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Expert Tips on Holiday Tarts

by Alia Akkam

Inevitably, during this time of year you’ll find yourself thinking of pies and tarts, whether it’s because a relative will serve one at a holiday dinner after painstakingly rolling out from-scratch dough, or because you’ll pick one up at the bakery on your way to a holiday party. This year, get to work in the kitchen yourself. We asked Lionel Vatinet, master baker, known for the stellar breads and tarts made with organic flour at La Farm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina to share his wisdom.

Many home bakers are intimidated by making a pie or tart from scratch because of mastering that tricky dough. What are three tips you have for readers who want to make one without the fuss?

Make the dough the day before, or a minimum of six hours prior, and chill it thoroughly before rolling it out. Chilled dough is easier to roll, and doesn’t stick as quickly to the rolling pin. When it sticks, your instinct is to throw more flour on, but that extra flour makes the dough stiffer, and in the end, really changes the recipe, resulting in a tougher tart shell, not a tender one.

When making your pie dough, be sure to use cold butter. You want the butter to melt and combine with the flour in the oven, not when you roll out the dough. Cold butter will help your dough to be chilled as you mix—and keep you from over-mixing and adding too much flour.

Instead of rolling out pie dough with traditional flour, use powdered sugar. This adds sweetness, but also some crispiness.

The holidays and baking go hand in hand. What do you enjoy most about being in front of an oven during this season?

Breaking bread with family and friends is a really special thing in my eyes. It’s sacred, everyone selecting meaningful breads and pastries for their own holiday table and sharing their own ideas of what they create at home. I can’t help but think about my grandmother who made clafoutis with her own cherries she’d plumped in liquor. This was always something we loved when we visited her at Christmastime.

You’re sharing a recipe for Almond Apple Tart. What do you like best about this creation?

Juicy, tart, and sweet apples pair well with nutty almond cream; it’s a classic combination. I also love that it can be served a la mode with ice cream or room temperature with Chantilly cream.

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