Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tomato Fennel Tart Tatin

I have the good news and the bad news for you, my friends.  The good news is that this tart is probably the yummiest summer tart ever, even when compared to my other favorite Cherry Tomato and Caramelized Onion tart.  The bad news is that it's not for the faint of heart.  Labor intensive recipes requiring an oven are a hard sell in the summer; and it's a shame.  I find baked goods with tomatoes, apricots, plums, and peaches to be absolutely irresistible.  The results are more than worth the sweat, if you ask me.  But then again, I live to eat.

I do have a few tips for how to make this project more manageable.

Tomatoes: If you are going to turn on the oven to roast tomatoes for this tart, you might as well roast as many tomatoes as can fit in your oven.  They taste great on anything and last for a couple of weeks in the fridge covered with oil.  You can either use the long and slow "tomatoes confit" method, or crank up the heat to speed things up.  The important thing is that your tomatoes need to be slightly caramelized and no longer watery.

The dough: before the summer is in full swing, I stock my freezer with a ton of pie dough.  I mean a ton!  It never goes bad, and it's much easier to get it done when the kitchen is not 90 degrees.  Although I wrote about pie dough previously on this blog, it's no longer the recipe I use.  I use the vodka pie dough from Cook's Illustrated developed by Kenji Alt.  Yes, I know it sounds like a gimmick, but it makes the best dough I've ever made or tasted and trust me I've tried them all.  It also happens to be the easiest pie dough on this planet.  The only difference between Kenji's version and mine is that I use all butter (no shortening) and chill longer before rolling out.  If you don't have a food processor, you can always work the butter into flour by hand with a pastry blender tool or if your food processor is not big enough to fit the full batch (mine isn't), you can always do step 2 in a food processor and then move it to a bowl for the remaining steps.

Vodka Pie Dough

Vodka Pie Dough Video

For one 9-inch Double-Crust Pie( or two 10- inch tarts)

Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor—do not substitute. This dough will be moister and more supple than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out (up to 1/4 cup).

Precision is extremely important when you measure the flour. If you end up with too much flour, your dough will be tough and hard to roll out. Measuring flour by weight (using a scale) is the only accurate way. If you don’t have a scale, here is how to approximate 5oz per cup of flour this recipe uses. Move the flour to a container without filling it to the brim (you need room to stir and scoop). Stir the flour thoroughly with a spoon to fluff it, scoop it with a dry measuring cup without shaking the cup, level off excess with a knife. Do not measure flour directly out of the package. It’s too compressed.

12.5 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (2 1/2 cups)
1 tsp table salt (or 2 tsp Diamond Cristal Kosher salt)
2 Tbsp sugar
2.5 sticks unsalted butter cold, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/4 cup vodka, cold
1/4 cup water, cold
  1. Chill the butter in the fridge at least for 5 minutes after slicing.
  2. Process 7.5 oz flour (1 ½ cups), salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade.
  3. Add the remaining 5 oz flour (1 cup) and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
  4. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.
  5. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 4 days. The dough can also be frozen for several months (wrapped tightly in plastic and placed in a freezer bag).
1/3 of this batch will be enough for a tart tatin made in a 10 inch skillet, but if it's more convenience, use 1/2 of the batch and make something out of leftover dough.

Tomato Fennel Tart Tatin

Pie dough of your choice (you'll need enough for a 9-10 inch tart)
5 large tomatoes, cooked using the confit method or roasted at higher temperature
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed
2 large fennel bulbs, sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste

Braising Fennel
Set a large skillet over high heat. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and wait for it to get hot. Add the fennel and cook until most of the slices are golden brown, stirring not more often than once a minute, and adding more oil as it gets absorbed(you'll probably need about 4 Tbsp of oil total). This will take 4-5 minutes. Don't be tempted to stir fennel too often -- really let it brown. Those caramelized pieces are the best part.

Turn down the heat to low, season generously with salt, and add the wine. Cover immediately and steam until all the wine is absorbed and fennel is tender, 7-10 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.

Assembling and baking the tart
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Line a heavy bottomed 10 inch skillet with a piece of parchment paper (just the bottom), arrange the tomatoes domed side down and top with fennel.

Roll out the dough to 11-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) and arrange over vegetables. Here are the rolling instructions.  For this Tatin recipe, you don't need to fit the dough into a tart pan or blind bake, so in some respects it's a lot easier than most tarts.  Tuck edges around the vegetables into the skillet. Bake tart in middle of the oven until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes.

Have ready a rimmed serving plate slightly larger than skillet.  Invert plate over skillet and, wearing oven mitts and keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert tart onto plate. Do this over the sink in case some juices spill. This is a bit scary, but it works! The trick is to do it in one very fast motion. Peel off the parchment paper.

Let cool at least 15 minutes and serve.


Taste the Rainbow said...

Hi Helen,
I would like to try your new vodka pie crust.
The way you taught me was with my KA stand mixer, these directions are for a food processer. I don't own a large food processer. Will the directions be much different with my KA stand mixer?


Helen said...

Hi Mary,

What's the size of your food processor? If it's 7 cups or so, you can process the butter with part of the flour as step 2 indicates, then move the dough into a bowl and add the remaining flour with a spoon. If your processor is less than 7 cups capacity, it's too small for this recipe.

There are two parts that make Kenji's dough so successful. One of them you can easily take advantage off: vodka. Gluten doesn't develop in alcohol, so you can add a lot more of it making your dough wetter and easier to roll out. You can even use my KA procedure with his measurements.

The second part is the means by which layers are created. That's where the food processor becomes important. In mine and all the other pie dough recipes I've seen before, you get layers by leaving little chunks of butter unsquashed. In Kenji's version, you get layers by processing only part of the flour with butter, but processing it completely (to cottage cheese consistency), then coating these buttery curds with more flour -- by creating these two textures you end up with layers. Both doughs are flaky, but his flakes can withstand wet fillings better than traditional pie dough. I am not sure if a KA mixer can give you correct texture in step 2 (all flour integrated with butter, but the texture of curds). It might just turn it into a creamy mixture, which is not what you want.

I guess neither Kenji nor I ever tried finding some method for this dough besides the food processor because they are relatively cheap (about $70 for 7 cup processor) compared to KA mixers (at least $250).

If you don't have a processor that's at least 7 cups, I suggest following my old procedure using Kenji's ingredients and proportions.