Tarte aux Fraises
My mother made Tarte aux Fraises at every possible opportunity. The minute strawberries hit the shops - when I was a child very much a seasonal thing - she would be there.
She believed passionately (as do I) in the institution of afternoon tea and took it to great lengths. It wouldn’t have been unusual for her to make close to a dozen different cakes for a Sunday afternoon family reunion.
Before you throw your arms up in horror, in true French style, I don’t think she was ever more than a size 8 but for nothing on earth, would she (would I), give up her sweet tooth.
This is not the standard sweet pastry recipe – it’s a much better one, as used by proper French patissier, more buttery, uses no water hence avoids shrinkage. If you can get hold of a pastry circle, instead of the usual fluted tart tin, you will give the tart a straight edged look that’s right on the money.
Serves 6 – 8
Start the pastry at least 24 hours before you’ll need to use it.
1 pastry circle 22 cm
Loose bottomed tart tin
95g icing sugar
150g butter, softened
30g ground almonds
250g plain flour, sifted
½ an egg beaten with a tablespoon of cream
Place the icing sugar and softened in the bowl of a food processor and process to make a creamy, soft paste.
Add the egg and process again to incorporate.
Stream the ground almonds, the sifted flour and salt through the feed tube and pulse a few times to incorporate.
You will have a very soft “paste” or pastry dough.
Transfer to a sheet of baking parchment or a large piece of cling film, large enough to fold over the dough and flatten it with the palm of your hand to make a rough disc of the pastry.
Place this in the freezer for at least 4 hours, or in the fridge overnight, longer even, if you can.
The next day, remove from fridge/freezer and as soon as it’s defrosted, roll the pastry out between the layers of cling film or parchment paper, Use a knife to cut the circle and the pastry circle as a guide. Pastry should be about 2 cm wider than pastry circle or tin.
Make sure it’s no thicker than a couple of milimetres.
Lift carefully with a rolling pin and line the tin or pastry circle with it, bottom and sides.
Press pastry into the sides and level with a sharp knife.
If you follow the resting times, you won’t need to line the pastry with paper, prick it with a fork, or fill it with pastry beans.
Now carefully s lide the pastry lined tin onto a tray and return it to the fridge, or even freezer for at least another 4 hours.
Then bake in an oven preheated to 180C for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven, allow to cool, then brush with the egg wash and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Pastry can be quite dark and the egg wash will seal the surface, so it won’t go soggy when you add the crème patissiere to it.
For the crême patissiére
250 ml whole milk, divided
60g caster sugar, divided
½ vanilla bean, scraped out
2 egg yolks
In a bowl, add the two egg yolks, 50 ml milk and 50g caster sugar and whisk well to combine. Then add both the flour and cornflour. Whisk again till incorporated and smooth and set aside.
In a saucepan, add 200ml of the whole milk, 20g of unsalted butter, 10g of caster sugar and the scraped out vanilla bean. Place over a medium heat and stir continuously till milk just starts to steam.
Now slowly whisk the hot milk mix into the egg mixture.
Wash out the saucepan, so there is no film of milk left at the bottom and return the combined milk and egg mixture to it.
Return to a medium heat and whisk until the mixture just comes to the boil – a couple of big bubbles will break the surface - and thickens, which will take about 6 – 7 minutes. Make sure to keep stirring hard, right into the edges and corners of the pan, to prevent burning or sticking and to make sure it is perfectly smooth.
Should you have had trouble keeping it smooth and lump free, blitz it for a few seconds with a stick blender. Practice will make perfect!
Transfer to a shallow bowl, with a piece of cling film in contact with the surface to stop a skin from forming and chill completely before using.
For the strawberries
500g strawberries, cleaned, tops removed, except for 1 of them, left whole.
Cut thick slices through the middle part of the strawberries and set aside. Use the bits and pieces aside to make the glaze:
For the glaze
Blend all the bits and pieces from the sliced strawberries with a tablespoon of caster sugar and bring to the boil in a small saucepan.
Let cool and carefully brush over the strawberries.
PS If you have some pectin, or can easily get hold of some, add a pinch to the strawberry and sugar as they cook to thicken and stabilize.
Carefully lift the pastry out of its ring by gently pushing your hand under it and transferring to a cake plate.
Fill with the crème patissiére, so it comes almost all the way up to the rim.
Working from the outer edge, start to cover with the strawberry slices, using only the two middle slices of each strawberry and keeping the fat outer cheeks aside to use for the coulis, which will glaze on top. Place at a 45 degree angle.
Keep going till you get to the middle, using the larger slices on the outside and the smaller ones on the inside. Place the whole strawberry in the middle, top side up.
Serve as soon as you can, though you will see that the pastry can keep for several hours without going soggy.