Last summer I consulted a pastry chef with much more experience in the world of Italian desserts than I. I was in need of some suggestions for traditional desserts to inform my menu at Avec, and he has managed the sweet side of Del Posto in New York for long enough to make him an expert in my eyes. It was my good fortune that he happened to be in Italy during our exchange of texts, and the flow of ideas was strong.
Amongst the desserts we talked about, he suggested a fruit dessert that I quickly tucked into my piggy bank of possibilities, safe and sound, waiting for the darkest, coldest, most barren part of winter. This dessert, the Italian Jam Tart, holds the Brooks Headley seal of Awesomness, and will forever hold a place on my roster.
Why? Well, it’s damn tasty, for one. Also, it’s damn easy. Not the kind of “easy” that we can get away with in a professional kitchen filled with appliances, big ovens, ice machines, and hired dishwashers. This dessert is the kind of easy I can make at home. For all my drive and skill at work, I am a lazy home baker. My house is my sanctuary, the place I use to separate myself from what I spend 12 hours a day doing. I despise making anything complicated in my home kitchen, where my counters are small, the equipment minimal, and all dishes are washed by hand.
However, it is not my minimalistic approach to home baking that will keep this dessert in my life year after year. It is the chance to highlight fruit in the dead of winter. Not citrus from distant states, or apples that have been housed in cool places since september. This tart is a vessel for all of summers bounty, preserved as jams, brought out in a time when it’s easy to forget what a real berry tastes like.
At the time this conversation took place, summer was slipping into Autumn, but not before we were able to preserve some of the late season berries as jam. The jars lay in wait for months, biding their time while peaches were tucked under flaky crostada doughs. They kept to themselves while the apples were shaved paper thin and layered in galettes. They didn’t make a peep as pumpkins were roasted and folded into spiced pumpkin budinos, or blood oranges topped light ricotta cheesecakes.
But as the shortest day of the year passed and fresh fruit was a fleeting memory, our jars of jam were carried up from the basement, ready for their day in the sun. A little research was done on these traditional tarts, and we happily ate them for a week at staff meal while we refined our dough and made a crust worthy of our mixed summer berry jam.
What came of this venture is a buckwheat crust flavored with a whisper of bitter almond. The dough is divided, the bulk pressed into a tart pan. jam is generously spread over, and the remaining dough is scattered on top with a handful of shaved almonds. Once baked and sliced, the tart is served with a little pitcher of cultured cream, just thick enough to cling to the tart when poured on top.
As we open the last few jars of our mixed berry jam, we are already day dreaming of the jams we will make this summer as chase the seasons fruits through their rapid shuffle.