A decade ago when I worked as a cookie baker at La Farine, a French bakery in Oakland, the tart bakers always looked like they were having more fun than the rest of us. I think I know why: once the crust was baked and the pastry cream prepared, making tarts was more like decorating than baking. To finish each tart, the gals brushed a light apricot glaze over the fruit to give it a nice sheen. If there were fruit tarts left at the end of the day, we could take them home (the crust became soft if refrigerated). Days that ended with free fruit tarts were happy days.
While flipping through Craig Claiborne's The New York Times Cookbook, by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey (Times Books, the 1979 edition), I came across a recipe for a strawberry tart. It had been a while since I had access to free fruit tarts, so I figured I was well overdue making one myself.
Makes 1 tart
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 baked tart shell, cooled
- 2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
- 1/2 cup apricot jam
1. To make the pastry cream, combine the milk and vanilla bean in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and keep warm.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the sugar and eggs until golden yellow, forming a ribbon when the whisk is removed from the mixture. Whisk in the cornstarch.
3. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk. With the mixer on, pour the milk into the eggs and sugar and whisk until combined. Pour the mixture into a pot over barely simmering water (ensuring that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring with a spatula, until the pastry cream is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula. (It will become thicker as it cools. If it looks a little lumpy, strain it and discard the lumps. The recipe makes a generous amount for one tart.)
4. Spoon the pastry cream across the base of the tart shell. Arrange the strawberries, cut side down, in concentric circles within the tart.
5. Stir the apricot jam with enough water to thin it. Bring to a simmer and cook briefly until it reaches syrup consistency. Cool for a minute, then brush over the strawberries while still warm.