“Well, think of it this way….at least the kids don’t have spring fever. They’re still willing to go to school.” my dear friend Jayne said to me as a way to put a positive spin on our weather situation. She had a point. The kids don’t have spring fever because we haven’t had a spring. At this point I believe we’ve surpassed the famous 40 days and 40 nights. Here we are at the beginning of June and this is what I woke up to yesterday morning…..
(Do you see how blurry that tree is in the foreground? That’s because the wind was blowing it around so hard my camera was unable to get it in focus. Gads…)
I hung up the phone and told myself no more whining. Nevermind that I haven’t even planted my vegetable garden yet. Too soggy. Nevermind that I actually had to use an umbrella yesterday. Unheard of by northwest natives except in extreme weather circumstances. Nevermind that my grass is at least 6 inches tall because I haven’t been able to mow it due to the fact that it is currently a lake bed and I don’t even know if my push mower works on grass that tall. “Sigh.” Even if the weather isn’t telling of it, the fact that strawberries, blueberries and sweet, scrumptious cantaloupe are showing up in the markets tells me that somewhere…the sun is shining. So, I tried to wrap my arms around that thought. I took my butter out of the fridge. My flour and vanilla out of the pantry. And went to work creating the quintessential summer dessert….a strawberry tart. I was grateful to have a reason to focus on that cheery little concoction.
At 5 o’clock I changed out of my daily uniform of black athletic wear and red baseball hat and took the time to actually run a brush through my hair. I slapped on my black wrap dress (yes, yes, THE black wrap dress.) Pulled on some boots. (No amount of positive thinking could overcome the fact that the weather outside was definitely not indicative of strappy sandals.) Kissed my sweetie good-bye and headed off for an evening with the girls.
And sometimes, that’s all we need, isn’t it? A little change of scenery. A little change of thoughts. The company of friends. A chance to mingle with the girls. A glass of white wine. Some delectable finger food. A good chick flick. And, of course, a round of desserts…decadent chocolate souffles, heavenly cheesecake, a summery strawberry tart. All topped off with a flute of champagne and good conversation. I drove home feeling quite…effervescent. (And no, it wasn’t from the bubbles.)
This morning when I woke up….the sun was out. She’s gone now….but she was there…if only for a few minutes. And her appearance, although ever so brief…helped.
A Summery Strawberry Tart
Adapted from Tartelettes Aux Fraises, Chocolate and Zucchini
I have to say that this tart is so cheery, I dare anyone not to smile while looking at it, no matter how dreary our weather is here in Portland. I snagged this recipe out of darling Clotilde Dusoulier’s cookbook, Chocolate and Zucchini, which also happens to be the same name as her delightful food blog. Since I shared half of this tart with my dear friends last night, my children have been fighting over every morsel of what was left all day. The fighting is over now. The tart…devoured. Although, I may have to whip up another one tomorrow for two reasons. One: I didn’t get a big enough piece. Two: I bought my first flat of Hood strawberries today. “They’rrre heerre!!!” You haven’t had a strawberry until you have had a Hood strawberry and I simply cannot imagine the status to which this little tart will rise once the Hoods are gracing her delicate, buttery crust. So, without further ado, the recipe….
Pâte Sablée or The Crust
1/3 c sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
7 tbsp chilled, unsalted butter, diced
1 to 2 tbsp cold milk
Crème Pâtissière or The Pastry Cream
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 c milk
2-3 cups fresh strawberries, washed, dried and sliced lengthwise (a pint or two)
Grease the bottom of a 10-inch tart pan with butter.
Start by making the crust. Combine the sugar, flour and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and process in short pulses, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add a tablespoon of milk and process again, in short pulses, until the milk is absorbed. The dough should still be crumbly, but it should clump if you gently squeeze a handful in your hand. If it doesn’t, add a little more milk, teaspoon by teaspoon, and give the dough a few more pulses, until it reaches the desired consistency. (You can also do this entire “step” with a wire pastry blender and your fingertips.)
Pour the mixture into the prepared tart pan and spread it evenly over the bottom. Using the heels of your hands and your fingers, press down on the dough to form a thin layer, covering the surface of the pan and creating a rim all around. Don’t worry if the dough feels a little dry…this is normal. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to a day.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake your crust for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and let cool.
Next, prepare your pastry cream. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla and sugar. Whisk in the cornstarch and set aside. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. As soon as the milk simmers, pour it into the egg mixture, whisk vigorously until blended and pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Return the saucepan to low heat and whisk for 30 seconds as it thickens. (Be careful not to venture much past the 30 seconds or your pastry cream will turn to sugary scrambled egg.) At this point you can either spoon the pastry cream into your cooled crust, level with a spoon and let cool completely on the counter, about an hour. OR You can transfer the cream into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a day, bringing it to room temperature before using.
Arrange your strawberries over the pastry cream in a circular pattern. Clotilde recommends starting from the center and working your way out. I couldn’t seem to make that work so I started from the far edges and worked my way in. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Eat and enjoy…..
Yield: One 10-inch tart, 6-8 pieces depending how large you slice them.
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010