Give Thanks for Tarts

Guava, pineapple and coconut tarts.

As people make preparations for Thanksgiving dishes to share with family and friends this year, most people prepare various types of pies to complete

Thanksgiving dinner. It might be a pumpkin, apple, blueberry, peach or cherry pie to adorn the dessert table and sweeten the celebration of thanks.

Here in the Caribbean, however, the most popular flavors for tarts, otherwise known as pies, are pineapple, guava and coconut. 

All three of these tarts — pineapple, guava, and coconut — are prepared in a similar fashion. The main difference between these Caribbean tarts and many of the fruit pies is that these fruits must be heated over the stove and cooked down into a tart filling, unlike an apple or blueberry pie, which is prepared with uncooked fruit.

The Filling
Fruit fillings are simple, staying true to most Caribbean cuisine. Begin by taking pineapple, guava, or coconut and placing it in a sauce pan on the stove. If the pineapple is from a can drain it well, or if it is fresh, cut it and strain it well. For fresh guava make sure to remove the seeds. Both canned pineapple and guava also work very well for making these tasty tarts. One could use fresh, shredded coconut meat for the coconut tart, or dried, shredded coconut meat from the store also works well. 

Heat all three of these fillings on a stove top separately, as each flavor is its own tart. Add a proportional amount of sugar to the amount of fruit filling being made, and then add enough water to allow the fruit to cook down. To avoid turning the fruit mixture into a syrup, start with less water and add more as needed.

Some recipes include corn starch to offer a thickening agent which is optional. Arrow root or Toloma is used throughout the Caribbean islands as a thickener as well instead of corn startch. While talking with Gwen Dagou, a cook at Guy Benjamin School, she emphasized the importance of using almond essence, otherwise known as almond extract, in the fruit fillings.

“A little bit of almond essence goes a long way,” she Mrs. Gwen.

Mrs. Gwen was reluctant to give precise measurements, however, because she cooks by the feel of it, she explained.

So, add about 1 teaspoon of almond extract to the fruit fillings. Less is more at first until one gets the feel for the flavor. Let the fruit filling simmer, and cook down into  a rich fruit, jam-like consistency.

The coconut filling will take a little longer to cook down than the pineapple and the guava filling. Some people put cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove in their fruit filling. Mrs. Gwen, however, says that she likes to put the spice in her crust instead of the filling.

“Cooking and baking is an experimental process until you have it figured out,” said Mrs. Gwen. “So just give it a try and change what you don’t like. If you don’t know, call someone and just try it.”

“Everything you want to achieve is worth trying,” said Mrs. Gwen. “Don’t say you can’t. There is always room for improvement — you can always learn.”

The Pastry
The pastry for these tasty tarts can be made many different ways. Again depending on the size of the tart, the measurements will vary. All pastry recipes require flour. Two cups will make one full size tart, top and bottom crust, or three mini tarts. Some people add salt and some don’t. It is personal preference — salt fans should add a little a salt. Use 1/2 to 3/4 tsp in the dough.

Then add 1/2 cup or so of butter, chopped into little bits, to the flour. Then add a tablespoon or two of sugar, along with your desired spice — cinnamon, clove, nutmeg or all spice. This will sweeten and flavor the crust.

Add water slowly as the ingredients are mixed together. Again, add less water at first, to avoid sticky crust. Many people like to add an egg yoke and 1 tsp of baking powder to create a more fluffy, cake like crust. It is all about trying it out, and seeing what works best.

Traditionally, Caribbean pastry recipes do include an egg or simply the yoke, and baking powder to give it some lift. The crust will be crunchier and flakier without the powder and egg, whereas with the powder and egg the crust will be more doughy and chewy. Roll out the pastry dough and place it in a buttered, floured pan. Then, add the filling of choice.

Roll out and cut the pastry dough for the top of the tart. Tarts here are usually made with the lattice top crust, however a tart could be completely covered over leaving a small opening, usualy in a design.  Don’t forget to cut off the excess crust and form the outer rim of the tart by pinching around the edges.

Bake the tart at 350 degrees for about 35 to 40 minutes. The top of the tart may need to be covered with aluminum foil toward the end, if the crust is darkening more than golden brown, so as to allow the filling to cook longer. Pull the tart out of the oven when it has completely baked. Usually the aroma of fresh tart will let you know it’s ready! Let it cool and serve with a choice of sauce, topping or ice cream.

Try serving a Caribbean tart this Thanksgiving and give thanks for trying something new. Enjoy!