Strawberries are at their prime in Spring and Summer and since they’re my favorite berry, I love buying them in abundance and using them in myriads of ways.
I’ve filled them with ganache, crowded them into a cake, and layered them neatly in between clouds of whipped cream and shortcake, but up until recently, I’d never made a tart.
This recipe is practically perfect in all aspects- the crust is buttery, crumbly and sweet, the pastry cream is filled with vanilla flavor, and the strawberries are served simply on top, without any added sugar.
It does take time to make and assemble, but it’s definitely worth it in the end, (I plan on making this again soon!) and makes for a showstopping dessert/centerpiece*.
*We served this at our Spring Fete, and it was gone within an hour.
Yield: 1 tart
Why I love this recipe: a classic creme patisserie elevated with vanilla bean is the best way to showcase fresh strawberries: the strawberries retain a little tartness and the pastry cream adds smooth, luxurious sweetness. The tart crust is buttery and crumbly thanks to ground almonds, and highlights the simplicity of the cream and fruit.
For the tart dough:
- 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- Lightly packed 1/2 cup ground blanched almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
For the pastry cream and toppings:
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 moist, plump vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3-4 cups fresh, washed strawberries.
- To make the dough: Place the butter in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until creamy. Add the confectioners’ sugar and process to blend well.
- Add the ground almonds, salt, and vanilla and continue to process until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary. Lightly stir the eggs together with a fork and, with the machine running, add them to the work bowl; process for a few seconds to blend.
- Finally, add the flour and pulse until the mixture just starts to come together. When the dough starts to form a ball, stop. The dough will be very soft.
- Gather the dough into a ball and divide it into 3 pieces. Gently press each piece into a disk and wrap each disk in plastic. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, before rolling and baking. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for a month.)
- Butter the right-sized tart pan and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Roll it out between sheets of plastic wrap. Flatten a large piece of plastic wrap against the counter and roll the dough between that and another piece of plastic. Turn the dough over often so that you can roll it out on both sides, and as you’re rolling, make sure to lift the sheets of plastic several times so that they don’t crease and get rolled into the dough.
- Remove one sheet of the plastic and center the dough (exposed side down) over the tart pan. Press the dough against the bottom of the pan and up the sides, removed the top sheet of plastic wrap and roll your rolling pin across the rim of the pan to cut off the excess.
- Chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. When you are ready to bake the crust, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the crust with a circle of foil and fill with dried beans or rice. Bake the crust for 20 to 25 minutes, or just until very lightly colored. When done, take out the tart, remove the parchment and beans and bake the crust for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden. Transfer to a rack to cool.
- To make the pastry cream: 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. (If you’re using vanilla extract, just bring the milk to a boil and proceed 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 stop, 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 butter into chunks (add vanilla extract, if using) and stir the chunks into the hot pastry cream, continuing to stir until the butter is melted and incorporated. Now, thoroughly chill the cream by either setting 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.
- To put together: spread the pastry cream on the bottom of the tart shell and arrange strawberries in a decorative pattern on top.