Conversation with an Artisan: Letty Flatt

“I wonder if this call’s important. It’s the second time they’ve tried me.” Letty speculated about the phone she wasn’t answering.  A few minutes later we were discussing our involvement with local CSAs and she had an Aha, “Oh, that was the call! Eggs today and I didn’t leave money on the porch.”  The fact that she’d ordered fresh organic free-range eggs wasn’t my only clue that she isn’t a vegan. The first was when I asked her directly. Her reply?  “No, um – cheese.”  We were instantly kindred spirits.

Letty Flatt, Executive Pastry Chef and Author of Chocolate Snowball

Yet, over a delicious vegan, gluten-free chocolate chip cookie crafted from almond flour and a hot cup of chai we discussed our mutual love of food and in the process, we became friends. I’ve come to know Letty via her blog, Muffintalk where she talks little about muffins and much about CSA inspired vegetarian cuisine.

Letty comes to the kitchen honestly having taken over home dinner preparation at a very young age. She further refined her skills via a grant received from the International Association of Culinary Professionals to attend the French Culinary Institute in New York. It also enabled her to attend Ecole-Lenôtre in Plaisir-Grignon in France.

Letty Flatt is the Executive Pastry Chef at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah where she’s worked since 1981. Today, she supervises more than 30 bakers and three bakery kitchens that supply all of Deer Valley’s restaurants. She loves the outdoor lifestyle of Park City where she skis and hikes with her husband Robbie, whom she met on the slopes.  She’s been a vegetarian for more than 35 years. “If I count, I’m sure my vegetarian cookbooks equal my baking and pastry cookbook collection.”  And her tie to CSA? During harvest from June to late October, Letty writes two recipes a week for her CSA.

Here’s the deal. In the short time that I’ve known her, I realized that these weren’t simply fun ideas to use up vegetables. Rather, Letty actually creates her recipes, tests them, changes them, tests them again and only when she is satisfied, does she share them with others. In fact, given her position in the food sphere of Park City, she laments some of the food glamour in the world today. “Now, a great deal of my job is managing people and we’re great with feedback but the Food Network is causing all of these young people to dream of making it big as a TV chef. There’s nothing wrong with that but it happens for so few.” Those who are successful in Letty’s bakery are strong people who are able to be on their feet and can manage others.

Her fabulous collection of pastry recipes from the Deer Valley Bakery is revealed in Chocolate Snowball. Now in its second printing, Letty shares 125 recipes that she has gathered including the Deer Valley signature dessert, Chocolate Snowball.

And what does she cook when she’s not making pastry? She laughs, “Minestrone with Basil Pesto.” Letty hands me a recent copy of Edible Wasatch, the publication of Slow Food Utah where she’s been interviewed for her vegetarian prowess. “The guy who wrote the Minestrone article said that he isn’t that concerned with organic, he just wants people to cook at home – me too.” Me too Letty and that will be the foundation for our friendship!

Letty and some of her staff

Tarte aux Blettes from Letty Flatt
Letty prepared this intricate swiss chard dessert for one of the Slowfood Utah dinners

For the sugar cookie crust:
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream

For the filling:
¼ cup poire william sweet pear liqueur
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 pounds Swiss chard well washed, stems and veins removed, red and yellow stems reserved (you will end up with about 1 ½ pounds of leaves after stripping away the veins and stems)
Pinch salt
¼ cup lightly toasted pine nuts
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup organic cane sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ Bartlett pears, peeled and sliced
1 Tbs tapioca flour or starch Confectioners’ sugar

Make the crust:
Stir the flour and sugar together in a medium bowl. Dice the butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolk and cream. Sprinkle over the dough, stirring with a fork. Mix with your hands until the dough comes together, and divide in two portions, one a tiny bit larger than the other. Gently form each portion into a flattened 4-inch ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Make the filling:
Put the raisins and pear liqueur in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside until the raisins are plump with the liqueur.

Put the chard leaves in a saucepan or skillet with about ¼ cup of water and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook the leaves until they are completely wilted and have shrunk incredibly. Drain the leaves and immediately run them under cold water to help keep the bright green color. When they are cool, squeeze as much water as possible from the leaves. Chop the cooked chard and put into a bowl. Drain any liqueur from the raisins and add them to the chard. Sip the pear brandy while you continue making the tart. Chop pine nuts coarsely and add them to the chard, along with the cinnamon, sugar and eggs. Mix well; set aside while you roll the crust.

Roll the crust and assemble and bake the tart: The dough it must be worked by hand first or it will be too crumbly: Cut each portion of the cold dough into 1/2 cup portions and smear the pieces quickly with the palm of your hand–the motion is similar to kneading but more gentle.

Brush melted butter on the sides and bottom of a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, or spray with cooking spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll the larger portion of dough into a 12-inch circle, 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Use short coaxing strokes of the rolling pin and lift and turn the circle frequently, as often as every other roll of the pin. Use as little flour as possible, but dust the work surface and the rolling pin as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Transfer to the prepared pan by rolling the dough up onto the rolling pin and laying it over the pan. Ease the dough into the corners of the pan. Patch any tears by pressing the dough together with your fingers. Trim the edges, leaving one inch of the dough standing up above the sides of the pan.

Roll the remaining dough for the top crust. Make it a circle, 1/8-inch thick, a little wider than the pan. Set aside.

Spread the chard filling into the tart shell. Toss the pear slices with the tapioca flour. Arrange them evenly over the filling.

Fold the extended inch of pastry over the filling and pears. Brush this edge with water so the top crust will seal to it. Lay the top crust on top of the filling. Use your fingers to pinch off the excess dough and seal it the top to the bottom.

Cut 6 slits in the crust to allow steam to escape. Place on a large baking sheet and bake 40 to 60 minutes, until the top crust is golden brown. Some of the filling may leak; this is typical. Cool at least one hour.

Remove the fluted pan rim and bottom; you may need to slip a flat knife between the pastry and the pan bottom to release it. Center a 7-inch plate or a cardboard circle on top of the tart as a stencil and sift confectioners’ sugar over the exposed border. Serve at room temperature.

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46 Comments

  1. I really appreciate people who care about their food. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

    Reply
  2. Excellent post!

    Reply
  3. What a fabulous post! It was worth the long read! :)
    Thanks for introducing me to her & her blog! Excellent & tasty recipes too! :)

    Lovely!

    Reply
  4. What a beautiful post :) I’ve just checked out the Muffin Talk. Thanks for introducing us to her blog.

    Reply
  5. Wow – I’d never have thought to use swiss chard without going savory. Awesome. Sounds like a meeting of the minds and a fun day.

    And me four about wanting people to cook at home : )

    Reply
  6. Lisa H

     /  February 7, 2012

    Yay! Another way to use up all my swiss chard!
    Both you and Letty are an inspiration to many. I hope more people start cooking at home.

    Reply
    • Lisa, you are one of the people that I think could make this complex recipe. It’s not easy but you’ve done so many amazing things like this that I think you’d like this one too.

      Reply
  7. Wonderful!

    Cheese is also the reason I’ve “stalled” at Vegetarian instead of marching forward to Vegan. ;)

    Reply
  8. Aww, this sounds wonderful! Connecting with kindred spirits so much enriches life! :)

    Very fancy to use swiss chard for a sweet tarte! I’d never have come up with something like that because I consider chard rather bitter. But I’m also not a chef, just a passionate home cooker. ;) Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  9. Lovely interview, Tammy! It’s nice to see some classical recipes still being used; I always see the sweet spiced tarts and decide they are too much work, but I’ve often wondered if they are still fit for modern tastes.

    Reply
    • Yes, this is definitely a classic and from what I’ve heard, this one is well suited to modern tastes but it’s a big guessing game in terms of what you are tasting.

      Reply
  10. Dear Husband

     /  February 7, 2012

    I’ll vouch for Letty’s cookies… they’re much better than the old fashioned flour, butter, sugar variety. Now I have yet one more reason to return to Deer Valley to ski!

    Reply
  11. Tammy, I love to hear of people who create for the sheer joy of creating something great. Letty’s recipe books sounds like a must. Thank you for this fabulous recommendation.

    Reply
  12. Renee

     /  February 7, 2012

    My daughter is gluten-free so this book sound perfect. Thanks, Tammy!

    Reply
  13. So great for you and Letty to hook up! Kindred spirits and hearts and kitchens! Thanks for sharing, Tammy!

    Reply
    • Since blogging I’ve been able to meet 5 new friends – maybe that would make for a good post too?

      Reply
  14. Tanner Hamilton

     /  February 7, 2012

    Yum!

    Reply
  15. Jane Ward

     /  February 8, 2012

    A dream interview, thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply
    • Jane, you’d love Letty and you are the other person that I thought might really try to make this tarte!

      Reply
  16. Thanks for introducing us to Letty–she is obviously passionate about delicious, innovative vegetarian cuisine. That tarte is unique–I could never have imagined including the chard–and I’m glad that Letty did!

    Reply
  17. Glad to meet Letty. thanks for introducing us to her and sharing a great recipe. Excited to visit her blog.

    Reply
  18. I love reading you. And I love people who takes food seriously. off to her blog.

    Reply
  19. That was a great read. She’s worked there for so long! What a brilliant career. And that recipe is very intriguing. I would never have thought to use chard in a dessert.

    Reply
  20. I admire anyone who cooks and bakes… if they love cooking and baking, I think they are super human… and if they are good at it… especially with vegetables, then the accolades ring continuously. I think there should be a better word than chef. *Grin* Like maybe super nova. Wow that’s a very long time to be doing …I was going to say the same thing, but I think the point is Letty hasn’t done the same thing for all those years, she’s practiced, refined, experimented and mostly loves what she does.

    Reply
  21. Hurrah for wonderful food-inspired friendships that go deeper than food after the initial attraction! :D

    Also, this is completely the kind of dessert I wish I had the time and skills to make, but which I always pass over in favour of something that takes half and hour (at most) to whip up. Darn my sugar impatience! :P

    Reply
  22. Gabe Hamilton

     /  February 13, 2012

    Happy Valentines day Mom! I love you!
    (notice the enthusiasm in the comment due to the exclamation marks)
    P.S. It was a really good dinner last night!

    Reply

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