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February 12, 2014

Jam tart a simple expression of love

About a decade ago, I traveled to Italy to take a cooking class. Of the many things I brought home from that trip, none is more cherished than my recipe for Italian jam tart.

I learned it from Judy Witts Francini, an American who teaches cooking classes that capture the simple home cooking of Tuscany. The first tart we made — technically a crostata — was filled with fig jam, but these simple pastries made from butter, sugar and flour really can be filled with anything.

This is one of those treasured recipes where the sum is greater than the parts! The list of ingredients is short and basic. For that first tart I made, the secret was a beautiful jar of homemade fig jam scented with lemon zest and almonds. I was incredulous that something so easy to make could taste so good. The crust is so wonderful, a cross between pie dough and a sugar cookie.

When I came home, I was obsessed with making the tart. I start by creaming the butter and sugar as if I am making a cake. I like to add orange blossom water to the dough, but you can use vanilla or almond extract.

I then whisk together the flour and salt, and add it to the butter mixture by hand, mixing just until crumbs form.

During my class in Italy, we reserved some of the dough to make a lattice top, but I simplify and just sprinkle some crumbs of the crust over it.

As I learned in Italy, the real secret to the tart is using the best-quality jam you can find. I look for jam made with only a bit of sugar, and I prefer fig, apricot, cherry, strawberry and raspberry.

The thing I love about switching up the jams is that you can add extracts and seasonings to match your jams. When I make a fig jam tart, I add a touch of cardamom to the crust; when I make cherry, I use almond extract instead of orange blossom.

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