Thursday, July 22, 2010

Berry Tartlets

When I was in the second grade, the girls in my class would gather together during recess to combine our snackage powers, in hopes that the sum of our snacks would be greater than its parts.  One girl would bring a store-bought graham pie crust (still in its aluminum pan), and the rest of us would empty out our Ziploc bags of goodies - gummi worms, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, miniature candy bars, etc. - into the pie crust.  We would then divide our snack pie into pieces for a dessert that only a second-grader would love.

What I love about making tarts is that once you have a tart crust, you can use our elementary school technique and still end up with a seriously sophisticated dessert.  Any combination of leftover nuts, chocolate, caramel, shredded coconut, fruit, mousse, pastry cream, and cookie crumbs can be layered into a tart crust for a dessert that's so good, it will make people think you spent all day in the kitchen.  As for me, I used some leftover egg yolks to make a simple vanilla pastry cream, and topped it with fresh summer berries. The combination of the crisp and buttery tart shell, the creamy and cool pastry cream,  and the sweet and tart berries made for a delicious and refreshing dessert, perfect for warm summer nights.

Berry Tarts
(Makes 6 4-inch tarts)

Sweet Tart Dough
Adapted from "Baking: From My Home to Yours"

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
9 tablespoons butter (very cold and cut into small pieces)
1 large egg yolk

Combine flour and powdered sugar in a bowl, stirring to combine.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients (you can do this with your hands) until the mixture resembles wet sand (the pieces of butter should be no larger than a pea).  Stir the yolk to break it up, and add a little of the time, stirring it in with a spatula until the dough forms clumps and curds.  Knead the dough lightly just to incorporate any dry ingredients.

Divide the dough into six portions.  Press each portion of dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a 4-inch tart pan.  You might want to save a little bit of dough to patch any cracks after the crust is baked.  Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before before baking.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.  Butter the shiny side of some aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against each crust, butter side down.  Put the tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  Carefully removie the foil.  If the crusts have puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.  Bake for another 5 minutes until it is firm and golden brown.  Cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

Pastry Cream
Adapted from "Baking: From My Home to Yours"

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

While the milk is heating, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended.  Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk (this tempers the eggs, which will prevent them from curdling).  Whisking continuously, slowly pour in the rest of the milk.  Put the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking vigorously and continuously, making sure the get into the edges of the pan.  Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 - 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract.  Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the butter, stirring until the butter is fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky.  Transfer the cream into a bowl.  Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream (so a "skin" doesn't form) and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold.

Berry Topping

1/2 pint raspberries
1/2 pint blackberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar

Gently toss the berries in the lemon juice and sugar, until evenly coated.  Let macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

To assemble the tarts:

Coat the inside of each tart with some melted chocolate - this will prevent the crust from getting soggy.  Let the chocolate harden.  Spoon some pastry cream into each tart and gently spread it to the edges.  Top each tart with berries.

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