Whenever anyone asks me “Do you miss living in France”, I immediately responded with an “of course I do, I’d move there permanently if I could”.
Between the language, the lifestyle, the daily celebration of food and wine, the local markets and vendors, the wine guy who greets you excitedly every day (oops, did I just admit that I bought wine almost every day?!), and the espresso (that also became a 3x a day habit while in France)…I miss it all.
So, when this month’s “What’s Baking Challenge” was announced – Celebrate Summer – I knew I had to choose something that reminded me of my time in France. It wasn’t a hard choice.
My birthday was 3 days before we moved back to Canada. I had classes during the day, so CH set-out to make my birthday special (which he did, without a doubt). It is odd spending your birthday in another country, where no one can get a hold of you (other than email) and no one knows, except you and your husband, that it’s your special day. But, I didn’t mind and as I said above, I do have the best husband in the world and he made it very special. I came home from classes to an apartment decorated with home-made streamers. CH apparently went around trying to find balloons, in every floral shop in town, but it was to no avail. So, he bought wrapping paper, cut it into strips, and hung them all around our apartment. Better than balloons, I’d say.
As soon as I walked in the door, CH announced that he had bought me a birthday cake to enjoy down by the river (along with a bottle of champagne). So, with this proud smile, CH tells me to guess what kind of cake he bought me, because it was my favourite. So, I responded “a croquembouche?!”. He responds, “okay, well your second favourite”, to which I responded, “angel food cake?!”. He responds, “okay, your third favourite”, to which I responded “cheesecake?!”. And, again, he says…”okay, your fourth favourite”, to which I responded “Dairy Queen ice cream cake?!”. With a slightly defeated smile, “he goes, okay forget it….I bought you a strawberry tart (or tarte aux fraises), from our favourite place”.
I smiled, laughed, and off we went to enjoy my apparent fifth favourite “cake”.
CH did have validity in choosing a tarte aux fraise for my birthday “cake”. We spent the entire summer in France going from bakery to bakery, trying these gorgeous, perfect desserts, that looked like pieces of art. We established our base favourite at a place in the market (and the one that was never beaten!), and tried to top it. When my parents came to visit, they were even greeted their first evening with this magnificent tarte aux fraise, and raved about it thereafter.
So, I know that was a long winded story, but you can now see why I choose to share this piece of my summer with you. These tarts will, without a doubt, forever remind me of my summer in France, enjoying the perfect balance of a buttery, flaky crust, a deliciously sweet pastry cream, all topped with the best of the season strawberries.
One look and bite of this dessert, and I am back where my heart belongs, France.
Tarte aux Fraises (Strawberry Tart)
Yield: 1 large tart or 6 small tarts
1 fully baked sweet tart shell (recipe below)
1 batch pastry cream (recipe below)
1 lb strawberries, washed and sliced
Ingredients – Sweet Tart Dough
(Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours)
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
0.5 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4.5 ounces (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
Small amount of melted butter, for greasing the tart pan
Directions – Sweet Tart Dough
Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.
Add in the diced pieces of cold butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is incorporated, and you have pieces of dough the size of small peas.
In a small bowl, break the yolk and whisk slightly. Add the yolk to the food processor, a little at a time, pulsing briefly after each addition.
When the entire egg yolk has been added in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough forms clumps and curds. Generally about 4 – 5 times.
If the dough is too dry and does not come together, add ice cold water, 1 tbsp at a time, until you can pinch the dough together without it sticking to your fingers.
Note – you can also do this by hand by placing the ingredients into a large bowl and cutting the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter and then mix in the egg with a fork.
Once the dough has formed a loose clump, turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
Press the dough into a buttered a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or six 4-inch fluted tart pans, with removable bottoms – also buttered.
Using the press method, you can work with the dough as soon as it’s processed. Split the dough into 6 balls (if you are doing individual tarts), and press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Be gentle and press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but don’t press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.
Pierce the bottom of each shell with a fork four or five times.
Place the pie shells into the freezer, and freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
~ Baking ~
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Note – Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.)
Place the tart shells on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes for one large tart, or about 15 minutes for the smaller tarts.
Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon (or prick it with the tip of a small knife).
Bake the crust, uncovered, for an additional 8 minutes or so, or until the crust is firm and golden brown. Keep an eye on them, they brown quickly!
Transfer the tart(s) to a cooling rack and allow the crust to cool to room temperature.
Ingredients – Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
Directions – Pastry Cream
In a medium sized saucepan, add the milk and the salt. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. (Note – just under a boil means that you will begin to see very small bubbles forming)
Meanwhile, in a medium sized glass bowl, whisk together the sugar and the cornstarch. Add the eggs to the mixture and whisk until smooth.
When the milk has reached the appropriate temperature, remove about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture and add it into the egg and sugar mixture, being careful to whisk continuously (note – you are tempering the egg mixture, to ensure that you don’t scramble the eggs).
Pour the entire tempered egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan with the hot milk.
Continue whisking the mixture, over medium-low heat, until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 – 3 minutes and until the custard has reached a light light boil (be sure to keep an eye on it, over-cooking it will cause the mixture to curdle).
Once thickened, remove the mixture from the heat and immediately pour it through a sieve into a the glass bowl and add in the vanilla extract. Whisk well to combine.
Let the mixture cool on the counter for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
After about 10 minutes, add the butter to the custard, 1 tbsp at a time, whisking until smooth.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Place the mixture into refrigerator to cool completely.
Place the cooled tart shell onto a serving platter (or small plates for the individual tarts). Spoon in the pastry cream, and assemble the sliced strawberries as you please. You can also forego slicing them, and just halve them and place on-top. It’s however you feel like decorating them.
Serve immediately, or place in the fridge until ready to serve. I would keep them no more than overnight in the fridge, otherwise the crust will go soggy.
Recipe from Confessions of a Tart (and individual recipes noted above).