Professional Pastry Chef Ashley Cheri Smith has her Baking and Pastry degree from Johnson and Wales University and has worked in the food industry professionally since her graduation eight years ago. She has experience working professionally at places such as Polka Dot Bake Shop in Charlotte, focusing entirely on cupcakes and Suarez Bakery, entirely Cuban cuisine.
Originally from Michigan and after working in Charlotte, North Carolina for a number of years, Smith relocated to Rome to be closer to her family. Smith worked as a pastry chef for Honeymoon Bakery on Broad Street, and most recently has taken the position of Head Pastry Chef at WinShape Retreat.
“At WinShape, our groups are eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with us. So pastries are this special added bonus. We do scratch-made biscuits in the morning with the best recipe to give our guests that wow-factor. And we do desserts at lunch and dinner,” she said.
Smith allowed ReadV3 to stop by at her job at WinShape Retreat in order to show us how to make fun and tasty holiday tarts for the whole family.
“I love doing minis of anything. If we do desserts spreads, it allows people to take more than one and not feel as bad,” she laughed. “I also like taking different elements and combining them, like these tarts.”
“Fresh ingredients are the cornerstone of a good pastry,” said Smith. “If you can get farm fresh eggs, use those. If you can get fresh, seasonal ingredients, your pastry will have so much flavor.”
Smith begins by mixing together her tart dough. She uses the cookie method, meaning she adds her butter and sugar first, then adds her dry ingredients.
After rolling out the dough into a circle, Smith lets it chill in the refrigerator or freezer.
Next, Smith rolls out the dough until it’s flat and even. She then shapes it into the tart pan, focusing on the edges. After she has shaped and shaved the excess, she “docks” the dough by poking holes with a fork. This helps the dough not puff up in the oven.
Smith places the tart into the oven, set at 350 degrees.
She notes that she does not use the traditional method of putting beans or rice in the tart to hold the dough down, but that she instead checks it every so often to push it down as it cooks.
Once the tart is cooled, Smith spoons in her homemade hazelnut paste and chocolate ganache.
Now the fun really begins, as Smith decorates her tarts with different toppings, such as toasted hazelnuts, cranberries, and orange zest.
Smith is then able to use her leftover ingredients to make fun sugar cookies!
“Just have fun and go along for the ride,” she said. “The more mistakes you make in the kitchen, the better. Because then you know, ‘I’ve already encountered this, and this is what I did.’”
She also advised: “Figure out what you love and make that. If you don’t like chocolate, don’t make it chocolate!”
Her absolutely favorite part of the baking process though, is the community aspect of it.
“I tend to bake more, put together more things during the holidays because it’s an opportunity to make tons and to share it. I really enjoy the people side of it. So that’s what it is for me.”
So her advice for the best holiday pastries is simple: “Invite people in. If you’re making cookies, let the kids decorate. Let them make a mess. Set up a corner in the kitchen, so it’s contained chaos. Just have fun with it! Think about what the guests will enjoy and do that. Surprise and delight them!”
Follow the recipe below to truly surprise and delight your guests this holiday season!
Rolling pin, tart pans ( 1 large or 6, 4inch), saucepan, mixing bowl, stand mixer or hand mixer, parchment paper, cookie cutters(optional ) , whisk, cutting board, food processor, knife ,pastry brush , joy, excitement, and a touch of creativity!
- 2 cups butter at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 cups All Purpose Flour
- 1 T Baking powder
- 1 tsp Salt
- Cream butter and sugar with hand mixer or in stand mixer on medium high speed till fluffy and light in color ( about 3-5 minutes)
- While this is mixing, measure dry ingredients into a separate bowl and whisk to incorporate
- Begin adding the eggs one at a timely the creamed sugar/ butter mixture, being sure to scrape the bowl in between each addition
- Add vanilla extract
- Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter/ egg mixture until all incorporated and dough comes together. This is done best on a lower speed setting.
- Flatten dough slightly and form into a disk. wrap dough and let chill for 30 minutes minimum.
- 24 oz semi sweet or dark chocolate morsels
- 12 oz of heavy cream ( about 1.5 cups)
- Put the chocolate in mixing bowl and set aside
- Heat heavy cream over medium high heat in saucepan till you start to see a gentle boil. This will take about 5-10 minutes Turn off heat .
- Gently pour hot cream over chocolate morsels. Let sit for a couple of minutes
- Whisk mixture until completely blended and smooth
- 2 cups Whole toasted Hazelnuts ( toast ahead of time)
- Powdered sugar
- 1-2 Tbs vegetable oil
- In food processor, blend hazelnuts till they are about as fine as you can get them. It will look a bit like coarse sand. Gradually add in the oil while mixing. You should start to see it turn into a relatively creamy paste.
- Add in ganache and powdered sugar for taste. This is really up to personal preference, so have some fun and keep tasting spoons nearby to test! As a guideline, I would start out with about ¼ c. Powdered sugar and ½ cup of ganache
- Once it’s the sweetness you like, set it aside
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Roll out the sugar dough on a lightly floured surface to about ¼ inch thick. If you are making a large tart, make sure you roll out the dough into a circle larger than the pan
- Place dough over the tart pan and start to gently press the dough into the pan, being sure to create even edges. Cut the extra dough from the edge of the pan to reveal the pretty scalloped edging.
- Dock the bottom part of the tart dough with a fork
- Bake tarts for about 10-25 minutes depending on the size. You will need to keep an eye on the dough and will most likely need to press down the dough with a spoon in the middle of baking since it will puff up a bit. The tart will be done once the edges are a nice toasty brown.
- Let shells cool slightly, but be sure to pop out of tart pans while still warm.
4 oz chocolate melted
Optional toppings : orange zest, chopped hazelnuts, peppermint pieces , or anything you love with chocolate .
- Melt chocolate and paint on the bottom of the tart shell with pastry brush or spread with a spoon. Pop this into fridge so it can harden a little bit.
- Spread hazelnut paste in a thin layer over the chocolate ( or forgo if not desiring hazelnut)
- Pour warm ganache over hazelnut paste and spread evenly.
- Garnish with extra hazelnuts or have fun with the peppermint pieces or orange zest! Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.
- Cut, serve, and enjoy!!