this: a recipe she found on a website for an end-of-summer fruit tart and then gave me the freedom to play with it as I saw fit. Other considerations quickly came into play, but the resulting summer fruit tart recipe had a graham cracker crust that didn’t get soggy, a super tasty homemade (not box) lemon pastry cream filling, and balanced out the sweetness from the cream and fruit with the slightly salty and nuttiness of the crust.
THE (ALMOST) GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST
Most purchased fruit tarts are made with a sweet dough base – short crust pastry, pate sucree – call it what you like. It is a lovely, buttery and crumbly foundation for cream and fruit. However, the directive recipe called for a graham cracker crust and admittedly, I was relieved. I knew the recipe I wanted to start with (Cooks Illustrated Fool-Proof New York Cheesecake) filled all requirements and could be doctored up a bit to create something more unique. However, the hurdle: Spain does not import graham crackers…not even in stores that carry American products. (And besides, that breaks my baking rule #4.) Thankfully, there are options here that will give similar results. I prefer to use a combination of two different types of cookies: whole grain digestives and Tosta Rica, in a 2:1 ratio. To elevate this recipe a bit, I ground up some toasted almonds (but reduced the butter a bit, to compensate for the extra fat the nuts bring) and included those in the mixture. The final product was a lovely mixture of crunchy graham cracker-ish flavors with the salty nuttiness of the almonds. And total time the oven is on: approximately 25 minutes (depending on how long your oven takes to preheat).
THE LEMON PASTRY CREAM FILLING
After reading through several, I started testing a couple recipes just to figure out which ratio of ingredients and technique worked best for me. Deciding on the common method of heating a mixture of egg yolks, milk and sugar combined with cornstarch to thicken it, I then needed to find a way to infuse a true, fresh lemon flavor. I found another recipe from shelovesbiscotti.com for an Italian lemon pastry cream prepared in this traditional manner but infusing the milk with lemon through a steeping method. This definitely got me closer, but still wanted more of a lemon punch. Think lemon pastry cream rather than pastry cream with a hint of lemon. So, I turned to another trick: infusing the sugar with additional lemon. I took half the amount of sugar needed and heavy dose of grated lemon zest and ground it together with a mortar and pestle to release the oil from the zest. While prepping the other ingredients, I let that sit for a bit, then sifted most of the zest out before whisking the sugar with the egg mixture. The result was spot on. (It is important to note here that in one trial, I did NOT sift the zest out and while there was a great lemon flavor, it was quite bitter and not entirely pleasant. By sifting the sugar, only a few smaller bits of zest made it through and was just enough to boost the flavor without a bitter aftertaste.)
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
At this point, the hard parts were done, so I ventured out to the local market a day before the party to find the most seasonal and tasty fruit that would also bring a multitude of beautiful, bright colors. I settled on peaches, nectarines, plums, and some blueberries and raspberries for textural and color variety. While I’m not a fan of eating anything with the fruit tart glaze on top, I went ahead and did that because man does it look pretty!
I was so pleased with this late summer fruit tart as it checked off all the boxes of directives, both given and self-imposed. But, most importantly, the birthday girl was speechless at first glance. Our late August, Friday night party was that much sweeter.