There are few meals that are so spectacular that the memory, the impression left stays with us forever. Meals unique in their originality, quality, flavor; care and attention, a warm, welcoming ambiance add to the meal itself, framing the memory in elegance or glamour, creating something dreamlike, but it is the food that is center stage, the primary element, the leading lady, the meat and potatoes of the narrative. If the food isn’t perfect, nothing will hold the experience in our imagination.
It is a truth universally known that the simplest things are often the best. A slow, lazy Sunday morning in bed with a good book. An evening in with husband and sons just chatting, laughing, dreaming together. A pizza and a movie on a Saturday night. A walk through the vineyards on a sunny morning, hand in hand, dog romping happily around our feet. A little black dress, the only ornament a dab of red lipstick. Three little words. A single band of gold. Nothing gaudy, nothing complicated, just focusing on the basic, unpretentious beauty and simplicity of the best. Pure, simple pleasure.
Take food, for example. A few, simple ingredients, fresh, seasonal, of the highest quality, make the best dish. Pasta tossed simply with ripe sweet tomatoes, fragrant basil, a drizzle of olive oil and the gentle bite of garlic create a stunning meal. A chicken, cooked to perfection, the meat tender, flavorful, the skin crispy, golden brown, roasted with nothing more than salt and pepper, maybe a handful of herbs from the garden or the surprise of lemon, is heaven itself. Bread still warm from the oven slathered with butter and a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or peanut butter smeared on warm toast, what could be simpler and what could be better? Or a classic jambon-beurre, a single slice of ham and a lick of pure, creamery butter on warm baguette. The perfect, dense, gooey brownie, no adornment necessary.
One of my most memorable meals was simplicity itself. A romantic getaway on the coast, an afternoon and a night at the Hôtel Anne de Bretagne in La Plaine sur Mer left an indelible mark. Elegant white surroundings, a view of the wild late-summer ocean, crisp table cloths, crystal and china lending sophistication and charm, the evening meal for two promised to be special. A warm bowl of thick chunks of crabmeat in a creamy fennel chaud-froid with a layer of shellfish gelée was a stupendous starter. But astonished I was to discover that the main course was unforgettable as simple as it was: tiny lamb chops, no bigger than the palm of my hand from top to bottom, grilled to perfection; tender baby vegetables, miniature carrots and leeks, slender asparagus gently steamed and laid out delicately across the plate in a light sauce like a breath of flavor. The high quality of the ingredients needed nothing more than the hand of a great chef to create such an incredible dish so full of flavor. And the final applause, the exquisite finale to this astounding meal was, well, so simple it took my breath away. A tarte fine. A paper-thin round of just-crisp puff pastry topped with swirls of paper-thin apple slices, delicate and sweet, and brushed with a hint of jam. Nothing could have been better, unadorned purity, perfection embodied in the simplest of desserts.
And that perfect tarte fine has stayed with me, making me dream, and I have longed to recreate something so wonderful. Our boulangère fills the glass case of her bakery with seasonal tarts, great rounds of puff pastry topped with layers of apples or chunks of peaches and dabbed with glistening jellies and I ogle each one, scolding these delicacies for taunting and teasing me each time I walk in for our daily baguette. And I have decided that it was finally time for me to create my own with summer’s ripe, sugary, juicy peaches, abundant this year and sweeter than usual. I had spent a lovely afternoon joyously rolling out my own puff pastry and all I needed to do was dash to the market early and choose the fruit.
As simple as….pie.
TARTE FINE AUX PÊCHES (Peach Puff Pastry Tart)
Using very good quality store bought puff pastry or homemade using this recipe and these directions, simply weigh out a round of puff pastry – I cut mine out with a large ring mold – and roll it out gently on a floured work surface; do not push the rolling pin, rather gently and lightly roll back and forth, take your time so as to neither compact the pastry or distort the circle. Turn the circle of dough around and around after each stroke of the rolling pin in order to create a circle.
Unsalted butter (7 or 8 g – ½ Tbs), softened
1 Tbs granulated brown or white sugar
For a tart about 22 cm (8 ½ inches) in diameter use about 250 - 300 g (9 - 10 oz) puff pastry. This serves 4 to 6 guests depending upon how hungry they are and if the tart is served with a scoop of ice cream or not. Use about 3 ripe peaches.
Feel free to use more puff pastry and more peaches for a larger tart. The tart is freeform so all you need for a bigger tart is a larger baking tray.
Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 2 – 3 mm (not more than 1/8 inch). You can leave the edges a bit thicker. Place the round of dough on a parchment paper-lined baking tray larger than the tart (the butter and juices may run a bit), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) Note: towards the end of the baking, you will need to turn the oven up to 200°C (400°F) in order to brown the edges of the pastry.
Lightly brush the puff pastry with some of the softened butter, all the way to the edge of the dough. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Slice the peaches into thin slices and place them in a concentric circle on the dough, overlapping the slices slightly, but leaving about ½ to 1 inch free all the way around (do not place the peach slices to the edge). Dot the rest of the butter over the peach and sprinkle the granulated sugar evenly over the fruit slices and the edge of dough.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 35 – 40 minutes. If the puff pastry is not yet golden and puffed all the way around, simply turn the heat up to 200°C (400°F) and watch the tart carefully so it browns without burning.
Remove from the oven and dust with powdered/confectioner’s sugar just before serving.