This is a departure from my usual fare. There is no chocolate in this recipe. None at all. Weird.
My old man turned 73 last week, and he isn't really a dessert fellow. We always have a family get together to celebrate birthdays in the Collins clan, and it has become tradition that I make the dessert. What to make for the man who doesn't really dig dessert? He adores a really good vanilla ice cream. Given a preference that is what he would always choose, but you know me. I always end up deviating from the plan. There are few sweet things that the man likes, but strawberries are on the list, so I decided to make a strawberry tart. The best tarts I have ever tasted were in Paris (during the one day I was there before evil morning sickness overtook me and I couldn't eat a thing, which is one of the many reasons why I simply MUST go back. It is every person's prerogative (I wish I didn't get Bobby Brown in my head every time I said that word) to participate in a gastronomical overindulgence in that city and I was robbed of that right damn it!). Phew. That was a very long sentence.
Herein lies a problem. Sweet shortcrust pastry and I have a chequered history. We haven't really gotten along. The few times I have tried to make it it has been the middle of summer and it just hasn't worked. The last time I tried to make it I ended up completely changing my plans to avoid pastry entirely. Shortcrust pastry, fine. Sweet shortcrust pastry. Not fine. The sugar changes the pastry and makes it much more difficult to manage than the regular variety. It is lucky that I like a challenge. I wasn't going to be beaten. I wanted that shortbread-like base.
Don't be daunted by this recipe. It seems really long but it is just three different processes that come together to make a beautiful tart. The pastry and the filling can be made a day ahead if you are pressed for time.
Sooooo, I combined flour, salt, sugar and cold butter in my fabulous food processor (we were very lucky to be given a Magimix as a wedding present in 2002 - it has never skipped a beat). I pulsed until the combination resembled breadcrumbs.
Now if you are wondering why my food processor is a lovely shade of pink, blame this excellent spiral cookie recipe by Sprinkle Bakes. I have made them over and over and they were worth the processor tint, I assure you! I digress...
I lightly mixed an egg with a few teaspoons of water and, while the motor was running, added it to the food processor. As soon as it started to form a ball I stopped the motor.
Put the dough from the processor on to a piece of cling wrap, form a flat disc, wrap it and put it in the fridge for a minimum of an hour. Do not under any circumstance skip this step. One of the reasons my previous attempts at this pastry failed was that the recipe I used suggested chilling the dough for twenty minutes. Not enough. It MUST be at least an hour or the dough will be unmanageable.
Once you have chilled the dough it is ready to roll out. The dough can be quite sticky and rather than adding more flour, which will change the consistency of the dough, your best bet is to roll it out between two sheets of baking paper, like so -
Now it doesn't have to be perfect. A trick that I picked up while reading about this blasted pastry was that you can mould it, a bit like putty, if it isn't behaving and rolling out as you would like. Roll it out as best you can, and then, while it is still attached to one of the pieces of paper, place it face down over a flan tin. Press it in to the edges of the tin BEFORE you remove the paper. That way the dough won't stick to your fingers and get holes in it.
Gently remove the paper. Don't fret if there are holes or the sides aren't completely covered. Trim the pastry around the sides and use the excess to repair any damage and fill any gaps. Using a fork prick holes in the base. Chill the case for at least twenty minutes before baking.
Now the case needs to blind baked. This is a process whereby the pastry is cooked before being filled. It prevents the pastry from becoming soggy and will help it to be nice and biscuity. The first step in this process is to line the case with foil. Fill it with rice, or pastry weights if you have them (I do), to help the pastry to hold shape.
|Ceramic pastry weights|
Oh my. I just successfully made a sweet shortcrust pastry case.
Now on to the filling. It is called creme patissiere, or pastry cream, and it is divine. You would be familiar with it as a filing in many fruit tarts, eclairs and canoli. It is a thick custard that is perfect with strawberries and pastry. You need to scald milk with a vanilla bean in a saucepan. This means that the milk is heated until just before boiling point. In a separate bowl beat egg yolks with sugar and cornflour until thick. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk, scrape out the seeds and add them to the egg mixture. Pour milk into the egg mixture and use a wire whisk to whisk until smooth. Return mixture to the cleaned saucepan and stir continuously with the whisk until the custard has thickened, is smooth and has come to a boil.
Pay careful attention to the base of the saucepan to ensure that the custard doesn't burn. Once the custard is boiling whisk vigorously for one minute. Immediately cover with baking paper or cling wrap to prevent the custard from forming a skin.
Once the pastry and the creme patissiere are cold they can be united. Fill the case and level out the custard with the back of a spoon. Cover the custard with a layer of halved strawberries, starting with one half in the centre and working in concentric circles outwards. Once the tart is covered you want to give the tart a lovely shiny coating, just like the tarts in Paris. This is done by coating the strawberries with a glaze made of jam and warm water. Voila. The flavours of each element come together to make a beautiful tart.
I loved this dessert. There was no chocolate and I loved it. I am looking forward to making it again, and will try it with other fruit. Raspberries come to mind. I LOVE raspberries. Raspberries and chocolate make a fabulous combination, but that is another matter...
For the pastry -
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
100g cold unsalted butter, diced (it MUST be cold)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
Briefly blend the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Lightly mix the egg and water and add to the food processor while the motor is running. As soon as the dough begins to form a ball stop the motor. Turn the dough out on to a sheet of cling wrap, form a flat disc with the dough, wrap it and put it in the fridge for a minimum of one hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
Roll the dough out between two sheets of baking paper, take one sheet of paper off the dough, lift the remaining sheet of paper with the dough and place it face down over the flan tin. Press the pastry in to the sides of the tin, lift the paper from the pastry and trim the edges. Use the excess to make any repairs, and prick the base of the case all over with a fork. Line the case with foil, fill with pastry weights or rice, and bake for fifteen minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake for a further five minutes. Cool.
For the creme patissiere -
2 cups of milk
1 vanilla bean, split, or one teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup castor sugar
Run a knife along the vanilla bean so that it is split all the way along. Place the milk and the bean in a medium saucepan and heat until just before boiling. Remove vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and add them to the milk.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl beat egg yolks with sugar and cornflour until thick. Pour in milk and whisk until smooth. Return mixture to the rinsed-out saucepan and stir continuously over a medium heat until it has thickened, is smooth and is boiling, paying particular attention to the bottom of the saucepan to make sure that the mixture doesn't burn. Take the mixture off the heat and whisk vigorously for one minute to ensure that the mixture is smooth. Place baking paper or cling wrap over the creme to prevent it from forming a skin. Cool. The creme may need an extra whisk before using depending on how long it sits.
To assemble -
500g strawberries, hulled and halved
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
4 tablespoons warm water
Fill the cooled pastry case with the killed Creme Patissiere. Level the surface with an offset spatula, or a spoon. Starting at the centre of the tart, place the strawberries face down in concentric circles, moving outwards.
To make the glaze combine the jam and the warm water and pass through a strainer to remove the lumps. Brush the glaze on to the strawberries using a pastry brush. Leave to set for a few minutes. Serve.
Note - I believe that this tart benefits from some chilling time before serving as it firms it up a tad. My husband prefers it unchilled and a little less firm (just like he likes his women ;-)). Do with it what you will!