The local fruits in Alsace—apricots, bilberries (blueberries are a close relation), and half a dozen varieties of plum—are so juicy that cooks go to great lengths to avoid a soggy crust. They use a puffy yeast dough (popular, too, with German cooks across the Rhine) that soaks up juices from the fruit with help from a few dry bread crumbs. The creamy custard filling further encloses the fruit. No accompaniment is needed, though a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped Chantilly Cream, along with a sprinkling of cinnamon, won’t come amiss. The tart is so eye-catching, I’m suggesting you make it wheel-sized, enough for 12 at a grand occasion.
Serves 10 to 12
Pâte à pain
- 1/2 cup/125 milliliters lukewarm milk
- 1 tablespoon/7 grams dry yeast
- 2 cups/250 grams flour, more as needed
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons/22 grams sugar
- 1 egg
- 6 tablespoons/90 grams butter, softened, more for the pan
- 2 pounds/900 grams fresh fruit, such as apricots, plums, bilberries, blueberries, or cherrries
- 2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs (see glossary)
- 2 eggs, beaten to mix
- 1/4 cup/60 milliliters crème fraîche or heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons/75 grams sugar
- Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling
- Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling (optional)
12-inch/30-centimeter tart pan with removable base (see glossary)
1. For the pâte à pain, put the warm milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Leave it 5 minutes or until dissolved. Mix the flour with the salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture and egg and stir gently with the dough hook to make a soft dough. If necessary work in more flour so the dough just pulls from the sides of the bowl. Knead it at high speed until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes. Add the softened butter and continue beating until well mixed and the dough is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Wipe down the sides of the bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the fruit. Halve apricots or plums, discarding pits; pick over and wash bilberries or blueberries; leave cherries whole or pit them, as you prefer. Heat the oven to 425˚F/220˚C and set a baking sheet low down in the oven to heat. Butter the tart pan. When the dough has risen, knead it lightly to knock out the air, roll it out, and line the pan (see glossary).
3. Sprinkle the bread crumbs in the tart shell and arrange the fruit on top, cut side up, packing it closely. Set the pan on the baking sheet and bake until the dough starts to color, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream and sugar and pour the mixture over the fruit. Lower the oven heat to 350˚F/175˚C and continue baking until the tart dough is browned, the fruit is tender, and the custard is set, 40 to 50 minutes longer. Take care not to overbake the tart or the custard will curdle. Like all yeast crusts, tarte alsacienne is at its best eaten warm from the oven, though it is still good after a day or two. Just before serving, sprinkle it with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon if you like.