Monday, July 5, 2010

Oh, you tart.

I think this is the only summer tart recipe that you could need. It's quick, involves minimal cooking, can be assembled ahead of time, and doesn't involve any weird ingredients. Make the pastry cream first, because it needs at least three hours in the fridge, then make, freeze, bake, and cool the tart shells. You can assemble them and let them hang out in the fridge for a day, or just keep everything separate and put them together until you're ready to serve them.

PASTRY CREAM (makes about 2 cups)
2 cups half and half (if you don't have half and half, you can mix about 1 1/3 cups of low fat or skim milk and 2/3 cups of cream)
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
5 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

TART SHELLS:
1 1/4 cups of flour
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
8 tablespoons of softened butter
2 ounces of softened cream cheese

FRUIT TOPPING:
Here's where you get creative. I used cherries, blackberries, and raspberries, but you could use any or a combination of the following: strawberries, blueberries, lingonberries, sliced and skinned peaches, sliced and skinned plums or nectarines, apricots, kiwis, or any other soft, sweet fruit or berry. You'll also need some apricot jam (any cheap kind will do), or raspberry or strawberry jam will work too if you're using those fruits.

First, make the pastry cream. This is pretty easy. Put the half and half, six tablespoons of sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and let it come to a simmer. Stir it a couple times to make sure the sugar is dissolving.

While it's heating, whisk the yolks and the rest of the sugar and the cornstarch together until smooth. Once the cream comes to a simmer, slowly pour about a cup of it into the egg yolks while whisking them (you can leave the burner on). Then, put the pan back on the burner, and whisk the cream and yolk mixture back into the cream. Reduce the heat to medium, and whisk the hell out of the mixture for about thirty seconds. It will start to thicken and your whisk will leave trails in the cream. It will also make an expressive blorping noise while big bubbles burst on the surface.

Take it off the heat, stir in the butter and vanilla, and then either put it into a bowl or leave it in the pot. Take a square of plastic wrap and press it onto the surface of the cream. Put it in the fridge for at least three hours.

Next, make the tarts, which you can do while the pastry cream is cooling.

Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. In another bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter together. Beat in the flour mixture. It will look kind of like sand. Crank your mixer up, and the dough will develop big clumps.

You can either make five small tarts, or one big one. If you make a big one, just grease a tart pan, roll the dough up into a ball, and, using the heel of your palm, press it into the tart pan by squishing down the middle and pushing out to the edges, rotating the pan while you do it, until the tart pan has an even layer of dough in it. If you want to make the small tarts, do the same thing with five small balls of dough.

Pop the tarts into the freezer for about 30 minutes. If you want to leave them longer, just wrap them in plastic wrap. Heat the oven to 375, put a double square of foil over the tart(s), and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another ten minutes, until the tart shells are browned. If you're baking the small ones, it's easier if you put them all on a cookie sheet. They will look like this:


After they're done, pull them out and let them cool off. You can let them sit out for a while.

Next, gather together the fruits you plan to use and rinse them and pat them dry. When you're ready to put the tarts together, fill them with the pastry cream, like so:

Pile the fruit on top of the tarts. Ordinarily, recipes will tell you something like, "arrange the fruit attractively on top of the tart." Which begs the question, if the recipe did not tell you that, would you just randomly smash it on top of the tart? Because I would. You can kind of squish the fruit down into the pastry cream to keep it in place, and pile as high as you want. Then, scoop some of the jam into a dish, microwave it until it's bubbly and runny, and brush it onto the top of the fruit.

Voila! Then, stab anyone who tries to eat your tart in the hand with a fork.

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