July 2, 2009
When it comes to desserts, my philosophy is that if done properly, they become a work of art. I think the tart is a prime example of this. Even with the simplest decoration, the tart can be the most eye catching dish on one's table, the glazed sheen of the fruit acting almost like an organic chandelier.
On the same token, tarts can be intimidating as hell to make. I learned a few years ago that the biggest hurdle people must get over in their creative pursuits is fear of failure. This lesson was made clear to me while attending a floristry class in Sydney, Australia. While working on my first flower arrangement, I couldn't help but here the women surrounding me uttering "I can't do this" and "Why doesn't mine look like hers" while pointing at another student's work. It struck me as odd that these women seemed on the verge of an emotional melt down because in their minds, their interpretive flower designs weren't "right." However, I can identify. I've been in positions in the past where I've actually had bosses say "You suck at writing." Despite the lack of professionalism, my main issue was that I didn't see their name published alongside any noted pieces of literature or newspaper bylines. What made them the authority on what constituted good writing? The worst part was that my confidence in my writing abilities was greatly diminished. I'm still working on my fears of not writing well. Harsh words stick with you, but I've found the more you stick at something, the better you get. Whether you apply this motto to flower design or writing, and everything in between, I think this mantra applies.
Assembling a delicious tart is something anyone can do. My advice is start out small, which is the exact course I'm taking. And luckily for me, I found a great recipe in Martha Stewart Living to start me on my way of constructing beautiful, eye catching tarts.
In the July edition of Martha's magazine, French chef Tony Esnault is featured along with a terrific menu he put together for a family meal. Obviously, I skipped right to the end where Chef Esnault chose a strawberry tart with cream as the dessert of choice. At first, the words "glaze" threw me for a loop. How do you make a glaze? I can't do this! I give up!
The idea of this dessert stuck with me for a few days. I prefer to make "pat-in-the-pan" crusts because I find them easier to manage (The Joy of Cooking has a great recipe) or I'm sure a store bought crust would work just as well. If I could make the crust, which is something most people find to be the most difficult part of baking, why couldn't I make the filling? I reminded myself that baking is not rocket science and picked up the magazine again.
In the end, it was the photo of the dessert that brought me back to the recipe. It was simple - an arrangement of shiny strawberries. Why would I be afraid of that? Strawberries won't keep me down!
Then I learned Chef Esnault's tip to making a delicious tart filling AND glaze. All you need are two jars of strawberry preserves. You simply heat up the preserves on the stove and when the preserves have loosened, you strain them through a fine sieve. Whatever is left in the sieve (the solids) goes into the tart crust. After you arrange the strawberries in the tart filling, you take the glaze that was strained through the sieve (the liquids) and brush it onto the strawberries. Voilà! The perfect summer time dessert!
For the recipe below, I've used the crust that Chef Esnault recommends, but as mentioned, feel free to get creative with this aspect of the dish.
Strawberry Tart with Cream by Chef Tony Esnault
Makes 2 tarts
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting (optional)
2 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 pints (6 cups) strawberries, hulled
3 cups strawberry preserves (two 12-ounce jars)
1 cup heavy cream
Cream butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy. Add yolks, and beat until just incorporated. Add flour and salt, and beat until just incorporated. Shape dough into 2 disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to 3 days).
Roll out each disk into an 11-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Fit each round into the bottoms and up the sides of a 9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Prick the bottoms of dough with a fork, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush crusts with egg wash. Bake, pressing down crusts if they start to bubble, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely, and remove from pans.
Trim strawberries to about the same height. Heat preserves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until loose. Strain through a fine sieve. You will have about 1 cup of solids. Spread 1/2 cup solids over bottom of each tart. Arrange strawberries in a single layer over the top, placing cut sides down. Brush strawberries with just enough warm glaze to make berries shiny. Dust with confectioners' sugar if desired.
Beat cream with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar just until thickened. Cut each tart into quarters, and serve slices topped with whipped cream.
If you prefer to make one tart, this recipe can be halved.