Mixed Berry Tart

Someone at work is having a baby shower, Sarah said. Will you make a dessert?

Sure, I thought. I had just been watching this sexy video chronicling the construction of a Sachertorte — a classic Viennese chocolate-on-chocolate-on-apricot number that l desperately wanted to reproduce. So I restarted the video and showed it to Sarah. And she did not even crack a smile.

You can’t make a cake, she told me, all matter of fact. The boss is making a cake and nobody else can make one if she is. So you can’t make that.

I was crestfallen. I was belligerent. It was the only dessert that I could think about, and if I couldn’t do it, then I was definitely taking my marbles and going home. What else could I possibly make for a workplace baby shower, I exclaimed, throwing my hands up in the air (I kid you not).

There was a pause. And then — calmly and reasonably — Sarah told me: Why don’t you make a custard tart?

Okay. That works. The images of that oh-so-hot cake were beginning to clear. And I like tarts. And I like custard tarts. And a tart would be adequately impressive, without stepping on the higher-ups’ toes.

But something about a custard tart says winter. And we’re now — despite my best efforts to deny it — well into spring. We’re still a couple of weeks away from ripe berries from the garden. But we are just in time for boxes and boxes of them, plump and brightly colored, to be on sale at the supermarket.

I’d had this idea, somewhere in the back of my head, maybe left over from last spring, that I wanted to make a mixed berry tart. So I did some digging around, some refresher reading about pastry cream, and decided that — yes — that’s what I would do.

And so, with one last wistful sigh, I gave up on my dream of a Sachertorte (for now). And this is what I came up with instead …

For the crust:
1 1/4 cups Unbleached AP Flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) Unsalted Butter, cubed and chilled
3-6 tbsp Heavy Cream
2 tbsp Granulated Sugar
Zest of one Lemon

For the pastry cream (cribbed with some modification from Michel Roux’s fabulous book, Pastry):
2 cups Whole Milk
6 Egg Yolks
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup Unbleached AP Flour
1 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

For the topping:
1 pint of Strawberries, cored and halved
1/2 pint of Blueberries
A neutral colored Jam or Jelly (I used peach)

For the crust: to the work bowl of a food processor, add your flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest, and pulse once or twice to mix. Add the chilled butter, and pulse again, in five-second intervals, until it has integrated into the flour mixture, and the texture looks sandy. Then add the cream (three tablespoons at first, and more only if needed), and pulse again, in five-second intervals, until it just barely comes together as dough.

Remove the mixture — now shortcrust pastry — to a piece of plastic wrap. Shape it into a puck, wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

At the end of the hour, unwrap the dough onto a lightly floured board, and roll it into a circle, about an inch wider than your tart pan. Lay the rolled dough into the pan, pressing it into the corners so that it fits snugly. Use a fork to perforate the bottom. Trim the extra dough (I like to just roll over it with my rolling pin when I’m making tarts). Then refrigerate the prepared crust for at least another twenty minutes — preferably for an hour — to allow the gluten to relax and prevent shrinkage in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 400F. When the crust has chilled, line it with parchment and use pie weights or dried beans to weigh down the bottom of the crust. Bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the parchment and weights and bake for 10 more (until the edges are browning and the bottom is starting to turn golden). Remove from the oven, and allow to cool completely.

For the pastry cream: In a three-quart saucepan over a low flame, heat the milk, the split vanilla bean (and its seeds), and about half of the sugar, stirring occasionally, until it starts to steam. While the milk is heating, in a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar together until the mixture lightens in color. Then add the flour, and whisk until it is thoroughly incorporated.

When the milk is steaming (should take about twenty minutes), strain out the vanilla bean, and return the mixture to the pan to bring it back up to heat. Pour about a third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking vigorously to temper the yolks.* Then pour it back into the remainder of the milk, stirring until it is incorporated.

As soon as the yolks go into the saucepan, you will notice the mixture begin to thicken. Bring it gradually up to a simmer, stirring evenly and constantly. Then allow it to bubble for about two minutes to let the flour cook.

Remove the finished pastry cream to a bowl. Mix in the vanilla extract. Cover in plastic wrap such that it is touching the surface of the pastry cream (this keeps it from forming a skin), and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

To put it all together: When the crust is at room temperature, and the pastry cream is chilled, spoon the pastry cream into the crust and use a spatula to smooth it evenly across the surface. There should be just enough to fill the crust. Lay out the strawberries carefully, in a pattern of your choosing, being sure to leave room for the blueberries. Add the blueberries, then gently push all the fruit down into the pastry cream, just a little bit, to hold it in place.

Melt about four tablespoons of jam in the microwave (thirty seconds should more than do it), and — using a pastry brush — brush (or dab) the melted liquid across the surface of the tart. This will seal the fruit, and give it an appealing sheen.

Enjoy!

*It is vital in this step that your whisking be vigorous. Else you will end up with the most disgusting scrambled eggs ever.

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