After many a summer afternoon spent pitting peaches, slicing fruit, testing crusts and going back to the drawing board, I've finally got it: a stone fruit tart that's more than just beautiful. This one has that elusive quality we're all about at Cooks Without Borders: It's crazy good.
There are definitely crusts that are quicker to put together, but this one – my go-to short crust, adapted from Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts – is preternaturally tender and buttery. Seriously, you won't believe how great it is. Though it takes some time (you'll want to start it in the morning, or the day before), there's not a lot of work involved, it's all about resting and chilling the dough. Best of all, it's easy and fool-proof: no rolling involved; you just press it into the tart pan.
Here's how easy it is: Combine flour, salt, lemon zest and a touch of sugar. Add butter, cut into pieces, and work the butter in with your fingers till it looks like this. Sprinkle on a tablespoon of water mixed with half a teaspoon of vanilla, work that in, gather it in a ball, wrap it in plastic, and chill it half an hour.
Now flatten the ball, set it in the tart pan, and use your fingers and palms to flatten it completely and press it into the corners. Keeping flattening and pressing, moving the dough around with your palms and fingers, until it evenly covers the pan. If it seems like it won't work, or it's not enough dough, or whatever, don't worry – it will work. When you're done it will look like this. Poke some holes it with a fork (that's called "docking" the crust, so bubbles don't form under it as it bakes), cover it with foil and stick it in the freezer half an hour or overnight.
Bake it in a 375 degree oven till it's golden brown. Let it cool slightly, and you're ready to fill it.
Now the real fun begins. Spoon some preserves on the bottom of the crust: peach, apricot or plum, according to your taste and the stone fruit you're using, and spread it around. Gather your stone fruit: I used nectarines, black plums and apricots for this one. Peaches are great too, of course. If you can't decide between peaches and nectarines, consider that nectarines don't have to be peeled (neither do plums or apricots). Pit then and slice them into six or eight wedges each, depending on the size of the fruit. I used medium-small nectarines, and cut them each into six wedges; same for the apricots.
Arrange the slices, starting with the outer edge of the tart, around the periphery, skin-side down, making them stand up against the edge of the crust as vertically as you can (which may be not very).
Make another row, using a different fruit if you like (or the same one – whatever, it's your tart!). Use that second row to nudge the first row up vertically. I used nectarines on the outside row, then plums. Then do another inside that one: I used apricots. Then another, then fill in the middle, just standing them up any which way.
Drizzle melted butter over the fruit, sprinkle it with sugar, then sprinkle it with thyme leaves, if you like. I love that, but if you don't like the idea of herbs on your fruit, you can just leave it off – or add a different kind of depth by cooking the butter before drizzling until it's browned and nutty-tasting. A note about the sugar: I only used a tablespoon, resulting in a tart with bright fruit flavor. It was just right for me, but I wondered if it was on the tart side for others. My friends and Thierry – who has a serious sweet tooth – said it was just right for them; they wouldn't want more sugar. If you like things on the sweeter side, use 1 1/2 or 2 tablespoons.
Into the oven it goes; half an hour later it comes out.
Pretty, ain't she? You can serve it a little warm, or completely cooled; it's great for entertaining, as you can make it in the morning, if you like, and let it sit all day. Serve it just like that, naked, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or maybe a dollop of lightly sweetened crème fraîche.