"The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance - it is the illusion of knowledge." Daniel J. Boorstin
This was just going to be about the above, rather glitzy looking dish in the new Coles Magazine which they call Tomato fetta tarte soleil (sun tart). Doesn't it look great? And yes it's only marginally more difficult to make, I think, than it looks. Perfect for all those seasonal parties, when people arrive - especially my family - and immediately start looking for something to eat. It's as if they haven't eaten for weeks.
I hadn't ever seen this particular dish so I thought it was some new, and fun thing to do with puff pastry that somebody had recently devised. In this case Coles have put their A Team on to this. Recipe, Emma Knowles, Photographer Ben Dearnley, Food Stylist Steve Pearce, and Food Preparation Jessica Brook. Trust me, having now perused many, many glamourous food pictures, those four are at the top of their tree in Australia. And yes - full marks to the presentation, but this is not an original dish.
My first idea was just to find other fun - and easy - things you could do with puff pastry for the upcoming party season. I ignored cheese straws which I think you probably know about, ignored all the tarts and turnovers which I'm sure you are all familiar with and really only found a couple of different ideas Spinach puffs (not that original really) from Delish and Pistachio cream rugelach from Olive Magazine. Bear in mind I was looking for things which really demonstrated a technique, that could be easily modified to whatever filling, or spread you cared to devise. The only other two I found worth thinking about are actually variations on the tarte soleil concept - a Cheesy spinach dip Christmas tree; Sausage Twist and Tear 'n' share sausage roll and camembert wheel all also to be found in Olive Magazine. I promise I looked in lots of other places, but Olive Magazine had more options than others.
However, as I was searching for what I suppose could be described as novelty ideas for Christmas, I kept coming across Tarte soleils with various different fillings. Because of course it is infinitely variable. So this is obviously not an invention of Emma Knowles of Coles Magazine. She has merely taken the concept and added her tomato fetta filling and fetta dip.
So I tried to find where it comes from and who invented it. Readers I do not know. You cannot find everything on the internet - which is not new to me - although many seem to think you can. Why do people think this? The libraries and archives of the world that have all that knowledge stored away have digitised only a tiny percentage of their holdings so far.
There seemed to be a general idea that it was a French thing. I cannot tell you how many times I came across the phrase, "a fun French appetizer made with a savory filling and puff pastry." Everybody copies everybody else, Somebody wrote that phrase and lots and lots of others copied it. But nobody had anything further to say.
The closest I found to any further explanation was that it was inspired by the Provençal bread called Fougasse, shown here. It's a sort of Provençal equivalent to focaccia and often has olives and herbs such as rosemary embedded in it. Really the only similarity to the tarte soleil, is the pattern, which I suppose approximates artistic rays of the sun. Rays of the sun, of course, look nothing like this.
I wonder myself whether the 'French inspired' bit simply comes from the fact that we are talking about something made from puff pastry, which is indeed French.
What I do know from all of my searching is that the tarte soleil is not a new thing. One writer spoke about having featured it some seven years before the post that I found, which was not new.
Not ancient though. Definitely not as old as the nineteenth century, although I have no proof of this. Maybe not even twentieth century, and in spite of everyone seeming to think it was a common enough French pastry, I don't think I have ever seen one in a French pâtisserie. There are not even vague comments such as being a TikTok or Instagram sensation gone viral. Felicity Cloake seems not to know about it - she certainly hasn't attempted to make a perfect one, and none of my 'favourite' cooks has had a go either.
Maybe it's actually American. There are certainly plenty of American versions and magazines such as Bon Appétit seem to think we all know about it, although neither Serious Eats or The Spruce Eats mention it. At this point however, as I searched these prestigious foodie sites, Google offered me a Galette des rois, which I know I have written about before. To remind you - this is a puff pastry tart, with a filling, which celebrates Epiphany and which has those spiral cuts in the surface.
Maybe we just like spirals. It's a very ancient symbol of course.
So how do you make one? Because it is really a concept and technique rather than an actual recipe. Nobody is arguing over the filling. Nobody is arguing about anything. Really the only variation in technique that I saw was to place a camembert or a brie in the centre rather than just make a circular impression.
There are a few sites that will show you in pictures what to do. Also videos. The Smitten Kitchen site was one of the better ones. Fundamentally you cut out two circles from your puff pastry. You cover one with your filling, place the other on top, and make that circular indent in the middle. Rest in the fridge for a bit, then cut through to the central circle into wedges - as many as you want. The Coles recipe suggested 20. Put back in the fridge for a while. Remove, and twist each wedge, before giving the whole thing an egg wash and cooking it. Most of them seemed to think that having something to dip your pull-apart wedge in was a very desirable bonus, but what this consisted of would obviously depend on your filling. I think somebody said you could even put it back in the fridge until ready to cook - or did they say refreeze?
I might give this a go sometime, but I always feel I'm not that successful with puff pastry things. It always seems soggy to me and not crisp. Is it me or is it the puff pastry I use? I do use the butter version but there is no choice in our supermarkets here - only Pampas. I often see Carême puff pastry recommended but where you would find that I have no idea, and I'm sure it would be rather more costly as well. However, I did find this little bit of knowledge just thrown into one website's version:
"I know that any wash that drips onto cut edges can keep the pastry from puffing" Liz Loves Cooking
Now why hasn't anybody else said that before? However, the downside apparently is that your finished tart won't be nice and shiny. Puff or shine? Tricky. As she says, far too finicky to avoid the cut edges when you brush your tart with the egg wash.
So yes, I have learnt how to make a rather glitzy appetiser which is infinitely variable depending on what you want to fill it with - somebody used jam and peanut butter in true American style. So maybe it is American. Honestly I tried asking my question about who invented this in all sorts of ways but nobody came up with the answer other than that irritating 'fun French appetiser' explanation. If you know - tell the world. We are waiting for an answer.