by Joan Saunders | photos by Amanda Cribdon Photography –
Some desserts taste wonderful. Others look amazing. This one, fabulously, is both. And how could it not be with a sweet, buttery, pastry base topped with a smooth vanilla custard which is then finished with an assortment of the most glorious berries of the season?
Don’t be intimidated by French pastry. I originally was, as it always seemed difficult, but it’s not. Once I got my head wrapped around the concept that this was just a pastry base topped with custard and fruit, I was good to go. You can bake the tart shell, set it aside, make the custard, put it in the fridge, then assemble it at your convenience.
Take it step by step and you’ll impress everyone, including yourself, with this delectable dessert that tastes as good as it looks.
Pâte Sucrée/Sweet Pastry
½ cup plus 1 tbsp salted butter, room temperature (if using unsalted, add ⅛ tsp salt)
½ cup sugar
1¾ cups flour
To make dough: in bowl of stand mixer, using paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (3 to 4 minutes). Beat in egg until well combined. Stop mixer; scrape down sides of bowl.
With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour, mixing just until incorporated and dough comes together. Flatten dough into disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°. Use either a 14 by 4½” rectangular tart pan with removeable bottom, or an 8-inch round tart pan with removeable bottom; don’t grease pan.
On lightly floured surface, roll dough out to ⅛-inch thick rectangle or circle, depending on pan. Make dough 2 inches larger than pan. If dough cracks, let it rest for a few minutes to warm up slightly before continuing to roll. When it’s the right shape, roll dough around rolling pin; carefully unroll it over tart pan. Gently press dough into sides, corners and bottom of pan. To clean up edge, use a sharp knife to cut off excess dough. Prick entire bottom of crust with a fork, but don’t pierce through to pan. Chill in freezer 15 minutes.
Line dough with large piece of parchment paper; fill it with baking beads or about 2 cups of dried beans/rice. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until dough is light golden colour. Remove parchment and beans and rotate tart shell to ensure even baking; bake for another 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly golden in colour. Allow tart shell to cool completely in pan on wire rack.
Crème Pâtissière/Vanilla Pastry Cream
2 cups half and half cream
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste/vanilla
6 tbsp sugar
2½ tbsp cornstarch
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp unsalted butter
Put milk and vanilla in saucepan. Heat over medium high heat; bring to a simmer, almost a boil.
While milk is heating, put sugar, egg, yolks, cornstarch and salt in bowl. Whisk until it’s thick and smooth. Place bowl with egg mix on top of a towel on the counter to stop it from slipping while whisking. Set aside until milk comes almost to a boil.
As soon as milk starts to simmer/bubble, remove it from the heat. Slowly pour about half of hot milk in a thin stream into egg mix. It’s important to keep whisking while adding milk to egg mix. When eggs have been tempered, add egg mix back into hot milk in saucepan.
Heat custard base over medium heat while whisking vigorously until it thickens (about 1 to 2 minutes).
While whisking, let custard come to a boil (it will release bubbles). Lower heat and cook further while continuing to whisk; cook for about 1 to 2 minutes after first bubbles break the surface.
Remove from heat; whisk in butter until fully incorporated.
Pour custard into bowl; immediately cover surface with plastic wrap, ensuring wrap is touching whole surface to prevent a custard skin from forming.
Let it cool to room temperature; then chill in fridge for a few hours.
To assemble the tart: unmold cooled tart shell onto serving platter. Spoon pastry cream into shell. Smooth out top of cream.
Mixed berry topping: about 4 cups of mixed berries of choice (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries). Cut strawberries into halves or quarters if large. Arrange berries on top of pastry cream. You can add a glaze, but don’t have to.
Glaze: 2 tbsp apricot jam, 1 tbsp water. Microwave 20 seconds until liquid. Brush over fruit.
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