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Experiment with flavors in easy jam tart

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press

It could make a delicious treat for your Valentine

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 12:01 am

About a decade ago, I traveled to Italy to take a cooking class. Of the many things I brought home from that trip, none is more cherished than my recipe for Italian jam tart.

I learned it from Judy Witts Francini, an American who teaches cooking classes that capture the simple home cooking of Tuscany. The first tart we made — technically a crostata — was filled with fig jam, but these simple pastries made from butter, sugar and flour really can be filled with anything.

This is one of those treasured recipes where the sum is greater than the parts! The list of ingredients is short and basic. For that first tart I made, the secret was a beautiful jar of homemade fig jam scented with lemon zest and almonds. I was incredulous that something so easy to make could taste so good. The crust is so wonderful, a cross between pie dough and a sugar cookie.

When I came home, I was obsessed with making the tart. I start by creaming the butter and sugar as if I am making a cake. I like to add orange blossom water to the dough, but you can use vanilla or almond extract.

I then whisk together the flour and salt, and add it to the butter mixture by hand, mixing just until crumbs form. During my class in Italy, we reserved some of the dough to make a lattice top, but I simplify and just sprinkle some crumbs of the crust over it.

As I learned in Italy, the real secret to the tart is using the best quality jam you can find. I look for jam made with only a bit of sugar, and I prefer fig, apricot, cherry, strawberry and raspberry. The thing I love about switching up the jams is that you can add extracts and seasonings to match your jams.

When I make a fig jam tart, I add a touch of cardamom to the crust; when I make cherry, I use almond extract instead of orange blossom. You can even make the crust chocolate with the addition of 1/2 cup of cocoa powder. The list of variations goes on and on.

For Valentine's Day, try making a strawberry jam tart and drizzling it with a little melted chocolate when it comes out of the oven. It's a twist on chocolate-covered strawberries!

Italian jam tart

Start to finish: 1 hour

Servings: 6

13 tablespoons (1 stick plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water or vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Generous 1/2 cup (about 6.5 ounces) fig, apricot, cherry or berry jam

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Position an oven rack in center of oven.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer with whisk attachment to beat butter and sugar on medium speed until mixture is very light in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add orange water or extract and blend well.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix by hand just until dough is thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Measure out a scant 1/2 cup of dough and smooth it out on a small plate, then place plate in freezer.

Meanwhile, press remaining dough evenly into and up sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. If dough is too soft to work with, chill it briefly. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Once tart has chilled, spread jam evenly in it, starting from center and leaving a border of about 1/2 inch around the edges. Jam should be thinly spread and not resemble a filled pie. Remove reserved dough from freezer and crumble it into small pieces over jam.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until topping is a beautiful golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool completely. Remove tart from sides of the pan and cut into wedges.

Per serving: 470 calories; 220 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 25 g fat (16 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 59 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 29 g sugar; 4 g protein; and 60 mg sodium.