We invited friends to dinner, and I tried to keep it simple.
But I also was on fire to make another Tarte de Soleil (I had made one for New Year’s Eve, but who can truly delve into a thing like that with dozens of guests and a table groaning with their fabulous offerings as well?).
And no matter how you slice it, Tarte de Soleil is not going to be all that casual. But it had to be done!
I had seen this flakey hors d’oeuvre of awesomeness on Smitten Kitchen, and as I told you on Instagram, was ready to go for it — but lacking Manhattan’s endless supply of, well, everything, knew right away that I had to make my own puff pastry.
People, that Pepperidge Farm stuff looks good but is not worth it. Since it’s made with oil, not butter, it’s going to taste like nothing at all. And while we want to wow everyone with dazzling looks, ultimately, taste better be up there, or how disappointed will we be?
Before I get started on the method here, I will give you the menu. It’s casual in that there aren’t a million dishes (which is how I usually tend to go) and it could all — ALL! — be done ahead of time: not my usual MO.
Since these friends are that delightful kind who will be keeping us wrapped in brilliant, deep conversation from the get-go (no ice-breaking needed! That’s what I love about good friends! What a blessing!), I didn’t want to be tied up out in the kitchen, but ready to go with the food.
House Cocktails* ~ The Chief’s department
Tarte de Soleil and Feta Dipping Sauce
Butternut Squash Lasagna with Italian Sausage**
Kale and Lettuce Salad with Red Onion, Vinaigrette Dressing (homemade)
Homemade Country Bread (from my freezer stash)
Some kind of excellent red wine I’m not remembering, need to ask Habou, and also a nice dry white
Toothsome Brownie Heart Cake with Chocolate Glaze (it was the “vigil of Valentine’s Day” in my defense)***
Ice Cream (not homemade — so casual!)
*We are of the opinion that a cocktail made just for the occasion is delightful. We had our “Bee Sting” aka “Colony Collapse” special, which is bourbon, honey syrup, lime, and ginger ale — as well as a “Cuban Mojito” in honor of the Pope’s visit to Mexico and Cuba. This is a mojito made with tequila. (Note to self, no.)
** I use Alexandra’s recipe, with these tweaks: I don’t bother straining the (minced) garlic and sage, but leave them right in the sauce — why not? I used regular lasagna noodles and lots of sauce, but the squash was separate, as mine was already cooked (it’s my own harvest and I had roasted and stashed lots away — it’s all basically reduced and pureed at that point). And I do fry up Italian sausage and pop that over the squash as well. (So, noodles, squash, sausage, sauce, cheese, repeat.) Excellent and can be made the morning of. Just pop it into the oven as the guests arrive.
Okay, on to this tarte. You can do this if you are used to making pie crust — just make it with all butter this time (usually I do a little lard, but all butter is better for the puff pastry, because butter contains a little moisture that steams up as it cooks, providing the little lift in the dough, making it even flakier).
I used the Julia Child The Way to Cook method for rough puff pastry. It’s so simple (and casual!) — after your pie crust is chilled, roll it out, dot with some more butter, fold it in thirds, roll, chill. Do this again, then do it again without the butter, twice. Voila! As long as the butter is staying chilled, you don’t need long rests between the steps. (I did this all the day before, assembling the tarte in the morning.)
My filling was a tapenade with some sun dried tomatoes and dried basil — both from my garden, which made me happy.
The twisting looks incredibly demanding of high skills, but it’s actually not!
You really only have to pay attention to the cutting of the “rays” — here’s how: put a small glass in the center to make a circle shape on the dough. Cut lines that cut the pastry in half (but don’t go through the circle). Then do the same to make quarters. Then do the same to make eighths. Each time, cut opposite to where you cut before — don’t cut by going around. That way, you will keep things balanced. Also, rotate the pan. Now do sixteenths, and then thirty-seconds.
Now twist each ray three times. Don’t worry, it’s easy.
I’m glad I have this tin tray — otherwise I would not really have anything to serve the tarte on. On New Year’s Eve, I put it on a cake pedestal, but that’s not casual at all! When you are making this, think ahead to what you will serve it on. If you don’t have a large tray, think about making two small ones and put them on pretty plates instead.
Tarte de Soleil ~ Like Mother, Like Daughter
Rough Puff Pastry:
Pâte Brisée (you can find Julia’s recipe here, but use all butter, and double the recipe!)
4 Tbsp butter
Chill the Pâte Brisée. Roll it out into a small rectangle, dot with half the (softened) butter, two-thirds of the surface. Fold in thirds by folding the bare section up 1/3 of the way, then fold again. Roll lightly into a small rectangle, chill for 45 minutes. Do this once more with the rest of the butter, then twice more with no butter, chilling if necessary. Don’t worry, it will come out very delish and flakey. You can do this ages ahead of time, even freezing the dough, well wrapped.
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives (you can also use those lovely large green ones, or a mixture)
1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts (from a can or jar, drained well) [I’m editing to add this — I just remembered that I put these in there too!]
2 Tbsps pickled capers
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 large garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil or as much as you need to bind everything together, but not so much that it’s at all drippy
Process this all in your food processor, or chop finely. You want sort of a paste, but honestly, if you can spread it, all will be well. Again, this can be made long ahead of time.
1 egg, lightly beaten, for a wash over all when it’s assembled.
Divide your dough in half. Roll one piece thinly, until it’s a bit larger than the size you want your finished tarte to be. (If you are doing two small ones, divide into fourths).
This is important: Cut your circle out of the dough — do not shape your dough into a circle! Why? Because if you want the edges to puff up uniformly, you need to not have folds (remember all that folding?) on the edges. Can you picture this? You need the edges to be “free.” You can form all your scraps (trying to keep them layered, rather than balling them up) into another batch of dough, freeze it, and pull it out another day for puff pastry treats. (Julia has many suggestions.)
Place your circle of dough on your pan (I use a 16″ pizza pan). Spread your filling almost to the edges, leaving about a scant inch. Moisten the bare rim with the egg wash. Roll out the other piece of dough and place it on top. Press the edges together lightly.
Now do your cutting of “rays” as described above, using a small glass to mark a center and cutting with a sharp knife into 32 spokes. Twist each spoke three times. Brush the egg over all.
Bake at 375° (0r 400° if your oven runs cool — you need good heat to get that butter to boil up and flake up your dough) for 30 minutes, rotate it, reduce the heat a little if you need to (that is, if it’s browning on top/on the edges too fast), and bake for 5 or 10 minutes more, until it’s all very flakey and nicely browned all the way down the sides of each ray — a mistake that would be easy to make would be to take it out before all the pastry is cooked through.
People can twist off pieces with their fingers, or you can provide little tongs.
Not necessary, but very nice:
Feta dip or spread:
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 Tbsps greek yogurt or thick organic yogurt, plain
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Mix all together, adding water if it needs to be thinner. Taste for salt (it’s unlikely it needs any) and grind a little black pepper in there.