Ellen Silverman, who LOVES to improvise radically on my recipes, recently posted her iteration of my Improvisational Fresh Fruit Tart Formula on Instagram. She made the sensational-looking  Plum Cherry Tart with Thyme, above, with plums and cherries that were languishing in the fridge, and half whole wheat flour in the crust because she didn’t have enough all-purpose. She added some thyme leaves, which give red fruits a “wilder” flavor. She said the tart was a huge HIT at her dinner party.

Made with lush summer fruits like apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and berries, freeform fruit tarts are the perfect summer dessert (though you can make it all year round). Here’s the simple formula:

Foolproof Butter Pastry (recipe below) or YOUR favorite flaky pastry recipe…

…rolled out into a big freeform round (or several small ones to make tartlets)…

…a little flour and sugar sprinkle over it to thicken the juices..

…sugared fruit (whatever is in season) piled into the center

…the pastry folded up around it, and baked

Maria Robledo
Maria Robledo

Recipe: Improvisational Freeform Fruit Tart

This “master recipe” gives the essentials you need to know to improvise with just about any fresh fruit. You can combine two or three fruits and/or add additional flavorings such as vanilla; ground spices like cinnamon or clove, or a few scrapings nutmeg; a drizzle of eau de vie like as framboise, poire William or kirsch; fresh thyme or rosemary or lavender flowers…

6 servings

1/2 pound Flaky Butter Pastry  (see recipe below) or your favorite flaky pastry dough

2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons flour for thickening the juices, plus extra for rolling the dough

1 tablespoon sugar

Fruit Filling: 
3 cups ripe fruit (peeled, pitted, and cut into ¼-inch thick slices as appropriate) such as pears, plums, peaches, apricots, bananas, berries, cherries or rhubarb, in any combination

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (2 tablespoons for apples)

¼ to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of the fruit)

Optional flavorings,  such as:
 1/2 vanilla bean split, seeds scraped out and mixed with the sugar;
 1 to 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ to 3/4 teaspoon ground spices such as cinnamon or clove, or a few scrapings nutmeg
1 to 2 teaspoons eau de vie such as framboise, poire William or kirsch
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or rosemary and/or a pinch of lavender flowers…

2 to 3 teaspoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar (optional)


Preheat the oven to 400′. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rough circle about 14-to-15-inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and refrigerate it while you prepare the fruit.

In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon sugar with 2 tablespoons flour (2 ½ tablespoons for very juicy fruit, such as berries, rhubarb, and cherries); reserve.

For the filling: place the fruit in a bowl and toss it with sugar, lemon juice and any flavorings you like. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle the reserved flour-sugar mixture evenly over it, leaving a 2-inch border uncovered. Arrange the fruit evenly over the flour-sugar mixture. Gently fold the rim of dough over the fruit, creating overlapping creases as you go. Moisten your fingers lightly with water and gently press the creases together so that they hold their shape. Shave the butter over the fruit.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden brown, the fruit is tender and the juices syrupy, about 40 minutes, covering the tart half way through if the crust is browning too rapidly. Let cool 10 minutes before sliding the tart onto a serving platter.

Just before serving, strain the confectioners’ sugar evenly over the crust.

You can also roll the dough into smaller rounds to make tartlets…

Maria Robledo
Maria Robledo

recipe: Flaky Butter Pastry

This is a great dough for people who are intimidated by pie crust. It is virtually foolproof, easy-to-make and handle, yielding a buttery pastry that is tender yet sturdy enough to accommodate the abundant fruit.

The recipe can be doubled or tripled and can be frozen well wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 month. To defrost, thaw in the refrigerator several hours before using.

Makes  8 ounces dough, enough for one tart

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4  teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ bits
3 tablespoons sour cream

In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the butter and cut it into the flour with a pastry cutter or use a pinching motion with your fingers until it makes a very coarse meal. (If you have time, chill this mixture in the refrigerator 15 minutes). Add the sour cream and blend with a fork to combine, then, using  your hands, squeeze the dough 7 or 8 times to incorporate. To make the dough in a food processor, process the dry ingredients to combine. Add the butter and process to a coarse meal; chill if time. Then add the sour cream and process until the mixture looks like sand.

Flatten the dough into a 1-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour before rolling.

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3 replies on “Plum and Cherry Tart with Thyme + other fast tart improvs

  1. Delicious pictures, will work on a plum blueberry tart this afternoon. My vanilla beans dwell in a quart mason jar of honey, sliced lengthwise into 4 quarters, hanging from the stem end suspended in the honey, and I watch the vanilla seeds float…

  2. Wow, what a lovely dreamy image. I’m gonna try it.

  3. Delicious pictures! It is a soul food!

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