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Plum good summer tarts a breeze
On baking
By Annie Overboe | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/12/2009 12:04 AM

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We Midwesterners look forward to the warm weather and outdoor parties all winter long. Yet when the dog days of August hit our motivation for baking wilts under the sun's burning rays and we turn to store-bought treats to beat the heat.

Some outdoor gatherings, however, call for a more polished ending than the usual store-bought fare. But before you whip together another frozen dessert, let's explore other culinary possibilities.

There exists a happy medium between from-scratch baking and relying entirely upon store-bought goods - the secret lies in understanding where to apply your time and when to utilize convenience ingredients.

When aiming to trim, not eliminate, kitchen time, the best plan spends your hands-on efforts on the big flavor player, so first we must identify that component.

Mini tarts provide an example we can work through. The filling, not the crust, provides the greatest amount of substance and flavors. For today's Plum Good Tarts we'll put our effort into crafting a homemade filling.

How fresh the filling tastes and how creamy the texture feels makes or breaks these darling desserts. Aiming for a light texture, I brushed aside the temptation to experiment with cream cheese; mini tarts are better suited for a lithe filling that glides onto your fork. Citrus came to mind, but a typical lemon custard is just too heavy.

Wanting to perk up rather than replace the lemon flavor, I stirred a small amount of sour cream into a cooled lemon filling. I ended up with better-than-expected tangy flavor - the sour cream enhanced the zesty citrus notes - and exceptional texture as product didn't weigh down the filling. In this dessert the crust, whether homemade or store bought, plays a supporting role. Don't bother making your own this time; ready-to-use crusts offer palatable taste and a another perk - the handy foil pan. Not to mention, they are cost effective too.

Your taste buds may alert you to a slight underbaked quality in these pre-made crusts. After a few trials I discovered 4 to 5 minutes in a toaster oven greatly enhanced flavor and kept the range oven dial in the off position. Whew!

For the topping it seemed only one fruit fit the bill: fresh plums. The fruit brings mellow fruit flavor and complimentary color in a diminutive package.

All together, this adds up to a cool dessert for a hot summer evening.

• Send questions to Baking Secrets, Daily Herald Food section, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or food@dailyherald.com.