Baking spree: vanilla tarts with strawberries

Get ready for a classy dessert. This will be the next-to-last entry from last September’s wild baking spree, but don’t worry! There’s only 37 more days until I’m back in DC, cooking and baking up a storm.

This will tide you over in the mean time. It was probably the last thing I made before I hit a baking wall, completely burnt out and running low on eggs and butter. I dug through foodgawker and tastespotting to find inspiration to use up a box of strawberries, and then literally a few hours attempting to find recipes that corresponded to the amount of egg yolks I had left.

My labor paid off, thanks to a creme diplomate recipe from Cooking Books and a tart crust recipe from Amateur Foodie. And unsuspecting co-workers were left to revel in the outcome.

These tarts? Creamy custard and fresh berries. There’s not much else to say, they’re just fantastic. Definitely sweet, but not cloying. Rich and thick, with a warm golden color that serves as the perfect backdrop for flecks of vanilla bean and the bright red strawberries.

Since my inner-clock was a bit off kilter at that point, struggling to correct itself to being in DC while still confused about my Baghdad schedule, I remember that I made these tarts at some ungodly hour of night, and was too tired to enjoy one when they were finally done at, oh, something like 3am.

Solution? Breakfast, of course. If you really load it up with berries, you can easily trick yourself into thinking it’s a wholesome meal. Worked for me!

I easily polished off a whole one by myself, but I’m pretty sure at least 10 coworkers split the remaining three amongst themselves. Maybe they were all trying to be nice and make sure everybody got a taste, or maybe they were just too intimidated by having a whole dessert in the middle of the day? It’s a phenomenon I’m not sure I’ll understand for a while, this whole, “splitting a one-serving dessert” thing.

If you have coworkers, friends and family who are equally finicky, maybe you can make mini-tarts.

Or, you can grab life by the horns and let everybody enjoy these in their full-sized glory.

Vanilla tarts – makes four tarts

-Crust ingredients-
250 grams butter, unsalted, room temperature
125 grams powdered sugar
1 gram salt
1 egg
360 grams flour

-Creme diplomate ingredients-
250 grams milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1 egg + 1 yolk
50 gram sugar
Pinch of salt
23 grams cornstarch
25 grams butter, unsalted, room temperature
90 milliliters cream, whipped

Prepare the crust. Cream the butter, powdered sugar and salt until it turns a pale yellow (this can be done with a stand mixer/hand mixer, or with your hands! My stand mixer was dirty at the time, so I got a good arm work out!).

Mix in the egg so it’s fully incorporated, then mix in the flour until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough ball in some plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour.

Then, prepare the filling! Mmm…It’s easily the star of this dish. Scrape the seeds out of half a vanilla bean and whisk it into the milk.

The original recipe calls for heating the milk+vanilla to a simmer, cooling it, simmering it again with the eggs, etc. Honestly, neither my electric stove nor my cheap Target saucepan can handle such precision. I made a double-boiler with my sauce pan and a pyrex bowl. Put a decent amount of water in the sauce pan, make sure it doesn’t touch the bowl when you set it on top, and bring to a boil. Warm up the milk+vanilla while you prepare the eggs.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt, then whisk in the egg and egg yolk. Pour it into the warming milk mixture and wait for the whole thing to thicken. Make sure to stir consistently so you don’t develop a film on top. Once the creme is thickened, remove and stir in butter. Cover in plastic wrap so that the wrap is touching the creme, and cool in the fridge.

Once cool, fully mix in about a third of the whipped cream, and then gently fold in the rest in two additions.

Assemble the tarts. Depending on what size tart shells you are using, divide up the dough and press into your molds. I think the original recipe called for the tart shells to be baked and then the creme diplomate simply poured into the baked shells. If you want to follow that recipe, bake the shells for about 15-18 minutes and let cool before pouring in the creme and arranging the fruit.

Or, you can do what I did; ignore the last few steps of the recipe and pour the creme diplomate into the shells first, then bake it all together in the oven for the same amount of time. It’ll still come out beautifully.

Next, arrange fresh berries of your preference on top of the tarts in a pretty pattern. Enjoy one by yourself or with your four best friends.