Monday, June 18, 2007

strawberry tart

classic strawberry tart

A few times a year, I fall in love with tarts all over again, and not only because Alex thinks that “fluted removable bottom tart pan” is the best name given to any kitchen tool, ever, but because there are few things not made tastier when rendered wide and shallow, in a flower-like shell. In the winter, I gush over slices of warm quiche, on a plate billowing with lightly-dressed greens, or a deep, rich, hard-to-forget ganache tartlet but in the summer, its fresh fruit or bust.

whole lemon tart

This past weekend not one but two tarts exited my kitchen in a new Envirosax tote bag, both entirely inspired by the city of Paris. The first headed for my friend Molly’s dinner party on Friday night, a take on the classic tarte au citron (lemon tart) so fabulous, I might never make stove-top curd citrus curd again. I’ve mentioned before an ongoing fascination with “whole citrus” recipes, those that know that the whole shebang–from peel to pith to pulp–smartly leveraged in a dish is infinitely more satisfying that those that just go for the more low-hanging ingredient of juice. This entire tart is made with one single lemon, ground to a pulp with sugar, then mixed with egg, melted butter and cornstarch and seared in a par-baked crust until the top is bubbly and the taste is absolutely worth bragging about. The simplicity of ingredients alone makes it worthwhile, but the grown-up flavor with the bitter, fragrant vibe straight from the lemon’s edge makes it ready for its close-up. I can’t wait to make it next with two key limes, half a ruby red grapefruit or a whole orange.

whole lemon tart

Sunday barbeques, especially ones that celebrate a certain SantaDad’s birthday, and multiple fathers’ days are no time for the new and the new-fangled. Now that we’re more or less past crumble season (baking fruit for an hour seems, well, unseemly with two window a/c units running), and berries are flooding the Greenmarkets, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist making simple berry tarts for much longer. You start with a fully-baked sweet tart shell, make a simple crème patisserie (pastry cream) and if you really want to blow some minds, do so with half of a fresh vanilla bean instead of extract. Simple as can be, you can make the shell, custard, and even prep the fruit the day before (custard actually keeps for several days in the fridge, longer in the freezer), and assemble it as close to the time you serve it as possible, as in the timeless words of Julia Child, “nobody likes a soggy bottom.”

classic strawberry tart

Because it’s hard to miss those jagged edges, I must mention that I have been struggling with my pate sablees (sweet cookie crusts with sugar and eggs) lately, and while I suspect there are many things to blame–namely that I don’t seem to have enough pie weights to hold the sides up in the par-bake, and was out of dried beans that could be used instead–seeing as I followed all the other rules of the tart dough–keep it cold! Don’t stretch the dough!–I have decided, somewhat illogically, to instead blame the recipe I’ve been using, which includes ground almonds. I think next time I’ll go back to a pâte sucrée (flaky pie crust with just sugar) and see if it fixes things. Eventually, however, I think I’ll have to question my skills, but I hope to put that off as long as possible. I’m sure you understand.

Whole-Lemon Tart (Tarte au Citron)

[Updated Recipe: We worked the kinks out of this recipe in a new post. See it here. You’ll love it!]

Fresh Strawberry Tart (Tarte aux Fraises)

1 fully baked 9-inch (24-cm) tart shell made from Sweet Tart Dough
Pastry cream (recipe below)
3 to 4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled

Shortly before you are ready to serve the tart, spread the pastry cream in the bottom of the baked tart shell and arrange the strawberries over the top. Le voila!

Pastry Cream
Adapted from Paris Sweets, Dorie Greenspan

1 1/4 cups (300 grams) whole milk
1/2 moist, plump vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Bring the milk and vanilla bean (pulp and pod) to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and set aside for 10 minutes. Or, if you are using vanilla extract, just bring the mil to a boil and proceed with the recipe, adding the extract before you add the butter to the hot pastry cream.

2. Working in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, whisk the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together until thick and pale. Whisking all the while, very slowly drizzle a quarter of the hot milk onto the yolks. Then, still whisking, pour the rest of the liquid in a steady stream over the tempered yolks. Remove and discard the vanilla pod.

3. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously and without stop, bring the mixture to the boil. Keep the mixture at the boil, whisking energetically, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and scrape the pastry cream into a clean bowl. Allow the pastry cream to cool on the counter for about 3 minutes.

4. Cut the butter into chunks and stir the chunks into the hot pastry cream, continuing to stir until the butter is melted and incorporated. At this point, the cream needs to be thoroughly chilled. You can either set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and, to ensure even cooling, stir the cream from time to time, or refrigerate the cream, in which case you should press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal.

(The cream can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or packed airtight and frozen for 1 month. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and whip before using to return it to its smooth consistency.)


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