Seasonal Potluck: Strawberry Tart

I love tarts.  I love their simplicity, but also their elegance.  Most tarts are relatively easy to make, and there are endless variations.  Fresh fruit, lemon cream, nuts, chocolate, and on and on and on!  When I was younger, we used to live near a French bakery called Josef’s.  They had the most amazing looking fresh fruit tarts displayed in the windows, and ever since drooling over those every time we passed by, I’ve had a penchant for these pastries.

This is a recipe adapted from one of my all time favorite bakers, Dorie Greenspan.  Her cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours is one of the best!

Fresh Strawberry Tart, makes 6 to 8 servings

About 1 1/2 cups Pastry Cream, cooled or chilled (Recipe Below)
1 9″ tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (Recipes Below)
1 pint fresh strawberries, halved (or any berry or mix of berries)

Smooth the pastry cream by giving it a couple of strong turns with a whisk. Spoon enough pastry cream into the tart crust to come almost to the rim, then even the surfact with a rubber spatula. Carefully lay the berries on the cream, arranging them in any pattern that pleases you.

Pastry Cream, makes about 2 cups

2 cups 2% milk
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.  Watch carefully, as it can start to foam and boil over pretty quickly. (Yes, I’ve learned this the hard way.)

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk- this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly, bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold, or, if you want to cool it quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

Sweet Tart Dough
Makes 1 9″ Crust

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 1/4 cup flour & 1/4 cup almond flour)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 TBSP (9 TBSP) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in – you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each- until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change- heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Butter a 9″ fluted tart pan with a removeable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Carefully press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.  I wrapped the crust tightly and froze overnight so I could start making this the day before.  Worked out great!

Preheat the oven to 375. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.

Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown.  Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

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