Monday, June 05, 2006

Mixed Berry Tarts (and no excuses)

I'm just going to avert my eyes and jump right into the recipe, because I can't handle your accusing stares right now. I'm sorry! But I'm not here to make excuses. Look, shiny pretty tart:

Now, since I wrote last I have finally acquired a food processor, and my life in the kitchen has honestly changed. I used it twice the day I bought it, and have used it multiple times a week since then. The best thing about it, so far, is the improvement my pie crusts have seen. People, I have made the perfect pie crust. And lo, it is good.

Along with the fancy food processor I picked up an adorable square tart pan and some exceedingly good vanilla beans. The tart pan inspired some sort of tart mania that has resulted in some very rich creations, and what appears to be a budding pot belly. I've had to take up swimming just to counter the Tart Problem.

The whole reason I was inspired to get on this tart kick was because of these tiny strawberries. I defy anyone that likes strawberries to not freak out a little upon seeing these fingernail-sized specimens. I made my first stab at pastry cream (good, but too thick and gummy in texture), and attempted a pie crust idea that lived in my wee noggin. The crust was fine, it wasn't exactly tender and tasted more like cornbread than I preferred, but it was serviceable and didn't reduce me to tears. Altogether the tart was well received and eaten in approximately 11 minutes by our friends.

But I was not satisfied!

And so, I tried again. This time, I took the pie crust idea in my head and merged it with a recipe from this month's issue of Fine Cooking. The result was magnificent--flaky and crisp with this almost buttermilk flavor that made me swoon. The pastry cream was perfect, too--firm enough to hold up to slicing, but delightfully rich and oozy (and boozy, for that matter). I am still perfecting the measurements for my ground breaking "less fat" chocolate ganache, so you can either use your own recipe or skip it all together. You really can't go wrong.

When I test out a new recipe on people (the first at a Memorial Day party, the second at a gathering of Knoxville food bloggers), I always make some miniatures so that I can test things and make sure they are not poison. For these sweet babies I cut out circles of dough with a large drinking glass and carefully lined a muffin tin with them. To weigh down the crust, you can use a muffin liner and pie weights (I use rice) to good effect. You can make this gorgeous tart with any combination of seasonal berries.

Mixed Berry Tart
with thanks to Fine Cooking magazine

for the crust:

1.75 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornmeal
12 Tbsp chilled butter, cut into chunks
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp milk
2 tsp lemon juice
pinch salt (if you use salted butter, do not add salt)

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until the dough has begun to form big clumps (you want to go past the pea sized clumps and really incorporate the dough). Roll out a large piece of cling wrap and carefully dump the dough out onto it--the dough will seem a little loose and dry. Using your hands, press the dough into a compact patty and chill for 15 minutes.

After removing the dough from the refrigerator, let it sit for a few minutes. You want the dough to be cool, but not so cold that it cracks when you try to roll it out. Roll out to your desired thickness and shape, and place in a tart pan.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a fork, poke some holes in the bottom of the pie crust. Carefully line the crust with aluminum foil or parchment paper, and fill with pie weights (or dried beans or rice). Bake for roughly 25 minutes, until the edges are a deep golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a metal rack. Be careful when removing the pie weights, they can get pretty hot.

for the rum-vanilla pastry cream:

1.25 cups milk (I use 1%)
half of a vanilla bean, split down the middle
3 large egg yolks
.25 cups sugar
3 Tbsp flour
2 scant Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp spiced rum (or liqueur of your choice)

Place milk and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan and bring to a low boil. While the milk is heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, then add the flour and cornstarch. This mixture will be pretty thick. Once milk has reached a boil, remove from heat and remove vanilla bean. Scrape vanilla seeds out and add to egg mixture (you can use the dried vanilla pod to make vanilla sugar). Slowly temper the egg mixture by whisking in the hot milk, a few spoonfuls at a time.

Once the milk is mixed into the egg mixture, pour back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. It will thicken very quickly, so keep an eye on it and keep whisking. Once the mixture has thickened to a pudding-like consistency, remove from heat and whisk in your liqueur (the liqueur is optional, of course). Pour into a bowl and press cling wrap down on the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool completely.

To assemble tart, spread a layer of chocolate ganache on the tart crust, if you are so inclined. Like I said up top, I'm still working out the measurements for my magical less-fat ganache, so I didn't include the recipe. The tart is certainly still delicious without it.

After the ganache, carefully spread the cooled pastry cream on the tart. Top with any fresh berries you can get your hands on, and serve to your adoring guests. If you want to be extra fancy, you can brush a little melted apricot jelly over the fruit to make it look all shiny and professional.

This one's worth every second of work, folks.


Pamela said...

I was almost licking the screen they looked so good...

Well, not quite but you get the idea... Mouthwateringly good looking tarts!!

wheresmymind said...

Well..I wasn't quite lickin' the screen, but I have to say, these look damn good! lol

LE said...

Oh wow. Yum.

Skeezix said...

The look fanstical Miss Tart-Making-Queen.

Kevin said...

Good to have you posting again. Now about those leeks...

Marianne said...

Leeks, coming your way, I promise.

LE said...

So I was inspired to make this tonight. Holy crap. I don't have a tart pan, so I made a bunch of little ones in a cupcake pan. They were adorable--and out-of-this-world good.

I want the ganache recipe, though. I just put a few semi-sweet chocolate chips in the tarts when the crust was still warm, and I didn't like them that much (the semi-sweetness).

Marianne said...

Ellie, I'm so glad! I liked the mini-tarts just as well as the big one, really. And I promise I will make the ganache this week and pay better attention to the measurements, okay?

LE said...

Great! Thanks!

What I think I might prefer about the tartlets is that you don't have to cut them in pieces to share, so the pretty presentation lasts longer.

Also, at first I wondered if an egg in the dough was a typo, for I've never seen a pastry dough recipe that called for it, but it was so delicious. Wonderfully flakey.

Ivonne said...

Congratulations on your new food processor and tart pan! The tart is just gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

I love little tiny strawberries like that! They're so cute and way better than those huge things filled with growth hormones at the grocery store. Your tarts look great.

carolyn said...

Those are darling.

Elizabeth said...

those tarts look seriously good...especially the minis!