Monday, July 4, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Tart

Sometimes you just need to do something amazing with fresh strawberries, especially when strawberries are in season (as they are this time of year in my neck of the woods).  And what could be more amazing than a fresh strawberry tart, straight out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking?

Honestly, can you think of anything more amazing for your 4th of July picnic?  I can't.

This particular strawberry tart is, I'll admit, a bit on the labor intensive side.  But that's okay.  Here's the process (pardon my paraphrasing).

You'll need to start by making a 10-inch pastry shell, fully baked.  I used the sweet short paste recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which took 1 and 1/3 cups of flour, two tablespoons of granulated sugar, 1/4 a teaspoon of salt, 8 tablespoons (or one stick) of butter plus 3 tablespoons shortening, and 5 to 6 tablespoons of cold water (the colder the better).  Mix the flour, sugar and salt together in a mixing bowl, then add the butter, shortening and water.  I used my hand-dandy Pampered Chef pastry blender to combine everything. Then turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and smear (push out with the heel of your hand) the dough to make a final blending of all the ingredients.  With a well floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 1/8 of an inch thick and about 2 inches larger than your tart pan.  Then carefully mold the dough into the pan, prick the sides and bottom well with a fork, weigh it down with foil filled with dried beans, and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 8 minutes.  Remove the foil and beans and bake for 7 to 10 minutes more, but keep an eye on it so the shell doesn't burn.  It'll be very lightly browned.

You'll want to remove the tart shell from the pan to cool completely on a wire rack so it doesn't get soggy.  Most tart pans, like my Wilton tart pan, have a removable bottom that makes this step much easier.

Once your tart shell is completely cooled, you can move on to the next steps.  First you'll need to wash, dry and hull (take the tops off) of ripe strawberries.  Try to find berries that are all about the same size and have a relatively uniform shape - but if that's not an option, it's not a big deal.  You can let the berries dry on a rack, but I just let them dry and drain on a paper towel and everything was just fine.

While the berries are drying, you can move on to the next step.  You'll need to combine a cup of red currant jelly, two tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of rum, kirsch or cognac in a small saucepan.  Slowly bring the jelly to a boil.  It'll get very smooth and sticky.  Paint the inside of the cooled tart shell with the jelly mixture, using a pastry brush, and let it dry.  This sort of creates a waterproof seal, if you will, and helps keep the shell from getting soggy once the filling is added.  You'll have quite a bit of currant jelly leftover, which is a good thing and you'll see why momentarily.  Just set it aside and realize that you can (and probably will need to) reheat it if it hardens.

Next spread about 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups of custard filling (or crème pâstissière to be more specific) into the tart shell.  (I'll do a post on crème pâstissière another time, it's really easy).  Then arrange the strawberries on top, with your largest berry in the middle, stem ends down.  Then spoon or paint the remaining currant glaze over the top.

Now, the directions suggest serving within an hour of finishing the tart, because even though you've got the shell painted with the currant glaze, the shell can get soggy.  Which it did, since I made this the morning before it was served.

I didn't want to serve up my tart without something else, so I grabbed a half pint of heavy cream and whipped up some whipped cream from scratch, flavoring it with about a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a couple tablespoons of sifted powdered sugar.  Worried that the whipped cream would soften and liquefy, I dabbed mounds of it on a cookie sheet and froze them, which I then could arrange prettily on top of the tart just before serving.

It was a hit! 

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