Savory tarts and pies for the holidays

November 23, 2012 (CHICAGO)

One of the most versatile things to bake is a tart, and I recently talked with the author of a new book on the subject. For years, Eric Lanlard has been working to convince people that yes, even though sweets steal the show, it's the savory pies and tarts that deserve attention. So in his new cookbook, "Tart It Up," the French-born, London-based pastry chef gives equal billing to savory items.

"Savory baking is really the underdog of baking. Everybody gets excited about baking cupcakes or birthday cakes or celebration cakes, but every time you mention savory baking, people always assume something stodgy, heavy, mostly designed for the winter," he said.

Lanlard spent the better part of an afternoon at Deca, inside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, recently, signing books and dining with fans, showing off hearty options like salmon with whole grain mustard and dill, heritage beets with broccoli, plus a pork and cider pie with a flaky top crust.

"And it's great to do a topping, like with the pork and cider tart. You just break through that lovely, flaky and all those beautiful layers of puff pastry," he said. "Potatoes, pork marinated with cider, and it's perfect to do a lid."

The book isn't all savory of course. The Ritz also showed off three sweet recipes, including a satisfying blueberry-almond tart, a fruity-sweet pear with hazelnut and an elegant apple tart that Lanlard demonstrated back in the kitchen.

"It's all in the rubbing the butter and the flour together; it's gonna give you that lovely, flaky, short pastry," he said.

Lanlard says that it is best to work on pastry basics first before attempting more ambitious recipes.

"Spend some time to practice your pastry, and after you can go for some exotic filling that's going to combine the two together so beautifully. Never, never stretch your pastry. I know it's tempting when you want to try to fit it into a dish - you go like this and like that - if you stretch it, as soon as it goes in the oven, it's gonna stretch back. So do the opposite; leave it to rest. As soon as you make your pastry, don't overwork it, you're not making bread. Combine it together, wrap it in a kitchen film, and put it in the fridge to rest for at least 45 minutes," said Lanlard.

And the payoff for following his instructions?

"It just melts in your mouth, with a beautiful filling inside," he said.

Oh, and one more thing, Lanlard says: if you want to have any kind of success in the kitchen this holiday season, go get your hands on the best flour and butter you can find. Those two ingredients alone make a huge difference.

The book is:
Tart It Up
by Eric Lanlard

The tarts were served at:
160 E. Pearson St.

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