Pierre Herme needs no introduction. He is one of France’s preeminent pastry chefs and possibly one of the most recognized names in the business. I wouldn’t imagine myself ever coming close to replicating the lovely creations he stocks his eponymous boutiques with, but when we plan our dinner party menus, I frequently find myself dipping into Desserts by Pierre Herme and Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, the two books he co-authored with Dorie Greenspan. The recipes range from simple to elaborate, with flavours that are accessible, yet sophisticated. But what I love most is the fact that the recipes are detailed and precise. They work. They reflect Pierre Herme’s innovations, tweaks and personal preferences as a pastry chef. Personally, they exhibit a flavour profile that also appeals to me. The bitterness of chocolate (Pierre prefers Valrhona) isn’t masked with too much sugar. His pastry dough celebrates the glorious flavour of good butter. His simple lemon cream is irresistible when paired with his sweet tart dough. Yet, he doesn’t take himself so seriously as to eschew the use of Nutella in a tart.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working my way through a series of his tarts. Each successful attempt has made me an ever bigger fan. Most recently, for a group of chocolate lovers (including a friend who retails the stuff himself), I picked the Tarte Grenobloise. Pierre’s rethinking of this classic, as Dorie explains it, is influenced by the all-American pecan pie. A chocolate-almond pate sable tart shell is filled with chocolate ganache and topped with pecans enrobed with caramel. It was rich and heavy, but I certainly relished the tiny, cold wedge of leftovers I polished off the following day! It actually benefitted from chilling and would’ve been perfect washed down with a cold glass of milk.
For New Year’s Day dinner this year, Pierre’s Nutella tart (from his book of chocolate desserts) rounded off our festive menu. The only marginally fiddly component of the recipe was rolling out the pate sucree (sweet tart dough) and lining the tart ring with it—primarily because we live in a tropical climate. But even that is sidestepped with patience. After rolling out the dough, I now know to chill it for a few hours. The recommended 30 minutes just isn’t enough in our hot weather. After lining the tart ring, I chill it again for another couple of hours. Instead of trimming the extra dough off with a sharp knife, I also prefer to use a rolling pin as this seems to prevent the crust from shrinking dramatically during baking. The tart base is baked blind, cooled and then lined with Nutella. A simple bittersweet chocolate ganache is poured over this and topped with toasted hazelnuts before the tart is baked for exactly 11 minutes. Pierre suggests that the tart is best served at room temperature. However, in our weather, I prefer to serve it at 13 degrees Celsius.
For a casual Sunday lunch, I tried his lemon tart. Because our guests included a chef and some other f&b professionals, I really didn’t want to risk attempting anything too fancy that might also fail spectacularly. The recipe called for the same sweet tart dough used in the Nutella tart. Given that each dough recipe makes enough for 3 to 4 tarts, I just had to defrost a portion of dough and prepare the deliciously tart lemon cream.
I’ve previously raved about Pierre Herme’s perfect tart dough. His sweet tart dough is now my other pastry closet essential. The technique for the sweet dough is the same as the other (you can find the instructions here). And I’ve listed the ingredients below. But to truly enjoy Pierre’s (and Dorie’s) talents, invest in either one or both books!
Pierre Herme’s Sweet Tart Dough
285g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar, sifted
100g ground almonds
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla bean pulp
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
490g all-purpose flour