Wednesday, May 04, 2005

mmm...mmm! Strawberries n Cream!

Pastry cream that is!

Over the weekend, I was playing at being a Pâtissier again - this time turning out something a bit more sophisticated than bar cookies and brownies. Clearly I need to work on my crust shaping, and a proper tart pan would help. Ah well.

In any case, this is a lovely fresh fruit tart, featuring strawberries - I usually make up enough dough to do a full sized tart, though I split it into 4 small portions, fit them into disposable pie-pans and keep them in the freezer...all the better to make tarts on demand! I personally would like to play around with using whole vanilla beans to infuse their flavor into the pastry cream at some point, but I suspect the little black seeds would detract from the presentation...but then again, the pastry cream is covered with perhaps it wouldn't matter....

In any case, for those who are interested, the recipe follows.

Fresh Fruit Tart with Pastry Cream
Pastry Cream:
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar (3.5 ounces)
1 Pinch salt
5 large egg yolks, chalazae removed
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
5 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Sweet Tart Pastry (Pâte Sucrée) , cooled to room temperature:
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6.25 ounces)
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar (3 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2-inch cubes
Fruit and Glaze:
Fruit, washed and dried thoroughly
1/2 cup red currant or apple jelly

Assemble the Crust:
Whisk together yolk, cream, and vanilla in small bowl; set aside. Pulse to combine flour, sugar, and salt in bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; pulse to cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. With machine running, add egg mixture and process until dough just comes together, about 25 seconds. Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and press into 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 48 hours.

Remove dough from refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable). Unwrap and roll out between lightly floured large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 13-inch round. (If dough is soft and sticky, slip onto baking sheet and refrigerate until workable, 20 to 30 minutes.) Transfer dough to tart pan by rolling dough loosely around rolling pin and unrolling over 9- to 9 1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Working around circumference of pan, ease dough into pan corners by gently lifting dough with one hand while pressing dough into corners with other hand. Press dough into fluted sides of pan. (If some edges are too thin, reinforce sides by folding excess dough back on itself.) Run rolling pin over top of tart pan to remove excess dough. Set dough-lined tart pan on large plate and freeze 30 minutes. (The dough-lined tart pan can be sealed in a gallon-sized zipper-lock plastic bag and frozen up to 1 month.)

Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Set dough-lined tart pan on baking sheet, press 12-inch square of foil inside frozen tart shell and over edge, and fill with metal or ceramic pie weights. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and carefully remove foil and weights by gathering edges of foil and pulling up and out. Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Set baking sheet with tart shell on wire rack to cool.

Tips for Managing the Crust:
If the dough becomes soft and sticky while rolling, rechill it until it becomes easier to work with. Better to rechill than to add too much flour, which will damage the delicate, crisp texture of the dough.

Prepare the Pastry Cream:
Heat half-and-half, 6 tablespoons sugar, and salt in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.

Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until sugar has begun to dissolve and mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in cornstarch until combined and mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.

When half-and-half mixture reaches full simmer, gradually whisk simmering half-and-half into yolk mixture to temper. Return mixture to saucepan, scraping bowl with rubber spatula; return to simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until 3 or 4 bubbles burst on surface and mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla.

Transfer mixture to medium bowl, press plastic wrap directly on surface, and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Assemble and glaze the tart:
Spread cold pastry cream over bottom of tart shell, using offset spatula or large spoon. Arrange fruit (whole or sliced) on top of pastry cream.

Bring jelly to boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to smooth out lumps. When boiling and completely melted, apply by dabbing and flicking onto fruit with pastry brush; add 1 teaspoon water and return jelly to boil if it becomes too thick to drizzle.

To serve: Remove outer metal ring of tart pan, slide thin metal spatula between bottom of crust and tart pan bottom to release, then slip tart onto cardboard round or serving platter.

Random comments from the peanut gallery (that's me!): If I am making a full sized tart or a tart that won't be eaten immediately, I usually coat the inside of the tart shell with some high quality chocolate. This prevents the shell from absorbing moisture from the pastry cream.