The Dessert That Never Stopped Bringing Everyone Together
As a child, I fell in love with the unfailing gravitational pull of a store-bought fruit tart. Here’s how I recreated it.
I hope I’m not throwing my parents under the bus when I say they have and always been extremely frugal people. Oh, you know the ones. Those people who stockpile on free napkins and ketchup packets for the home supply whenever the family eats out. The more coupons on hand, the better. In the basement of my childhood home in Farmington, Connecticut, my mom even had a dedicated area to store unopened gifts that one of her two kids had gotten for their birthday...for the sole purpose of regifting them to one of our friends for their birthday. If you were my elementary school classmate and ever received a Bratz Doll from me as a gift, I regret to inform you I did not spend a single dime.
This way of living wasn’t really a byproduct of necessity. We were fortunate enough to be comfortably middle class. It was just that my parents had rather strong opinions on what was and wasn’t worth breaking the bank for. And for them, dinner parties – bar none – were where they went all out.
It was exciting and easy to wake up on a Saturday morning when I sensed that the house was getting prepped for guests that evening. The aromas of my mom getting a start on the mise en place for whatever was on the menu came wafting into my room upstairs as early as 6 a.m. Around the early afternoon, our dining room, a space that remained pristine and basically untouched on weekdays, became adorned with fresh flowers, fancy glassware and state-of-the-art German silverware. The plate-ware my mom actively collected made its way onto each seat of the table too – hinting to me time and time again that they were thoughtfully purchased. Then, like clockwork, around 3 p.m., she would instruct my dad to make a run to Highland Park Market, the higher end specialty grocery store a few miles away, to pick up what would always be the dinner party’s piece de résistance: The Fresh Fruit Tart.
To my adolescent mind, this fruit tart embodied the height of simplistic sophistication. Everything about it had a Gatsby-like glamour; the impeccably cut slices of fresh fruit perched on top of the most crackly, buttery crust filled with a luxurious bed of silky golden pastry cream. And as if all that wasn’t luxe enough, a coating of glaze glossed over the fruit that truly could not go unnoticed under the shimmer of the dining room chandelier. Highland Park Market was a pricey store, where we otherwise wouldn’t go on normal shopping excursions, but where my parents pre-ordered a $30 tart for whenever we were hosting dinner. Its magic was priceless and always felt by our company, and especially by me.
As excited as I was during the hours prepping prior to a dinner party, I was normally pretty introverted come the main event as more of the grown-up guests arrived – to the point where I’d quickly congregate to eat dinner, make light and polite conversation then quickly scurry back to my room out of shyness. But come time for The Fruit Tart to be served, I always came running back to the dining table. Diving into a big slice of my own was half the fun; I enjoyed watching my parents’ guests, with varying degrees of taste and supposed penchants for sweets, widen their eyes upon eating one mouthful of the treat. It also didn’t matter how stuffed someone was; their souls had space for fruit tart. Beyond our home dinner table, the fruit tart came with my family to other people’s homes and various intimate gatherings. It was how my mom and dad consistently gifted their opulent love to their friends, and one that, without being too rich for anyone’s blood, never failed to work like a charm. The interplay of fresh and creamy flavors in the pastry was constantly perfect.
How my parents believed time and again in the Highland Park Market fresh fruit tart is a testament to their belief that good food is always worth investing in. With it, they instilled in me from a young age that quality desserts are little luxuries so democratic in their ability to reach anyone. That the power of a well-made baked good is undeniable. On top of that, I guess that they were also onto something pinching pennies in other departments for more worthy treats.
Inspired by this childhood staple, I created my own rendition of the fruit tart that stays true to the beloved texture and flavors while being entirely gluten- and dairy-free. I’ve found that the guests I now host in my young adult life (at the admittedly more shabby-chic dining table in my New York City apartment) march to the beat of their own dietary drums.
In the spirit of making a tart that’s truly suitable for just about anyone, I wanted to create and share a recipe that ensures that no matter who’s sitting at the table, you can always band together for dessert. A silky almond milk-based cream filling is as luscious as it is lacking in dairy. Even with vegan butter and a blend of gluten-free flours, a beautiful snappy short tart shell effortlessly comes together. While I decided to use kiwi and mixed berries as embellishment, feel at liberty to use your favorite fruits or ideally, whatever’s in season in your area. And if you live anywhere close to Farmington, do yourself a favor and pick up a tart from the bakery department of Highland Park Market – and while you’re at it, tell them I say hello!