Sunday, June 3, 2012

Learning Experience - Strawberry Orange Tart

I have a love-hate relationship with cornstarch.  On one hand, it can help thicken a creamy pudding, or substitute for cake flour.  On the other, it's grainy when overcooked and grainy when undercooked, and I can't quite tell the difference between the two types of grainy.  Luckily, I found out in this pastry cream that 1) grainy pastry cream is less noticeable partnered with sweet tart crust and soft strawberries and 2) the graininess actually seems to dissolve after a day in the refrigerator.  Still, cornstarch is something I will play with cautiously.  

The other components of this dessert, however, seemed to work.  I borrowed Smitten Kitchen's Great Unshrinkable Sweet Tart Shell recipe, which requires close attention to detail.  And a food processor, which I do not have.  The foil that lines the inside of the crust must be pressed a little bit into the frozen crust in order for the crust side not to collapse, but where I did manage it, the crust was perfectly browned and sturdy.  This is another point about the crust; I actually prefer the folding method from Chez Pim's One Pie Dough to Rule Them All.  Although the Unshrinkable is sweet and sturdy, it leans towards cookie territory when I make it.  Next time, I would use the Unshrinkable recipe and the Lord of Pie (I love LOTR so much...) method, which is similar to puff pastry.  I have essentially tossed both recipes in a bowl and folded until they're evenly blended, and splashed in some metaphorical vanilla, to boot.

The strawberries, although oddly huge, were delightful.  Organic, sweet, flavorful from the farmer's market, the sugar was almost unnecessary.  I liked this, though, because the maceration resulted in a lovely strawberry syrup that worked its way into a lemon-orange cream later along the way. 

The pastry cream recipe was from Dessert First's beautiful strawberry tarts.  Aside from the cornstarch fiasco (my own curse....), it was delicious, and the perfect base for a touch of orange zest, which I strained out before cooling it for the tart.  I made about ¾ the recipe, which was about perfect.  I still have issues with pastry cream, curd and generally custard-like items being runny, but I think I just have issues with sweet items cooked on the stove.  Caramel, I can do.  Ice cream custards, just fine.  Anything else... shall we say, a work in progress...

Fresh strawberries, indulgent pastry cream, crisp pastry!

Strawberry-Orange Tart adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Chez Pim and Dessert First
Makes 1 9" or 10" round tart

Tart Crust adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Chez Pim

1½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick + 1 tablespoon) cold butter (salted or unsalted, your choice)
1 egg (I use large)
Egg white for glazing (optional)

1 large mixing bowl
1 butter knife
OR 1 food processor (I don't have one)
¼ teaspoon measure
¼ cup dry measure
½ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure (optional if you can count to 3)
A refrigerator and a freezer
Hard, flat surface for the dough + rolling pin (optional)
9" or 10" round tart pan + aluminum foil to wrap the inside of the crust
Butter to grease the pan and foil 
Fork to prick the crust
Pastry brush or small spoon to glaze (optional)


1. Cut the butter into small pieces and put back in the fridge.  In the large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt.  Toss in the butter pieces and quickly rub into the dry ingredients until you have large flakes of butter, about the size of beans.  Crack the egg directly into the bowl and mix quickly, until the dough is vaguely cohesive.  Wrap the stuff in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the pastry cream.

If you have a food processor, lucky you!  Toss the butter and dry ingredients and whiz until you have chunks of butter the size of beans.  Add the egg and whiz a little more, until the dough is vaguely cohesive.  Wrap and refrigerate and proceed as usual.

2. Butter the tart pan.  Take the dough out and fold it in thirds.  Roll it out or press it down with your hand, then fold it in thirds the other way.  Pim has a great set of instructions and photos here.  If the dough becomes too soft at any point in time, pop it back in the fridge for about 30 minutes or so.  Once the dough is cohesive, roll it out or gently press it into the tart pan, prick it several times with a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes.  The dough can keep for several days (possibly weeks, actually) in the freezer if wrapped well.  

3. Just before you take out the frozen dough, butter the foil.  Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Press the foil on top of the frozen dough, making sure to touch every bit of the tart crust.  The foil against the crust will work its magic, keeping the crust from falling down as it bakes.  Put it back in the freezer until the oven is at 375°F.  

4. Bake at 375°F for about 15 minutes.  At this point, remove the foil and continue to bake for another 5-10 minutes, or golden brown.  If you like, when the crust is done, you can brush the hot crust with egg white to help seal it and prevent it from getting soggy when it is filled.  

The white bits are the cooked egg white, but you actually don't notice the
egg once the tart is filled.  Except that the crust is perfectly crisp :)
Orange Pastry Cream adapted from Dessert First
Makes about 1 cup or so of pastry cream (enough for a thin layer in the tart)

¾ cup whole milk (I used ½ nonfat, ½ evaporated.  We're a strange family :))
3 tablespoons sugar
Small pinch salt
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cornstarch 
3 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla
Zest from 1 orange (more or less) 

1 small saucepan
1 rubber spatula
2-cup liquid measure
½ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure
1 tablespoon measure
1 small mixing bowl
Plastic wrap to cover the bowl 


1. In the saucepan on medium-low heat, heat the milk until it steams, stirring most of the time.  Meanwhile, in the 2-cup liquid measure, mix together the egg yolks, sugar, salt and cornstarch.  Once the milk is steaming, pour a little into the egg yolks and mix.  Pour in a little more and mix, then pour the whole egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Yay, you have tempered eggs!

2. Take the custard off the heat.  Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix thoroughly.  Allow to steep until around room temperature.  This will take a while.  Go finish and bake the pastry crust, then mix the strawberries and do your laundry or clean the kitchen (not at the same time!) while you wait for both the pastry crust to chill and the pastry cream to cool. 

3. Strain the cooled custard into the bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge until cold, around an hour or so.  

Macerated Strawberries
Makes, well, as many strawberries as you put in

15 (about 2 cups) massive strawberries, sliced (more if you have normal strawberries)
1 tablespoon sugar

1 large mixing bowl
1 tablespoon measure
1 rubber spatula


1. Toss the strawberry slices with the sugar.  Allow to sit.  Sneak one, they're tasty :)

Some Assembly Required

Flat surface for serving (I used a nice wooden cutting board)
Metal spatula or knife for spreading pastry cream

Spread the pastry cream in the tart shell.  Arrange the strawberry slices on top.  If you like, take an extra strawberry with the stem still on it, carefully slice not quite all the way through it several times, and gently fan it out to be a strawberry flower.  You can also sprinkle some white chocolate flakes on top for garnish.  Enjoy!


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