Wednesday, June 27, 2012


One of my favorite things about summer is all the seasonal fruit--cherries, watermelon, varieties of berries.  The local weekend farmers market has stands with crates full of strawberries, and I love seeing the rows of baskets filled with those plump red, juicy, pointy berries with crowns of green leaves.  They look so inviting and striking, calling out to be bought and consumed.  On my last trip to the farmer's market, I decided to make a dessert out of them, so I got three baskets and was happily on my home to make something fabulous out of them.

Flipping through some cookbooks at home, the strawberry tart with custard caught my attention.  After all, nothing says summer like a strawberry tart.  I used the pastry dough (pate brisee) recipe from the Joy of Baking, which I've tried before, and decided on the custard recipe from the Bouchon cookbook.  After preparing the pastry dough, and during the chill time, I went to work on the custard.  

I noticed that the custard recipe called for what seemed like an excessive amount of corn starch (1/4 cup for a recipe that yields 2 cups of custard), but entirely trusting Thomas Keller, I followed the directions anyway.  The last time I tried a Bouchon recipe, it turned out pretty splendid, so there was no other reason to doubt this one.  I think I should have trusted my instincts--or maybe it was my own error, I'm not sure.  The custard thickened quickly and became gelatinous.  I think a custard should be smooth and creamy, but it could also be a matter of personal preference.

Though my friends thought it was good (maybe they were being nice), I personally could not get over the texture and was disappointed with the results.  Once assembled, the strawberry tart came together just fine--the strawberries and crust covering up the slightly odd texture for custard, but I still felt something creamier would complement the strawberries better than the kind of milky jello custard.  For that reason, I'm only providing the recipe for the pate brisee.  Once I figure out the custard, I'll post the recipe.

Pate Brisee
Makes enough for two 9" inch tarts

1.  In a bowl, sift together:
- 2-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 t. salt
- 1 T. sugar

2.  Using a pastry blender, blend in the following until the mixture has a coarse meal texture:
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut in 1" pieces

3.  Add about 1/4 cup ice water, and turn the dough using your hands to incorporate the water.  Form the pastry dough into a ball.  

4.  Divide the ball of dough in half and shape into 5" disks.  Wrap each of them in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, until ready for use.  The dough can also be frozen for about a month.

5.  When ready to bake, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface.  Continually lift and rotate the dough to prevent it from sticking to the surface.  When it reaches a size large enough to cover a 9" tart pan, gently roll the pastry around the rolling pin, then unroll the pastry over the tart pan.  Gently press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan.

6.  Place the tart pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  During this time, preheat the oven to  350F degrees.  Bake the pastry shell for about 20 minutes or until light golden brown.

7.  For the strawberry tart, allow the pastry shell to cool.  Fill the shell with a layer of custard, then assemble the strawberries (which have been hulled) in a circular pattern, starting in the center of the tart.  Use strawberries cut in half to fill in gaps.  Chill before serving. 

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