Once Upon a Tart offers 225 recipes from the eponymous Manhattan shop, which, in addition to sweet and savory tarts, prepares delicious soups, salads, and muffins. Both book and shop are the work of business partners Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau, whose Soho store has flourished for almost a decade, providing notable quality while expanding tart-consciousness. Among the tart recipes, particularly winning are the Zucchini Tart with Curried Custard and Dried Currants; Roasted Ratatouille Tart with Herbes de Provence; Chocolate Pear Tart; and Jerome's Mother's Famous Almond Tart, a melt-in-your mouth confection. Equally good are the recipes for sandwiches, such as pork loin with frisee and rosemary-garlic aioli; soups, including black-bean-and-pumpkin with cinnamon and ginger; scones, like honey caramel; and quick breads and cookies, such as Apple-Cranberry Muffins and Rosie's Peanut Butter Cookies.
What makes the book especially worthy is its instructive approach. The recipes themselves contain useful technical guideposts (the authors zero-in on desirable unbaked dough texture--"just past crumbly, but still holding together"), and there are many illuminative asides, both personal and to-the-point ("'Each variation on an ingredient changes the taste and texture of the cookie,' says Frank--this kind of thing excites him," is one). With its attention to the personal, the book is also something of an autobiography a deux, and readers will enjoy getting to know the authors, one very French, one solidly American. Illustrated with color photos, and with useful notes on equipment and fundamental processes, such as How to Deal with Eggplant, the book should please bakers at all skill levels. --Arthur Boehm