Tuesday, May 26, 2009

'Tis the season!

No, not the Christmas season...it's berry season! Strawberries first and before too long I'll be off picking blackberries...I just love it. The sweet treat possibilities are practically endless. I've been stopping at the little berry farm sandwiched in a little field near my parent's house every few days for strawberries. Cheap, perfectly ripe and so delicious!
Break from the berries for just a second -- sorry it's been a while. I was doing so good at keeping my goal of one post a week. If you know me, you understand why. I do have 3 other Sista's out there, but they're really busy too!

Enough about that. Back to berries.

Yesterday for my sister's birthday I got some of her favorite girlfriends together for lunch and, of course, we needed a sweet birthday treat. I knew I couldn't go wrong as long as this birthday dessert lacked bananas, hazelnuts or pine nuts -- three of my sister's least favorites. But I knew strawberries would be a sure success.
I'm actually pretty proud of this one because I took ideas from a couple of different recipes (here and here) and added in a few things of my own. (Those are noted in red.)
I didn't have a 9-inch tart pan (although I do now...thank you Sur La Table) so I gambled and used my 9-inch springform instead. I'm sure a pie plate would work well too if you're in a pinch. The springform didn't have those cute scalloped edges like the tart pan, but still looked pretty good and worked fine.
ANYWAY, the end result was really delicious and a success. It was my first tart, but definitely not the last!
Sweet Cookie Crust
Adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible

Don't panic if you don't have a food processor! Just make the crust however you'd traditionally make a pie crust.
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 scant cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Place butter and sugar in a food processor. Pulse about 15 times until sugar disappears. Add flour and salt and pulse again about 15 times until butter is no larger than small peas.

Stir together egg yolk, almond extract and cream. Add to the food processor and pulse about 8 times, or until ingredients are incorporated.

Transfer dough to a large piece of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap, knead the dough a few times until it becomes one smooth piece. Flatten into a 6-inch disc. Wrap well and refrigerate for 30 minutes or freeze for 10 minutes until firm enough to put into the tart pan.

Roll dough between sheets of plastic wrap into an 1/8-inch-thick circle. Work quickly so that dough does not soften. If it becomes too soft, place it (in the plastic wrap) on a baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Remove top sheet of plastic wrap. For a 9 & 1/2- by 1-inch tart pan, cut dough to an 11-inch circle. Lift the dough using the plastic wrap. Invert the dough and drape it evenly into the tart pan. Remove plastic wrap and press dough into the sides of the pan. The dough should come about 1/8 inch above the rim of the pan because it will fall during baking.

Bake at 425° for 5 minutes. When the dough starts to puff, prick it lightly with a fork. Then bake at 375° for 10-15 minutes.

Baked crust will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Pastry Cream

1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 moist, plump vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used a vanilla bean -- for the first time.)
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

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.

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.

Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously and without stopping, 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.

Cut the 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.)

Now for the assembly!

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

This was my addition:
1/8 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan bring whipping cream to a boil. Remove pot from heat and add chocolate chips. Allow it to sit for a few minutes and then stir. It should be pretty thick. Add in vanilla. Spread a layer of chocolate on the bottom of the crust. A small off-set spatula works great for this! Refrigerate (or if you're in a hurry like me put it in the freezer!) until slightly set.

Shortly before you are ready to serve the tart, spread the pastry cream on top of the chocolate and arrange the strawberries over the top.

I PROMISE this is NOT a lot of work. I did the crust 2 days before and put it in the freezer and I did the pastry cream the day before. When it was finally time, the assembly was a piece of cake...I mean tart!

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