Fresh Strawberry Tarts

 

Early Saturday morning, my Dad picked me up at my apartment with plans to hit the farmer’s market, breakfast, and then strawberry picking.  Since the spring/summer harvesting season has just begun, and thus few vendors were going to be at the market yesterday, we quickly scrapped that particular aspect of the itinerary – in favor of breakfast.

When in doubt, choose the option that requires eating.

 

 

Stomachs full of fried eggs, hash browns, and sausage, we made the trip across town and into the country.

As the last vestiges of city fell away, duplexes stretched their legs and metamorphosed into farm houses, complete with wrap-around porches and tractors on the front lawn; squat, top-heavy, palest-gold wheat sprung from what is surely to be the future homes of parking lots, and reached for the sun.

The farther from the city that we drove, I couldn’t help but think of how much I enjoy the country.  It seems a little trite to wax poetic about how “peaceful” the country feels, but I find myself searching for a more fitting, less prosaic, phrase.  For the country, to this city girl, is Peaceful.

 

 

Now granted, I’m not a farmer.  I can barely keep herbs alive.  {I’ve killed two thyme plants this month alone}  I wouldn’t know what to do with a tractor if Fed Ex delivered one tomorrow.  And let’s be honest.  Bugs?  Bees? Spiders?!  No thanks.   Worms and lady bugs are cool with me.  But anything more serious than that…oh, man, I’m looking for the nearest exit and a nice, long, soapy shower.

But still, to me, the country is Peaceful.  It may be as simple as the lack of city-related pollution, but it just feels fresh, deep down, fresh.  The air is sweeter and the colors are more vibrant.  I swear, twenty miles north is another country.  The only automobile in sight for an hour and a half was the tractor that we rode out to the field.  I never looked at my phone once.

An old dog hitching rides to and from the field.  Kids running between the rows, half-eaten berries lying abandoned a few steps behind, calling out for the dog to come play.  And strawberries.  Rows, and rows, of strawberries.

 

 

I don’t really remember being one of those kids who relished getting dirty.  Perhaps I was and I’ve since erased that period(s) of my life from my memory.  I do remember a sandbox in my backyard that received a respectable amount of attention and a few flower planting occurrences with my parents and grandparents, but beyond that, nothing.

I know now, as an adult, I’m not a dirt’s biggest fan.  How I ever survived the Peace Corps is beyond me.  I wash my hands at the slightest indication of grit or stick.  I certainly try to avoid any activity that could lead to excess sweating.  I’ve never been truly camping.  The last time I fished was with my Grandfather in elementary school.  Horses terrify me.

I don’t really do “nature.”

 

 

But for some unknown reason, I love the country.  I wish I was the type of person who could seriously do the country.  But I’m a city girl through and through and must settle for the occasional, romanticized excursion into The Country and imagine all that could be.

In some other life I’m a country girl – driving a tractor, raising chickens, pulling weeds.  Somewhere, I’m sure, there would be a barn cat who had kittens, and a dog who loved playing with them all.  I’d finally learn to sew and go to bed early and wake up even earlier.  I’d work hard and I’d sweat.

And eat strawberries.  Lots, and lots, of strawberries.

 

 

Strawberry Tarts with Pastry Cream
The pâté sablée and pastry cream are from Tartine
makes 12 small tartlets

The great thing about this recipe is that all three of the components, the pâté sablée tartlet cups, vanilla pastry cream, and strawberries, can be completed individually at separate times.  The pâté sablée will keep, frozen, for a several weeks; while you can’t freeze the pastry cream, it can keep up to five days in the refrigerator;  and the strawberries will still be good, if kept unwashed and refrigerated, for a couple days.

So, this recipe, which seems daunting and complex at the start, can be spread over several days and finished in as little as a half hour.  And when you have guests over, you don’t really want to spend the entire time in the kitchen cooking pastry cream or rolling dough.

12 pâté sablée tart cups, see below
1 batch pastry cream, see below
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1/4 cup warm honey

Fill the pâté sablée cups with 2 Tablespoons pastry cream and top with the sliced strawberries.  Drizzle with warm honey and serve immediately.

 

Pâté Sablée
1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, room temperature
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Fit a stand mixer with a the paddle attachment and combine the butter, sugar, and salt and mix on medium until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and mix in the egg until combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl again.  On low, mix in all the flour until just incorporated.

On a lightly flour surface, turn out the dough and shape into a disk.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

Roll out the dough (in batches, if needed) on a lightly floured surface and, using the tins as a guide, cut circles one or two inches larger than the tin to allow for dough to come up the sides.  Carefully place the circles on top of the tin.  Ease the dough into the tins by lifting it and allowing the dough to settle to the bottom and along the sides, lightly pressing it into place.  Do not stretch the dough, or else it will shrink during cooking.  If any tears appear, simply patch them with excess dough.  Refrigerate 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F with the rack in the middle of the oven.

Using a fork, make small holes in the bottoms of the tartlet shells 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tartlets are lightly golden brown, rotating the trays halfway.

Let cool completely on a wire rack.

 

Pastry Cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon salt
1.5 to 2 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 cup +1/2 Tablespoon sugar
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Have a bowl ready with a fine-mesh strainer to cool the pastry cream.

Begin by pouring the milk in a heavy saucepan.  Split the vanilla bean half lengthwise and with the tip of a sharp knife, scrape the seeds from the pod and add to the milk.  Add the salt and heat over medium-high until just under a boil, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and egg and whisk until smooth.

When the milk is ready, slowly whisk 1/3 of the milk into the egg mixture, whisking continually.  Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk, whisking over medium heat until the custard has thickened to the same consistency of lightly whipped cream.   In order for the cornstarch to thicken properly, the mixture must come to just the boiling point – allowing a few small bubbles, but you must not allow it to boil vigorously, as the egg will cause it to curdle.

When the custard has reached the right consistency, remove it from the heat and pass it through the fine-mesh strainer.   Let cool 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that a skin does not form.

Whisk in 1 Tablespoon of the butter until smooth before adding the second Tablespoon.

Cool completely before using.

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2 Comments

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  1. I’m waiting for strawberries to finally be in season. Strawberries are the ultimate summer fruit and when you pick them yourself, they taste so much better than from the store! Your tartelettes look delicious.

    Nadja

    Like

    • Thanks! I’m nowhere near ashamed to say that I totally ate two right after I ate them and practically inhaled some nearly soggy ones the next morning!

      I’m excited for peach season so I can pick some peaches 🙂

      Like

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