A cute colourful mini-tart with delicate buttery crust is what comes first to my mind when I think of the magical world of French pastry. I have always particularly appreciated its typical thin crust and its version called “tarte fine” – with extremely thin, completely flat base – leaves even a greater space for the ripe fruits’ fragrance and flavours, especially when enhanced with light vanilla cream.
Strawberry tart with vanilla pastry cream is quite popular and many pastry shops sell it in season. Whether you prepare a standard tart with crust also the sides or this light “tarte fine”, the recipe is not complicated, but it does take time. The secret of the best result lies in the perfect crème pâtissière, or pastry cream (often called simply “custard”), with a real vanilla pod, the 100% butter-based thinly rolled out pastry sheet and, of course, in the highest fruit quality. The pastry cream is inspired by the recipe I have found in “Plaisirs sucrés” by Pierre Hermé, a famous confectioner whose macarons’ discovery was one of the most unforgettable moments in my life. Even though this is the best and lightest pastry cream I have ever tasted, I have slightly modified it after the first test (mostly cutting down the sugar amount). The same recipe can be adapted of course to a big tart, but I usually prefer individual portions.
Here are some other strawberry sweet treats you might like:
And see here what to do with leftover egg whites, though 99% of the time I prepare my Easy Moist Coconut Biscuits (Macaroons for US visitors):
TIPS: If you don’t feel like playing with sideless, very thin crust, you can of course make the same tartlets or tart with more popular crust, baking it in a tart/-let form. In this case, while baking the crust, put a piece of baking paper over each tartlet form filled with raw pastry and cover it with dried beans (to stop the bottom from rising).
Needless to say, you can make one big strawberry tart (tarte fine aux fraises) instead of individual portions.
You don’t need to decorate these tartlets with mint leaves, but I find a hint of mint fragrance fantastic with both strawberries and vanilla cream.
Special equipment :
a round pastry cutter and 6 small round ramekins of the same or slightly bigger diameter
Preparation: less than 2 hours
Ingredients (makes 6 x 10 cm diameter tartlets):
about 200 grams/about 7 oz thinly rolled out all-butter puff pastry (or home-made sweet butter pastry)
400 – 500 g/about 14-18 oz strawberries (preferably equally sized); the amount depends on the way you place them on the custard (you use less if you slice them and more if you place halves, for example)
500 ml/about 17 fl oz milk
5 flat tablespoons corn starch
4 heaped tablespoons caster sugar (or more if you like very sweet desserts)
1 vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
50 g/about 1,8 oz butter (can be omitted, but the taste will be simply worse)
(fresh mint leaves for decoration)
Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F).
Cut out the circles. Put them on the baking paper. Cover with another layer of baking paper and block from rising, blocking them with round ramekins with a similar diameter.
Bake until golden (check often because they burn quickly).
Put aside to cool down.
In the meantime prepare the pastry cream.
Bring to boil 400 ml/about 13,5 oz milk with the vanilla pod cut in two lengthwise.
Put aside and let it cool down.
Scrape off the two vanilla pieces so that the small vanilla grains stay in the milk.
Combine the yolks, the sugar, the corn starch and the remaining cold milk.
Strain the warm vanilla milk, constantly stirring, into the yolks mixture.
Discard the vanilla pods (wash them, dry them and put into a confectioner’s sugar jar: you’ll have vanilla scented sugar or you can also reuse them: they will yield hardly any grains, but will still give a slight vanilla aroma).
Put back the obtained mixture into the pan and, constantly stirring, bring to the boil.
Put aside when it thickens to a cream consistency.
If the cream is not smooth and you see lumps, mix it in a blender.
When the cream is no longer hot, but still very warm, combine it with butter.
Let it cool down in the fridge, covered with plastic film (otherwise a darker “skin” will form at the top).
Put a couple of tablespoons of the cream on each tart circle.
Cover with the strawberries (cut in halves, in four pieces, sliced or whole… whatever suits your strawberries shape and size).
Serve slightly chilled.
You can decorate the tartlets with fresh mint leaves.