I have always been an utter failure at making pies. They sometimes taste good, but they look awful and are entirely lacking in aesthetic appeal. I apply uneven pressure on the rolling pin, make badly crimped edges that leak, use too much flour to dust, yadayadayada. So in my self-loathing, I tend to concentrate on cakes, leaving pies to more talented bakers. I have even been known to buy pie crusts from the grocery store. Oh the shame.
Enter the liberating shapeless fruit tart. I first saw one about 10 years ago when I went to a friend’s house for dinner. It was gorgeous, irregular, lumpy, absolutely artisanal. I assumed it must be hard to make.
“No,” she said, “you just roll out dough, pile on sweetened fruit, turn up the corners and bake. Sins can be covered by powdered sugar.” I was intrigued.
I proceeded to experiment with apple tarts, using my mother’s strudel dough recipe to form the base. Then I discovered Mark Bittman’s sweet tart crust and started using that since he explained how to mix the dough in a food processor. Any dough will do, it turns out, because these pie-like creatures are totally forgiving. Bittman also has a recipe for free form tarts, of course, because he has a recipe for everything.
So, this weekend, rather than join the millions of people around the globe making strawberry rhubarb pies, I made a strawberry rhubarb free form pie-like object. Throughout the summer I will make tarts using blueberries, peaches, apples and whatever else comes into season. I cut down the sugar to half a cup with the sweeter fruits and reduce or eliminate the corn starch, but rhubarb needs some help.
The great thing was, right after I made this tart my friend Mary Ellen, who is one of those talented bakers I mentioned above, dropped by and gave me a fabulous and beautiful strawberry rhubarb pie made from the rhubarb in her garden. A pie-rich weekend.
Strawberry Rhubarb Tart
One pie dough recipe
Five stalks of rhubarb, cut into one inch sections
Six strawberries, washed and sliced
3 tbsp corn starch
1 to 1 ¼ cup sugar
2 tbsp melted butter
powdered sugar for sprinkling
Roll out the pie dough on a floured board into a rough oval or circle or any shape that emerges. Move the rolled-out dough to an ungreased baking sheet.
Mix together rhubarb, sugar and cornstarch. Heap along the center of the oval, keeping one and a half to two inches away from the edge of the dough. Lay strawberry slices on top of the rhubarb.
Fold the edges of the pie dough up to partially cover the fruit. Brush melted butter on the turned up dough.
Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until fruit is soft and pastry lightly browned.
Let cool in pan, transfer carefully to a serving platter. I used a lipless cookie sheet to move it from the baking pan to the platter.
Place about an eighth of a cup of powdered sugar in a small sieve and sprinkle over the cooled tart just before serving. Eat as is, or with vanilla ice cream.