kitchen firsts: berry tart with lemon-vanilla pastry cream
This week was one of those weeks where you don’t notice it’s Friday until several hours into Friday, and I realized it was practically the end of the week and I still had no plan or idea for my kitchen first of the week. I have a running list of things I’ve never cooked, eaten or done in the kitchen to choose from, but it is not exhaustive and I was not inspired by anything on it. Then, I went to the store and found gazillions of berries (organic, no less) on sale for ridiculously good prices, and some echoes of blog posts I’d scanned but not read started to coalesce into an idea. This week, I must try something very new, and make my first tart.
This is something I’ve been meaning to try for a long time, but I was held up by the fact that I did not have a tart pan, a trusted recipe, or any confidence about being able to make one successfully– would it break? would it shrink? would it taste good? can I justify buying a tart pan? But when this whim occurred to me I just went straight to the store and bought a tart pan, and then I felt like I had to sort out the rest to justify the purchase, so it worked out well.
Ah but then, what recipe should I use? After some web scouting it seemed to me that Dorie Greenspan’s sweet tart dough is adapted by many and seems trustworthy, so I thought perhaps I should start there. But then I discovered a very bizarre and intriguing recipe for tart dough from David Lebovitz which he procured in Paris, and it sounded just crazy enough to be enticing. Get this: there is no point at which you have to mess with working cold butter into the flour, via food processor or otherwise, AND there is no rolling out! Could this be true? Lebovitz is saying all you have to do is melt some stuff in the oven and then mix in the flour and press it into the pan and you’re done? Sign me up!
I put butter, water, oil, salt, and sugar in a pyrex bowl in the oven and let it melt, bubble, and start to go all beurre-noisette on me around the edges (only 15 minutes btw). I took it out, threw in some flour, and stirred, and it magically became a dough. I threw it in the tart pan, let it cool just a tad so I could touch it, and then I squished it around until it was lining the bottom and sides of the pan evenly, no rolling required, and reserved a tad to patch cracks later. And then I baked it (again, only 15 mins) til it was golden brown and voila! It was done.
And hours later, I discovered that oh my gosh, it actually tastes good! It was crunchy-flaky and a little bit sweet, and I think there was a little bit more flavor in there because you let the butter brown a little bit rather than working it in cold and plain. All in all? Quite satisfying, and pretty pastry-idiot proof, for one’s first tart. If you have never made one before, or if you are looking to fast track your tart dough without sacrificing its flavor or texture, I highly recommend starting with this recipe. I for one will be trying out a more traditional method sometime soon for comparison and will let you know how it goes, but in the meantime I found this one completely satisfactory and will continue to use it when I’m looking for a fuss-free method. The only hiccup I had was that when I was baking it it started to bubble in the middle (since the recipe doesn’t call for pie weights), but as it was not causing the tart to shrink appreciably I just re-pierced the bubble with a fork, gently flattened it again, and when it was all done I patched the resulting tiny crack and nobody was the wiser.
Now let’s see, the berries need no real explanation other than the fact that they tasted and looked like a first peek of summer. But the pastry cream, there I must elaborate. I have historically not really appreciated pastry cream. I am really not a fan of custard texture, and many of the creams I’ve tried have been too sweet for me, so I had never tried making it because I could see no reason to. But I knew that for a traditional berry tart you’re supposed to use a base of pastry cream, so I decided to try it (I guess that means I killed two kitchen firsts with one stone this week, does that mean I get to skip it next week??). Since I was kind of afraid of the sugary gelatinousness of pastry cream, I decided to lemon it up a bit to complement the berries and hopefully lighten the taste so I would be able to stand it. It turned out to be relatively easy to make, and I didn’t mind the finished result as much I usually mind custardy things, so I guess it was successful, but next time I think I will try this tart with a thin layer of lemon curd topped with a layer of whipped cream, and then pile on the berries, or something like that. But if you like pastry cream like a normal person, I think you will find this lemon vanilla stuff very tasty!
Berry Tart with Lemon-Vanilla Pastry Cream
Makes one 9-inch tart
1 tart shell (recipe follows)
about 1 cup lemon-vanilla pastry cream (recipe follows)
About 3 cups mixed fresh berries: I used 1 cup thickly sliced strawberries, 1 cup raspberries, and 1 cup blackberries
First, bake the shell and make the pastry cream and allow both to cool. You can also wash and prepare your berries ahead of time and store until you’re ready (if they’re a little too tart, you can sprinkle them with a little sugar and let them sit in it until you’re ready for them). Just before serving, whip and smooth the chilled pastry cream with a whisk and then spread in the base of the tart. Then add the berries– I chose to put the strawberries slices in concentric circles first, and then arrange the raspberries and blackberries on top, but you could also dump them all on for a more rustic presentation and it would be equally beautiful. Serve immediately, and store any leftovers tightly covered in the fridge (but do eat it asap, or the berries will bleed and everything gets soggy).
Easy Tart Dough
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes 1 9-inch tart shell
3 oz (6 T) unsalted butter, cut into rough pieces
1 T vegetable oil
1 T sugar
3 T water
1/8 tsp salt
1 “slightly rounded cup” flour (I found I needed that rounded cup plus an extra tablespoon or two in order to bring it together in a ball), or 150 g flour if you have the option of weighing it, which would be better
Preheat oven to 410 degrees. In a medium oven-safe bowl (Pyrex), combine the butter, oil, sugar, water, and salt. Pop it into the oven for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is melted, bubbling, and starting to brown around the edges.
Remove carefully (it can sputter and will of course be hot) from the oven to a heat proof surface and dump in the flour, stirring until the mixture comes together in a doughy ball (again, start with your rounded cup but if it doesn’t come to a ball toss in a little more until it does). Turn out the dough into your tart pan and sort of squish it flat, but don’t try to spread it up around the edges of the pan yet. Let cool for a few minutes so you don’t burn your hands.
When it’s cool enough to handle, spread the dough with your hands, patting it into shape around the base and up the sides. Reserve a thimble-sized blob of it (I collected this from the rim overflow at the top when everything was spread, but you could also just grab a chunk before you spread) to patch cracks when it’s done baking.
Use a fork to prick the tart all over and press the dough gently against the sides of the pan. Bake at the same temperature for 15 minutes, or until the tart is golden brown. Remove from the oven, patch any sizable cracks with your reserved dough (roll and warm it in your hands and then smooth tiny pieces into any holes), and allow the shell to cool before filling.
Lemon Vanilla Pastry Cream
Adapted (lemonified) from smitten kitchen, originally from Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 2 cups (slightly more than I used in the tart, but you can fill it to your tastes)
1 1/4 c whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 T butter, at room temperature
zest of 2 large lemons, about 2 T
In a medium saucepan, heat the whole milk over medium heat, whisking frequently, until it comes to a boil. Pour off into a small bowl or pyrex measuring cup, and wipe or rinse out the saucepan.
Off the heat, combine the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in the saucepan and whisk together until it’s thick and yellow. Add in a drizzle of the hot milk (about a quarter of it), whisking as you go, until it’s smooth, and then stream in the rest of the milk, whisking all the while.
Put the pan back over medium heat, and whisk constantly as you bring it to a boil. When it starts to boil, you will notice a dramatic custardization right away, which was actually pretty cool! Allow to boil for about 2 minutes, continuing to whisk vigorously, then remove from the heat and pour directly into a bowl. Let the cream cool for just a few minutes.
Add the butter, vanilla, and lemon zest to the bowl, and stir vigorously to melt the butter and incorporate everything. Then put the cream in the fridge to cool, covered tightly with plastic wrap (I found this took about an hour). When you’re ready to assemble your tart, remove the cream from the fridge and whisk it up to smooth it before you spread it in the base of the tart.