Blueberry cornmeal shortbread tart is really a pie, only with crisp topping. It’s a crumble but has a bottom crust. It’s shortbread with a wonderful savoury tang from cornmeal. Blind baked – yes, but with fresh fruit filling.
It’s a pie but it isn’t; it’s a tart but not quite; it’s shortcrust but has cornmeal in it; it’s a crumble but has a bottom. And it’s absolutely to die for.
What’s a tart?
A tart, or tarte if you want to sound French, is a flat bake on pastry base, perhaps short and perhaps puff. It has a filling which can be anything from jam to frangipane topped with apricots and almonds.
Fresh fruit, cooked fruit, glace fruit, chocolate, meringue or custard – you can find a tart with any topping you like. And it has no pastry cover but open top, like the Danish Smørrebrød.
Except tarte Tatin which has pastry top but no bottom – at least after it’s been inverted.
What’s a crumble?
It’s a tart in reverse, a pie that lost its bottom, a bottomless cake. A pudding rather than cake, it is perfectly nice with a large dollop of clotted cream or a scoop of ice cream. Crumble is made in a gratin dish with lightly roasted fruit, showered with crispy crumble.
A variation is cobbler also known as buckle, where the fruit is covered with lumps of batter rather than pecks of crust.
What’s a pie?
Ha! That’s a good question. Here is UK a pie is savoury, most commonly filled with meat or fish in sauce or gravy though there are many vegetarian varieties.
Pie has a bottom and a top, or just the top. The pie casing is pastry, short or puff but it can be topped with potato mash or slices (shepherd’s, cottage or fish). It’s eaten hot or cold: pork pie.
But if you jump across the ocean, everything is a pie over there, sweet bakes foremost (just like all biscuits are cookies). American pie has a crust, open or closed, and enormously varied range of sweet fillings (except when it’s pizza, which they also call ‘pie’).
Is this a tart or a pie?
According to the information above, this blueberry cornmeal shortbread thing should be a pie, especially as it’s of American provenience. It has the crust, the filling, and it is topped with the crumble.
But Alison Roman, whose recipe this is based on, calls it a tart so tart may it be. The name is less of a problem, but the original recipe needed some serious tweaks.
Soggy bottom alert!
I’m not that familiar with Alison Roman’s recipes and this was the first I’ve ever tried. Nice but flawed – it took additional input from the wonderful NY Times Cooking commenting crowd and my common sense to achieve success.
As is, Alison's recipe produces the classic soggy bottom: after all blind baking has not been invented just to waste people’s time.
Some tarts or pies call for cooked fruit or at least macerated in sugar and drained. When you use fresh fruit smothered in sugar which is going to make the fruit bleed juice, sitting it onto raw pastry isn’t a great idea.
As it bakes, the base won’t manage to cook fast enough to seal itself against the juices. The outcome of the original recipe: soggy bottom.
How to avoid soggy bottom in a tart
I am always the first to call for simplifying things but whilst making pastry, baking it, then filling and baking again is obviously hassle, it’s completely worth it in this instance.
Once the pastry is ready, press it into the tin or dish – and it is a wonderfully amenable pastry you don't need to roll out and precariously transfer into the dish on a rolling pin.
It doesn’t need chilling either: press it in with a bottom of a tumbler, prick holes with a fork, cover with parchment and baking beans and hey! presto. Fifteen minutes in the oven and out.
I have one more trick up my sleeve: spreading a little cream cheese over the blind baked pastry base to seal it before the fruit is loaded in. No sogginess guaranteed after those tricks, even though the blueberries are used fresh not cooked.
I am immediately tempted to try it out with different fruit but it mustn’t be too watery – strawberries and raspberries won’t make the shortlist. It could work as a slightly different wonderful apple pie, but it’s cherries that sound to me like the next best thing. Watch this space…
More tart recipes
A perfect combination of almonds, shortcrust pastry and raspberry jam - that's bakewell tart.
Ottolenghi's pistachio and cherry tart requires a bit of effort but is very much worth it.
And let's not forget jam tart, quick and ready, or its more sophicticated Austrian counterpart, Linzer torte.
More pie recipes
The classic, and in my view the best, is apple pie with delicious crust and filling of raw, sliced apples.
And the autumnal tradition in America, pumpkin pie: this one is with added cranberries.
A French pie is called galette. Galette des rois is an elegant treat baked for New Year and Epiphany.