I lucked out after college and landed a job in Paris. New to the city and without many friends, I spent my weekends reading Ernest Hemingway and wandering from bakery to bakery, cafe to cafe. Not healthy, perhaps, but loads of fun when you’re 22.
As much as I loved the baguettes and chocolate croissants, my favorite was the glistening tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart). Always the prettiest item in a patisserie, the tarts are irresistible with their flaky crust, pastry cream and sweet berries shining under a gentle apricot glaze. Now three kids and many jobs later, I still commemorate those fun expat years with a strawberry tart made from the summer’s first berries.
If you’ve never made a tart before, don’t worry. In many respects they’re easier than pie, though you do have to buy a tart pan. Even the pastry cream is simple as long as you give it your undivided attention. And because the tart doesn’t spend nearly as long in the oven as a pie, the oven isn’t on as long — a beautiful thing if you live in an old house and don’t have air conditioning, like me!
1 pie crust (use your favorite recipe)
10″ tart pan
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whole milk, divided
2 egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
fresh organic strawberries, washed and dried well
Roll crust into 14″ circle and line a 10″ tart pan with it. Run rolling pin over the edges to cut excess dough. Prick well with a fork and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until done. Remove from oven and set aside.
To make pastry cream, dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 cup of the milk in a medium bowl, then add yolks and egg. Meanwhile, put sugar and 3/4 cup milk in a small pan over high heat until hot. All at once, add the hot milk to the cornstarch mixture, then return it to the pan over medium-high heat. Stir constantly, scraping bottom of pan as it thickens. When the mixture is thick and bubbly, reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Put pastry cream into a metal mixing bowl and set in an ice bath to cool. If you like, press plastic wrap on the top of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.
When the crust and pastry cream are completely cool, spoon cream into the crust and arrange berries on top. If you have time, brush with an apricot glaze. (For glaze, take 1/2 cup apricot jam and 1 1/2 tablespoons water. Combine the jam and water in a small, heavy pan and bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce until it coats the back of a spoon, then cool.)