Strawberry tart is one of the first thing I learned how to make by watching my mom work her magic in the kitchen when I was a little kid but it’s only a few years later in cooking school that I realized the important techniques at work. Every step of the way from making a good pâte sucrée, to knowing when and how to roll it, how long to bake it, making the right kind of crème pâtissière, picking the right fruits and the whole aesthetic aspect of it are important to make this simple-looking tart a success. And it has to look good. We eat with our eyes first, don’t we?
The techniques involved in making a strawberry tart are so important in fact that I was asked to make one in front of judges as part of my cooking exams in Paris. It’s one of those recipes they love to test the candidates on because of the number of things that can go wrong, in which case they judge the student’s ability to troubleshoot his own mistakes. I nearly passed out when another student took my dough by mistake and I was left with a soft, unworkable mess instead. I practiced CPR and rescued it – somehow.
I like to garnish this tart with strawberry marshmallows, because it’s fun, it’s looks good, and it adds another element of surprise. This is the recipe I use. Follow it to the letter for the best results.
- Serves 8
For the pâte sucrée (enough for 2 tarts):
- 2 3/4 cups + 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
- a large pinch of salt
For the crème pâtissière:
- 3 cups milk
- 2 vanilla beans
- 8 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
For the topping:
- 2 pints strawberries
- apricot jam for glazing
- strawberry marshmallows
- fresh mint leaves
For the tart crust:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook sift together the flour, sugar and salt.
- Scatter around the cold butter chunks on top of the flour and combine on medium speed until you have a coarse meal. Meanwhile, stir the yolks and cream together in a small bowl. Add it to the mixture and mix until it forms a dough.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least for an hour.
- When ready, line a greased 9 inch tart ring with half the dough and chill for 30 minutes. Keep the rest for another use.
- Preheat oven to 375′F. Line the dough with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights, dry rice or beans.
- Bake for 15 minutes then remove the aluminum + weights and return the tart to the oven for 15 minutes more, or until golden brown.
- Let the tart shell cool on a rack.
For the crème pâtissière:
- Split the vanilla beans in half and scrap the beans, combine the beans and the pods with the milk in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar until light colored, then whisk in the cornstarch.
- Slowly pour the hot milk over the egg mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat until it thickens and starts boiling. Discard the vanilla beans (or use to make vanilla sugar).
- Cool the mixture on ice. Lay a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the pastry cream. When just warm, whisk in the butter until fully incorporated. Cool completely.
- The pastry cream will get quite firm. Before filling the tart, process it in a Kitchenaid to obtain the right creamy consistency.
For the strawberry topping:
- Process the pastry cream in a food processor to get the right consistency. Fill the tart shell with it and smooth the top.
- Clean and cut the strawberries in halves. Arrange them on the pastry cream. Meanwhile, melt some apricot jam with a little water in a small saucepan until you obtain a syrupy consistency. Glaze the strawberries with this syrup and garnish the top with strawberry marshmallows and fresh mint leaves.