There's something easy yet elegant about tarts.
They are the little black dress of the pastry kitchen, the sophisticated city cousin of rustic, country-style pies.
And they make a fine Mother's Day offering although you'll still have to make choices, such as sweet or savory; main course or buffet snack; regular or puff-pastry or gluten-free crust; fluted pan, pastry ring or free-form on a baking sheet.
Each of the recipes here can be made in advance. The tarts that need reheating will look just as nice as they did the day you made them.
Present a few on a wooden cutting board with a big, beautiful salad, and brunch is served.
Savory ham and cheese empanada tart
Makes one 11-inch tart
Inspiration to use empanada dough for this indulgent, free-form tart comes from Southern Latina cookbook author Sandra Gutierrez. It's flaky, easy to manipulate and buttery. You can substitute two ready-to-use rounds of pie dough for a super-quick and easy ham and cheese tart.
Make ahead: The disk of tart dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes; the rolled-out dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes; the assembled tart needs to be refrigerated for 30 minutes before it is baked. Reheat in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until warmed through. From Georgia cookbook author Virginia Willis.
1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
Pinch fine sea salt
8 ounces chilled low-fat cream cheese, cut into cubes (do not use nonfat)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup whole-grain Dijon mustard
8 ounces thinly sliced Black Forest ham, cut into 1/2-inch strips
4 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the flour and salt in a food processor. Pulse for 10 to 15 seconds, then add the cream cheese and butter; process by pulsing just until the mixture comes together to form a ball. Divide into two equal disks, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Lightly flour a clean work surface and a rolling pin. Starting in the center of the dough, roll out to, but not over, the upper edge of the dough. Return to the center, and roll down to, but not over, the edge closest to you. Lift the dough, giving it a quarter-turn, and lay it on the work surface. Continue rolling, repeating the quarter-turns, until you have a dough round that's about 12 inches across. (If you wish, use an inverted 11-inch dinner plate as a guide to trim the round of dough for a less rustic look.) Transfer the dough to the lined baking sheet and refrigerate it while you prepare the second dough round. (If the dough seems too soft and sticky at any point during the recipes, stop and simply return it to the refrigerator until firm.) Roll out the remaining disk of dough as directed above. Transfer to the remaining lined baking sheet. Use a 1-inch round cookie cutter to cut out a steam vent from the center of this dough round, which will become the top crust. (Discard the cut-out piece of dough). Refrigerate both rounds of dough on the baking sheets until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the egg and water until smooth.
Spread the mustard on the round of dough that does not have the steam-vent cutout, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Evenly and loosely cover with the ham, then sprinkle the cheese evenly over the ham. Season with pepper (to taste). Brush the egg mixture onto the edge of the dough.
Slip the steam-vent round of dough onto the ham-and-cheese filling, making sure to center it. Use your fingertips to press around the edges, sealing the top and bottom crusts, then use the tines of a fork to press around the sealed edge. Brush the egg wash evenly over the bare border of dough. Chill once again until firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake until deep golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the tart to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before placing it on a cutting board to slice into wedges. Serve warm.
Per serving: 240 calories, 10 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.
Simple and savory sweet potato tart
Makes one 12-inch tart
This is an easy crust for novices because it's made in the food processor. Shortening does not melt as readily as butter and makes for a more forgiving dough; here, a combination of the two is used.
To save time, premade pie dough can be used, but the flavor won't be the same; reduce the baking time to 20 minutes.
For the most attractive result, select a sweet potato whose diameter is fairly uniform so the slices are similar in size.
If desired, top or pair the tart with tender spring arugula tossed in a light vinaigrette.
Make ahead: Dough needs to rest in the refrigerator 30 minutes. The rolled-out tart dough needs to be refrigerated 30 minutes. The tart can be made several hours in advance and kept at room temperature; reheat in a 350-degree oven 5 to 7 minutes.
From Georgia cookbook author and cooking instructor Virginia Willis.
For the crust
1 1/4 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, preferably Crisco, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 to 8 tablespoons ice water
For the filling
One 14-to-16-ounce sweet potato
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
Grated zest of 1 orange
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cane, sorghum or maple syrup
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
For the crust: Combine the flour and salt in a food processor, then add the vegetable shortening and butter. Process for 8 to 10 seconds, or just until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time as you pulse, using just enough so the dough holds together without being sticky or crumbly; you might not use all of it. Transfer the dough to a work surface and shape into a disk 4 to 6 inches in diameter; wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until the dough is firm and evenly moist, about 30 minutes.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
Flour clean a work surface and a rolling pin. Place dough disk in center of floured surface. Starting in center of dough, roll to, but not over, upper edge of the dough. Return to center and roll to, but not over, edge closest to you. Lift dough, giving it a quarter-turn, and lay it on work surface. Continue rolling, repeat quarter-turns, until you have a round 12 inches wide. Place on the lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
For the filling: Peel sweet potato and use a mandoline or very sharp knife to cut it into thin slices, 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to a medium bowl and drizzle with oil, then add orange zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Be conservative with salt; blue cheese will be salty.) Toss to coat evenly, don't break slices.
If starting with cold syrup, heat it in the microwave on low just to room temperature, about 10 seconds. Brush all of the syrup on the chilled round of dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Scatter the blue cheese evenly over the syrup.
Starting at the outer edge, layer sweet potato slices over cheese, overlapping them in tight concentric circles and keeping in mind they'll shrink during baking. Bake until crust is golden brown and the sweet potatoes are slightly curled and tender, 30 to 35 minutes.
Place baking sheet on wire rack to cool at least 5 minutes before transferring the tart to a platter. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.
Per serving: 180 calories, 3 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar.
Luxurious smoked-salmon and leek tart
Makes one 9-by-13-inch tart
Opulence is the theme of the day with this decadent combination of smoked salmon, tarragon and heavy cream.
Dufour brand puff pastry is usually available in the freezer cases at Whole Foods Markets; it's made with butter and will taste better in this recipe.
Make ahead: The rolled-out puff pastry needs to be refrigerated for 30 minutes. It's best to make the tart the same day it is served; leftovers can be wrapped and refrigerated overnight. From French-trained Southern cookbook author and cooking instructor Virginia Willis.
Flour, for the work surface
14 ounces frozen puff pastry dough, preferably Dufour brand, slightly defrosted (see note above)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon canola oil
3 leeks, white and light-green parts, rinsed well, cut in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin half-moons
Freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup heavy cream
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
8 ounces best-quality smoked salmon, chopped
Line a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, allowing for a few inches of overhang so you can use it to remove the tart after baking.
Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the puff pastry dough to about a 10-by-14-inch-inch rectangle. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to the lined baking sheet. The extra width and length of dough will form the short sides of the tart. Use the tines of a fork to prick the bottom surface of the dough. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and stir to coat; season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are meltingly soft and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat; cover loosely to keep warm.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Whisk together one of the eggs with the water in a small bowl; brush the mixture over the chilled puff pastry dough. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until pale golden, then remove from the oven. If it has risen, use an offset spatula or a clean kitchen towel to press down the pastry.
Beat the remaining 2 eggs, heavy cream, nutmeg and tarragon in a medium bowl until smooth; season with pepper to taste. (Do not use salt, because the salmon can be salty.) Spread the salmon and leeks evenly over the still-warm crust, then pour in the egg-cream mixture, making sure it is evenly distributed. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the filling is set.
Transfer the tart to a wire rack (on the parchment paper) to cool for 10 minutes, then use a serrated knife to slice it. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 240 calories, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.