Mardi Michels's mini jam tarts from her cookbook In the French Kitchen with Kids make more than a fun baking project and snack. They're the ideal gateway into the kitchen for kids.
I was provided a review copy of In the French Kitchen with Kids by Appetite by Random House. This post does not contain affiliate links.
I feel my heart swell so much when I look at my daughter that sometimes I think it will burst.
I marvel at her kindness. This kid rubs my back sometimes as I doze beside her when I’m putting her to bed.
I marvel at her imagination. This morning, she pretended a Christmas card was a laptop and began typing away, like her old mom is doing now.
I also marvel at her jam tart-making abilities. She proved she was a natural patissière this summer when a copy of Mardi Michels’s In the French Kitchen with Kids was sent to us to play around with and review.
Truth is, I burst with pride when I see my four-year-old work virtually unassisted, save for me reading her Michels’s fool-proof instructions for assembling the perfect goûter. But it’s the gift Michels has given us of being able to work alongside each other, creating an ultimate bonding experience, that makes me most indebted. And for that reason alone, this book is keeper, and one I will likely pass on to Miss O should she ever have kids.
Olivia assembling her tarts.
I’ve tried having Olivia beside me in the kitchen before with mixed results. She’s interested in helping me get food on the table and that thrills me. But it’s usually when I’m pressed for time and have little patience for flour flung far from the mixing bowl in which it’s supposed to land, or when every utensil is pulled from the drawer and left in a heap for me to tidy.
When I first sat down with In the French Kitchen with Kids to get started on what is now a long overdue written review, I found myself appreciating Michels’s wise perspective on how to keep peace in the kitchen with kids and make it an experience both parent and child will come back to do again.
Michels, a teacher who runs an after-school cooking club for elementary-age boys, offered pointers that every parent knows but needs to be reminded of now and then. Her tips were ‘demonstrate, don’t do, mistakes are OK, and be flexible and patient.'
That last one resonated. I needed to learn to be OK with a mess and to let the process unfold as quickly or as slowly as my petite chef wanted. In other words, I need to make sure I leave ample time when I do cook with Olivia and I shouldn’t try it when I’m stressed and rushed.
The beauty of this book, aside from the time it gives me with my daughter, is the variety of age appropriate recipes and tasks. The jam tarts were perfect for a four-year-old to do virtually on her own — OK, I had to lend my spaghetti arm strength to helping her roll the pastry dough but that was it.
The baked ratatouille that was in heavy rotation this summer as I worked through the abundance of tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini from my garden was a little less so because of all the chopping. But Olivia could help dump vegetables into the casserole dish and mix in the herbs. Meanwhile, we have a family-favourite recipe into which she can grow.
I’m grateful for that. I had a mother who shooed me — and others — out of the kitchen when I was young. She didn’t like people around while she worked. As a result, I didn’t get interested in cooking until I became a vegetarian nearly 14 years ago and had to learn my way around a kitchen if I was going to survive. Before that, cooking felt onerous. My meals were boring and compartmentalized servings of protein, carbs and veg. Lunches were frozen No Name burritos, something one of my former colleagues at the paper still won’t let me live down. Breakfast was whatever I could eat in the car on the way to the newsroom.
In other words, eating was a perfunctory act, not particularly pleasurable nor necessarily healthy. I don’t want to condemn Olivia to such a fate and outlook on food, and this book is the remedy to that. After all, children who learn to cook before the age of eight are 50 per can more likely to have a healthy diet later in life.
I’m hopeful she’ll find the same catharsis in preparing a meal from scratch that I do now. Perhaps it will be in that ratatouille when the garden is most giving. If not, I know she’ll always find joy in a jam tart.
Me, too, for that matter, especially when I make them with her.
Excerpted from In the French Kitchen with Kids, by Mardi Michels©, published July 2018 by Appetite by Random House. Reproduced and adapted with permission of the publisher.
For the pastry dough:
- 1 1/2 cups (225 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (113 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons heavy (35%) cream (See note)
For the tarts:
- All-purpose flour for rolling the pastry dough
- Unsalled butter for greasing the pans
- About 1/2 cup of jam, any flavour
- Rolling pin with spacers to ensure the dough is the correct thickness
For the pastry dough:
Whisk the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter and, using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour until it resembles large breadcrumbs with some pieces the size of small peas. You can also use a pastry blender for this job.
Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and add the egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix the egg into the flour until they are completely combined.
Add the cream and mix until the dough is firm enough to form a ball when you press the mixture together with your fingers — it might be a little crumbly but form the dough into a disk and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour, or up to 3 days, in the fridge. You can also freeze the dough, tightly wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 months. Thaw it overnight in the fridge before you roll and bake.
For the tarts:
Remove the disk of dough from the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes so it’s easier to work with. Cut the dough in half.
Lightly flour a large sheet of parchment, then place one piece of dough on the the parchment. Sprinkle it lightly with flour and place a second sheet of parchment paper on top.
Roll the dough between the two sheets of parchment paper to a thickness of 1/6 (one-sixth) inch (4 mm). If the dough is soft, you might need to put it back in the fridge to firm up a little before you cut it.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease two 12-cup muffin pans with butter.
For the decoration:
Using a cookie cutter that’s about 3 inches (8 cm) in diameter, cut out rounds of dough. A cookie cutter with fluted edges makes for pretty tartlets but if you don’t have a cookie cutter, you can use a glass or ramekin that’s the same diameter. One disk of the pastry should make 10 rounds. You will need to gather up and re-roll scraps of the pastry to make sure you get 10 — and each time you re-roll, you will need a touch of flour to ensure the pastry does not stick to the parchment. You may need to refrigerate the dough again once it’s been rolled out if it is very soft and sticky.
Use an offset spatula to help remove the pastry rounds from the parchment and gently place them in the muffin cups. You don’t need to press them right down to the bottom as gravity will help them sink to form a little cup. Make sure the pastry rounds are evenly centred in the muffin cups. Place the muffin pan in the fridge while you work on the second piece of dough.
Repeat with the second piece of dough and refrigerate the muffin pan and pastry rounds for 30 minutes.
Place 1 teaspoon of jam in the middle of each pastry round. It doesn’t look like a lot but it will bubble up and expand when it cooks.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the jam is bubbling.
Remove the pans from the oven and let the tarts sit in the pans for about 15 minutes, or until the jam is no longer runny. Remove the tartlets from the pans and cool on wire racks. Serve at room temperature. You can store these in an airtight container for up to 3 days. They will get soggy the longer you store them, though, so best eat them up.
Depending on the type of jam you use (and its sugar versus fruit content), it may not spread as it cooks. If your jam doesn’t spread, add another teaspoon of the jam when the tartlets are just out of the oven and gently swirl to combine the hot and cold jams. Allow to set as per the recipe.
Because of my bizarre dairy issues that let me eat butter but not use milk in cooking, I have successfully used both Belsoy soy cream and cashew milk as substitutes for the 35 per cent cream called for in the pastry recipe.