Summertime. It’s the little bundle of memories we carry with us from our childhood, year after year that makes summertime what it is. Whether stifling hot days and balmy evenings or chilly, gray dampness seeping through the cracks of tightly closed windowpanes and drawn curtains, June, July and August are infused with something intangible, special that will always remind us of the best of summer. Hand-crank ice cream machines and family barbecues in the backyard, clam bakes on the beach or splashing in the lake surrounded by tall firs and palms gently dancing in the warm breeze. Dashing barefoot across the scorching pavement, spitting watermelon seeds across the lawn as the cool, sticky sweet juices run down chins and drip off of elbows. Days of utter and complete freedom from all schoolyard constraints, free to do as we please, run and play and laugh. Family trips to grandma’s, away from Florida’s searing heat, the unexpectedly mellow temperatures echoing the lazy, mellow days.
Florida winters were punctuated by citrus. Visits to the groves on the Indian River, just a jump over the bridge, rewarded us with treasures golden, orange, sweet and tangy: brown paper grocery bags filled to bursting with navels, tangelos, tangerines and grapefruit to be lined up on dad’s workbench awaiting eager hands to dig in. Eaten one, two, three at a time, our only dilemma being whether to slice into wedges or peel off the thick skins and pull apart the luscious sections with sticky fingers. Nothing, not pears, apples or bananas distracted us from our citrus mission, tempted us with other flavors or sensations, led us astray from these wondrous Florida fruits.
But summer has always meant stone fruits. Peach upon peach, nectarines plump, ripe, juicy and ever so sweet were my mainstay, my passion. Cherries and apricots by the handful could sustain me for an entire afternoon, eaten like candy. Never pausing long enough to even consider tucking any of these precious gems into a pie or cake, they were enjoyed as is, fresh, cool, oftentimes crisp, sometimes soft, ripe, and juicy. A childhood in Florida called for refreshing nourishment, soothing the temper and cooling the body. Popsicles in a rainbow of colors or sno cones slurped down eagerly, fruit drinks chugged down by the gallon in my favorite turquoise plastic cup, and fresh fruit straight from the refrigerator and plenty of it fulfilling every need, every urge.
But now I am all grown up. No more scorching southern heat, no more front yard full of a gaggle of gangly kids playing tag, no more sitting in that special spot in the branches of the tree where I could stay perched for hours, book in hand, lost in a fairytale land far away, the shade a cool respite. Our summer in Chinon has been particularly temperate, sometimes even bordering on chilly like a glorious autumn day. There has been little need for cool refreshment, only the occasional desperate search for shade and an icy drink. Stone fruits are at their peak and seem to be sweeter than they have been for years. I stroll past the pastry shops, cool glass cases filled with cakes and tarts each one boasting strawberries or raspberries or peaches all dressed up in French finery: tiny, delicate choux, wisps of spun sugar, swirls of heavenly whipped cream and showers of chocolate curls, I couldn’t but bring home my bounty of fruit and turn it into a gorgeous confection. Peaches or plums, nectarines, apricots, each begging to be nestled, coddled, cloaked in buttery pastry, desiring only to show off her feminine colors of pink, purple or gold, her sweetness complimented by a tender crust, her softness caressed by the crisp, flaky folds of pâte feuilletée.
My confidence bolstered by my mastering the mysterious, complicated art of jam making, I was inspired to once again tackle the ever-elusive puff pastry. Mysterious in her thousand layers of golden flakes, temperamental and fussy in her demands, toying with my affections and teasing me with the magic of her perfection always just out of reach, I desired, nay, needed to master her. She has ever flirted with my emotions, giving me hope then dashing all expectations to the ground. Butter oozing out the edges, seeping out from dough rolled a tad too thinly, adhering to hands, tabletop, rolling pin…. Cursing emanating from the kitchen, harsh and piercing; my confidence sinking into the mire of shattered hopes, faith in my own abilities cracking under the strain and disappointment. I desperately ask the heavens for help; I thrust the sticky dough into the refrigerator bewailing yet another failure. Yet my desire for puff pastry and creating the perfect, elegant tart urges me on, fold after fold, turn after turn, and I finally give up for the night, forcing myself to be satisfied with what effort I have made and the energy expended. Visions of the perfect Jalousie fill my head: juicy, luscious nectarines, their ripe summer sweetness hidden pale pink and feminine inside a delicate trellis of crispy, flaky puff pastry, slats that resemble the old jalousie blinds of our grandmother’s front windows revealing just a hint of what lies within. And I dream of pastry.
I awake the next morning refreshed and newly confident. Nectarines washed and lovingly patted dry…sliced and dusted with sugar. Puff pastry – repaired and perfect from her night’s beauty sleep – sliced and rolled, chilled to perfection and I am thrilled and excited. I cut and trim, brush and bake and watch through the oven window with the wonder of a child. And I have done it! As I am pleasantly surprised at my own courage and fortitude in the face of something so daunting as making confiture by the truckload, as astonished as I have been at my own patience and resilience in the face of a challenging new career, thus am I enchanted and amazed and rather overwhelmed by the success and beauty of my Nectarine Jalousie. Filled so simply with sweet, ripe fruit of summer and a dash of cinnamon and sugar, this is simplicity at its best, the gorgeous pastry a showcase for the nectarines, plums, peaches, apricots, whatever summer stone fruit you wish to choose, yet so much more impressive than the humble, homely tart. So push up your sleeves and tackle the adventure.
A couple of how-to photos:
- 1 pound (500 g) all-butter puff pastry, homemade or store bought, chilled
- About 5 ripe nectarines for this quantity puff pastry
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- About 2 tablespoons granulated brown sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Slice into wedges or rounds; discard the pit.
- Remove your chilled puff pastry from the refrigerator where it has been chilling. Slice the dough into two equal pieces.
- On a floured work surface, Roll out one piece of dough into a square or rectangle about ⅛ inch (3 mm) or only slightly thicker. Make sure the dough is evenly flat and of regular thickness. Carefully transfer the sheet of dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. (Make sure your baking sheet is either much wider and larger than the Jalousie or has a lip all around it as there is always the risk of juice leaking out of the tart.)
- Line up your nectarine slices or wedges either overlapping or close together depending on how thick they are, leaving about ¾ inch (2 cm) edge all around. Dust with cinnamon and sprinkle rather liberally with the sugar. Gently brush the edge all around lightly with water.
- Roll out the second piece of puff pastry dough to the same thickness, width and length. Very carefully, fold it in two lengthwise, matching the edges, being careful not to press together as you do not want the sides to stick together – you want to be able to easily open it up again.
- Using a very sharp knife (dipping in flour helps) cut a series of parallel slits about ½ inch apart, leaving a ¾-inch wide edge of uncut dough on the top and the two sides (see photo).
- Very carefully unfold and place on top of the nectarine-filled base dough. Match the edges all around and then press the top and bottom rims together to seal. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, trim the edge all around evenly (place all scraps back on top of any wrapped leftover dough in the refrigerator) then press the edges again. You can press the tines of the fork gently into the dough edges.
- Brush the surface of the dough – both the edges and the slats – with lightly beaten egg.
- Bake for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is a deep golden brown and flaky, including the sides which should now have risen a bit and show the multitude of layers. The juices should be bubbling through the slatted top.
- Serve warm with whipped cream, ice cream or simply as is.