Wednesday, June 9, 2010
In high school I worked at a bakery in town. One of my favorite jobs was assembling fruit tarts- I say assembling because the crusts came pre-made in boxes and the pastry cream in a huge plastic bucket. My job was to fill the crusts with the cream and arrange the cut up fruit on top. A recent sale on strawberries at the supermarket motivated me to recreate these tarts, only this time using a homemade crust and pastry cream.
For the cream, I used a recipe from epicurious. It was pretty simple and made more than enough cream for one tart. You start by whisking together milk, egg yolks and cornstarch. Meanwhile, you heat more milk, sugar and vanilla bean seeds in a saucepan until simmering (you could also just use vanilla extract- I had beans on hand from a friend who was abroad in Madagascar).
The hot mixture is stirred into the cold, and then returned to the saucepan over medium heat. After about two minutes of stirring, the cream thickened. I poured it into a bowl, pressed plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and put it in the fridge.
For the crust, I turned to Ina Garten, my longtime kitchen idol and an expert in all things involving butter. The recipe is very simple. The one adaptation I made was to used 8 tbs. of butter, instead of 6 tbs. butter and 2 tbs. shortening. The flour, salt, and sugar were mixed together and put in the freezer for 30 minutes, then poured into the bowl of a food processor. I cut the butter into chunks, then added it to the dry ingredients. I pulsed the mixture until the butter was "the size of peas," as Ina directed. I added the ice water and processed the dough until it all came together. This took about 30 seconds.
I dumped the dough out, formed it into a disk, wrapped it in foil, and put it in the fridge. As the dough and the cream chilled, we ate our roast chicken on the grill. After dinner, I rolled out the dough to about 1/4 of an inch thick. Ina's recipe makes 4 small tarts, but I wanted to make one large one. I don't own any tart pans, so I used a sort of flower shaped pan with a removable bottom and inappropriately high sides. I lined the bottom with foil and buttered it. I had some difficulties getting the dough the pan, but I eventually formed a tart shell. It was rather unattractive. I baked the shell according to Ina's directions.
When it was done, I removed it from the pan, let it cool (not very long), and filled it with the chilled pastry cream. I sliced up the strawberries and arranged them on top. We immediately devoured it.
The star of this tart was certainly the crust. It was salty and buttery (thanks Ina), and despite my attempts to ruin it, crisp and crumbly. It would have been delicious on its own as a cookie. With the pastry cream and strawberries, it was even better.
Note: This tart can be made with any type of berry or combination of berries. I especially like it made with blackberries.