Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado High Country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Some desserts have tastes so strong they seem to shout at you; others get your attention with a whisper. This peach-brown butter-custard tart falls in the latter category. It’s understated and refined but still gets noticed. Its appeal comes from a combination of light, sweet custard, peaches flavored with rum and brown sugar and a tender, shortbread crust. It wins you over quietly, one nibble at a time.
If you find peaches that are perfectly ripe and very flavorful, you could omit the second step in the recipe, which softens and sweetens the fruit by macerating it in a sugar-rum mixture. The tart is best the day it’s made but is still good a day later.
Peach-brown butter-custard tart
(Make in 9 ½-inch tart pan.)
2 cups bleached, all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
Pinch of salt
1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, cold
2 tablespoons dark rum, divided
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3-4 medium peaches (one pound), peeled and pitted
½ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
2 large eggs
Pinch of nutmeg
¼ cup all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
Sweetened whipped cream, optional
Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the center position. Grease the bottom (not the sides) of the tart pan. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor, and pulse to combine. Cut the cold butter into small pieces, and add them with the vanilla. Pulse to mix and then process only until the dough starts to form a ball on top of the processor blade. Remove the dough and use it immediately, or if it is too soft to work with, pat it into a disk and refrigerate or freeze it until it is easy to handle. Roll it into an 11-inch circle and transfer it to the pan, pressing it up the sides and leveling the top. Cover and freeze until the dough is quite firm (10 to 15 minutes). Gently press a piece of nonstick foil or lightly greased regular foil against the cold dough (nonstick or greased side against the dough), lining it completely. Fill with pie weights. Place the pan on a cookie sheet, and bake until the dough is firm. Start checking at 20 minutes. Carefully remove the pie weights and foil liner, return the pan to the oven, and continue baking until the shell is lightly golden and set. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. Leave the oven on at 375 degrees.
Place one tablespoon of the dark rum and the brown sugar in a large bowl, and whisk until they are well combined and the sugar has dissolved. Cut the peaches into quarter-inch slices, place them in the bowl, and gently toss them until all the slices are coated with the rum-brown sugar mixture. Set this aside for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring/tossing occasionally.
While the peaches macerate, make the custard: Put the granulated sugar, eggs, one tablespoon of dark rum and the pinch of nutmeg in a bowl, and whisk until mixed. Add the flour and whisk until combined. Set this aside. Place the pieces of butter in a 1-quart saucepan. Melt over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the butter comes to a low boil. Continue to stir for about 4 to 5 minutes; the melted butter will start to sputter and foam, then the foam will subside, and finally it will turn golden brown. Quickly remove it from the heat. Watch carefully throughout this process; if the melted butter gets dark brown, it becomes bitter and unusable. Pour the browned butter in a steady stream into the sugar-egg-flour mixture, whisking constantly until fully blended. Set the custard aside.
Arrange the sliced peaches decoratively in the prebaked tart shell (you may not use them all). Pour the custard over them, filling the shell to about a quarter-inch from its top (some custard may be left over). Place the pan on a cookie sheet to catch drips, and bake until the custard puffs, is set and colors lightly. Cover the crust with strips of foil if it browns before the filling is fully baked.
Remove the pan to a rack and cool completely. If you’re not serving the tart right away, store it, lightly covered, in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to serve, remove the side of the pan. The tart cuts most easily when it’s cool, but is at its best when served slightly warm. (We cut it while it’s cool and then heat the pieces in a microwave at low temperature until warm to the touch.) Serve the tart unaccompanied or with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.