Oui, oui to a classic French fruit tart recipe.
This classic, easy French fruit tart recipe combines three equally delicious elements: a crisp, buttery crust, sweet and silky vanilla pastry cream, and heaps of fresh mixed fruit. The result is an elegant dessert that comes together easily and will be the hit of any party.
This French Fruit Tart Recipe
My first after-school job was at a fancy French patisserie. To date, it remains my all-time favorite job (except this one, of course). For one weekday after school and a shift or two on weekends, I bustled around the little pink bakery, boxing opéra cakes, petit fours, and chocolate truffles for customers, and helping myself to the occasional brioche or croissant.
Best of all was a Sunday shift. The patisserie was closed on Mondays, so when the bakery closed on Sunday afternoon, I got to come home with boxes and boxes of free cakes, pastries, éclairs, mousses, and perhaps the best of all: fruit tarts.
I love a classic French fruit tart. The tart is a gorgeous round butter tart shell filled with silky vanilla pastry cream, topped with generous fresh mixed fruit arranged as beautifully as a work of art. And it tastes just as good as it looks.
I had the pleasure of collaborating on this mixed fruit tart recipe with the fantastic Jenn Segal of Once Upon a Chef — one of my most favorite cooking websites, ever. I rely on her recipes for regular inspiration and their trustworthiness. Check it out on her website. (Jenn has her second cookbook coming out in September 2021, which I have already pre-ordered and you should, too!)
How to Make This French Fruit Tart Recipe
There are three main components to this fruit tart:
- A shortbread tart shell, also known as a short dough crust or pâte sucrée
- Vanilla custard, also known as vanilla pastry cream or crême pâtissière
- Lots of beautiful fresh fruit
- Bonus component: a simple apricot glaze to make it shine and lock in the fruit’s freshness
Let’s go into a little more detail.
Making the French Fruit Tart Pastry Crust
The first step is to make the tart shell. This shortbread cookie crust is easy to mix, but does require a little time to chill the dough fully, and then bake and cool.
In a food processor, combine the ingredients and mix until the dough comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly-floured surface. Flatten into a disk and chill well.
Roll the chilled, rested dough to about 10″ diameter. Drape it into a tart shell. Trim the scrap.
Dock the bottom of the crust all over with the tines of a fork. Chill again.
Line the tart dough shell with parchment or two layers of foil. (I prefer parchment.) Fill the shell with dried beans or pie weights, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the weights, and continue baking for 5 to 10 minutes more, until golden brown. Cool fully.
Making the Vanilla Pastry Cream for the French Fruit Tart
While the pastry crust is in process, make the vanilla custard filling. The custard is a traditional vanilla pastry cream, sweet and silky and made from milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, butter, and cornstarch as a thickener.
Pastry cream requires only a few ingredients, but you will need a little bit of technique savvy.
Here’s how to troubleshoot any potential pastry cream issues:
- Stir. A lot. Once you add the eggs to the pot of hot milk, the eggs risk cooking instead of emulsifying into a custard. So stir constantly and scrape the sides and bottom of the pot continuously. That’s where the “scrambled eggs” like to form.
- Eliminate clumps. If you do accidentally form coagulated egg bits, just strain the finished pastry cream with a fine mesh strainer. Done.
- If you’re storing your pastry cream, lay plastic wrap directly on top to prevent “skin” from forming.
- Use your pastry cream within two days (preferably one). The cornstarch will weep its absorbed moisture through a fancy-sounding process called starch retrogradation, and the pastry cream will become rubbery.
Choosing the Fruit for Your French Fruit Tart
Which fruit works best for a mixed fruit tart? Which should you avoid?
Fresh berries are a top choice for a French fruit tart. Berries look gorgeous and generally stay perky longer than cut fruit. Other good fruit for a tart includes mango and kiwi slices. Mango and kiwi add a great pop of color and will not oxidize and turn brown quickly. (Check it out: Learn how to cut a kiwi.)
Avoid melon and other fruit with high moisture content, like sliced citrus. These will look wilted quickly and seep moisture into the pastry cream. Also avoid oxidizing fruit like apples and bananas. These fruits will turn brown and make the fruit tart look old and less pretty.
How to Arrange Fruit and Finish a Mixed Fruit Tart
Here’s your chance to be creative and have fun. My biggest guideline for arranging fruit on top of the pastry cream-filled tart is to be generous with the fruit. I try to show as little pastry cream as possible.
You can do a more traditional French design of carefully-arranged fruit, a more free-form fruit pattern, or a mix. Have fun! If you’d like to do a mango or kiwi slice rosette, start from the outside and work your way to the center, overlapping each slice a little on top of the next.
Finally, heat some apricot jam thinned with a bit of water, strain, and dab it all over the fruit with a pastry brush. The jam will give a shiny, finished look to the tart, and help seal in freshness.
You will also love these fantastic desserts:
- Pâte Sucrée (Sweet Pastry Tart Dough)
- 3 Classic Baguette Sandwiches
- Apple, Sage & Gruyère Scones
- Lemon Curd Tart
- Poached Orange Ginger Cake
Classic French Mixed Fruit Tart
For the Vanilla Pastry Cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
For the Pastry Crust
- 1 recipe pâte sucrée (recipe follows in link, below)
- 2 pints fresh berries of choice, rinsed and fully dried, plus any other sliced fruit you’d like to use, such as sliced kiwi or mango
- 1/4 cup apricot jam
For the Pastry Crust
- Complete the pâte sucrée through baking and cooling. TIP: This will take a few hours total, though most of that is inactive chilling and baking time. This can be done up to 2 days in advance; store wrapped or in an airtight container.
For the Vanilla Pastry Cream
- Heat the milk with a couple tablespoons of sugar just until boiling. Remove from heat.
- While the milk is warming, in a heat-proof mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar, egg, egg yolks, and cornstarch. Whisk until the mixture is very smooth and lightened in color, about 2 or 3 minutes.
- Whisking constantly, whisk about a quarter of the hot milk into the egg mixture.PRO TIP: This is called tempering. Tempering the eggs helps raise their temperature without cooking them, and helps emulsify them into the milk.
- Pour the milk-tempered egg mixture into the pot of the remaining milk. Whisk to combine. Return the pot to the heat and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent “scrambled eggs” on the sides and bottom, until the magic happens and the pastry cream thickens, about 2 minutes. Stir in the butter and vanilla and cook one minute more, stirring constantly. The pastry cream should make thick, lazy bubbles.
- Pour the thickened pastry cream into a clean, shallow bowl set over an ice bath. Stir gently until the pastry cream cools to warm room temperature and no more steam comes off the top.PRO TIP: setting the bowl on a bag of frozen vegetables works great as an easy ice bath alternative, and there’s no risk of water splashing in.
- Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap set directly on the surface of the pastry cream. This prevents a skin from forming on top. Chill.
- Transfer the tart shell onto a cardboard round or whatever serving dish you will be using. (Once it is filled with the pastry cream and fruit, the tart will be too heavy and delicate to move.)
- Pour the pastry cream into the tart shell, leaving a ¼” brim. (If you have any extra pastry cream, enjoy it as a parfait with some fresh berries.)
- Arrange a generous amount of fruit and berries in a layer over the pastry cream in your desired design.
- Heat ¼ cup apricot jam with 1 tablespoon or so of water over medium heat, whisking, until thin. Strain, if needed, through a sieve. Use a pastry brush to gently dab the entire fruit tart with a thin layer of apricot glaze. Chill until ready to serve.