In a visit to France many years ago, I noticed that just about every bistro and café featured some sort of free-form fruit tart. Much less formal than the classic heavily glazed, precisely fluted French fruit tart, these charming desserts consisted of a thin layer of fruit—often sliced and of a single variety—baked on top of a buttery, crisp crust. Instead of the straight, rigid sides you get from a tart pan, the edges of these tarts were just folded over onto the fruit. I was captivated by their simplicity.
To the delight of my friends and family—as well as the patrons of Chez Panisse, where I made desserts for many years—I began creating my own galettes, savory ones as well as sweet. Many galettes later, I'm still a fan of this rustic style of tart.
Keep the butter big for flaky dough
Chunky butter makes light pastry. Here the author uses a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour, but a stand mixer works well, too.
My galette dough is a wonder. Easy to mix and roll, it bakes up sturdy yet flaky. I usually make my dough in a stand mixer, but you can use a food processor or cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter, two knives, or even your fingers if they're not so warm that they'll melt the butter. For the best results, don't cut the butter too small. Leave it in big, visible chunks—sugar-cube size is fine. You'll see streaks of butter when you gather the dough into a disk, but don't be alarmed. In the oven, those streaks of butter help to create light, flaky, buttery layers.
Protect the crust and add flavor with additional fillings
A sprinkling of crushed cookies keeps the crust crisp by absorbing some of the fruits' juices. A layer of frangipane works well, too.
I love frangipane, so I frequently create desserts that satisfy my craving for this sweet, rich almond filling. My pineapple galette uses a layer of frangipane as a foil for the tangy, ripe fruit, but the frangipane serves another purpose as well; it absorbs some of the juices from the pineapple, keeping the crust from getting soggy and making the tart easier to slice. The crushed cookies in the plum tart do the same. There's no barrier for my savory tart because its ingredients aren't as moist and because the cornmeal crust holds up better.