Like Water for Pastry Cream


A few weeks ago my kitchen turned into fruit tart central.  One friend was having a summer party and the next day I was going to a picnic and I’d promised to bring something sweet to both.  I usually love being responsible for dessert but for some reason (perhaps the 100 degree heat and 95% humidity?) I was totally not in the mood to weigh flour and measure sugar.  I thought of phoning it all in—using a mix or buying some ice cream—but my little baker’s pride (plus this little blog) wouldn’t let me.

I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t do anything that you don’t want to do when it comes to things like this, because you’ll only end up making mistakes and making the whole situation worse than if you had just made some excuse about why you put an Entenmann’s cake on a pretty plate and called it a day.  As I stood stirring pasty cream until I thought my arm would fall off and patching holes in my dough minutes before I needed to leave my house for the party (which was better than what happened to me before the picnic: I was trying to slide the finished tart onto a plate, only to have it crack in half before I could get the whole thing on. I just added more cream and fruit and hoped for the best.), I couldn’t help thinking about that movie Like Water for Chocolate where the woman is so miserable while cooking that she ends up poisoning her sister (not on purpose, but her misery flowed into her food and ruined it).  While I don’t think my baking has any magical powers, I feared my lack of enthusiasm would somehow be evident in every bite.

I was so distracted by just trying to get the tarts done that I was half way through the recipe for the pastry cream before I realized I didn’t have enough eggs. The recipe stressed that you shouldn’t let the egg/sugar mixture stand too long or it would curdle (and I’d already mixed in 2 eggs and the sugar). I was an egg short and had to run down to 7-11 and spend $20 for six eggs (only a slight exaggeration).  I also had neglected to read how much dough the recipe actually made and realized my tart pan was too big for the amount of dough I had, so I had to make a second batch with not enough time left to let it chill properly.  And then I put the dough in the oven, covered in foil as recommended in the recipe and when I went to pull the foil off, also pulled off half of the bottom of the tart shell, hence the having to patch it up with left over dough.  All the time that I’m doing this, I’m trying to figure out a way to weave yellow daisies into my hair for the party (don’t ask) and suddenly realize that I may actually be allergic to the flowers that are now pinned to my head (I wasn’t, luckily).  Normally these things would be merely annoying, but when you are really not feeling the whole baking adventure—and when you have a box of Betty Crocker brownie mix in your pantry—it kind of makes you want to lay down on the floor and forget the whole thing.

To spare you my agony, but give you all the benefits of the beautiful tarts that I eventually created, I will let you learn from my mistakes. 

tart 3

The tart is actually fool-proof (the layer of pastry cream will hide any flaws in the shell) and can be filled with anything you want.  I chose strawberries and blueberries, but I’m guessing any summer fruit would work. 

tart 2

And I did have a lovely time at both the party and picnic, especially since no one was poisoned…

Blueberry and Strawberry Tart (my notes in red)

Crème Pâtissière (pastry cream)

  •  1-¼  cups milk
  • ½ vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 1/8 cup (20 grams) all purpose flour
  • Scant 3 tablespoons (20 grams) cornstarch

In a medium sized stainless steel bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together with a wooden spoon (never let the mixture sit too long or you will get pieces of egg forming—check your egg supply before you start!).   Sift the flour and cornstarch together and then add to the egg mixture, mixing until you get a smooth paste.  Set aside.

Meanwhile in a saucepan combine the milk and split vanilla bean (or vanilla extract) on medium heat until boiling (the milk will foam up to the top of pan when done, so watch carefully).  Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. Remove vanilla bean, scrape out seeds and add the seeds to the egg mixture.  Place the egg mixture back into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly. When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30-60 seconds until it becomes very think and it is hard to stir (I think this happens before it boils, so watch carefully).

Remove from heat and pour into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming.  Cool.  If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days.  Beat before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.

Yield: 1 cup

Sweet Pastry Dough

  •  1 cup (140 grams) all purpose flour (do not use unbleached)
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces; 90 grams) unsalted butter, chilled an cut into pieces
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (70 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Place flour, butter, salt and sugar in a food processor.  Process just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 seconds (I do this part by hand).

Add the egg and pulse just until the pastry begins to hold together, about 20 times (I do this in my KitchenAid on speed 2).

Transfer the pastry to waxed paper.  Flatten the dough into a disk.  Dust your fingers with flour, then, working very quickly, press the dough into a 10-½ inch loose-bottomed black tin tart pan.  [Lesson learned: there is a lot of butter in this recipe, so the dough will start to dissolve as soon as your warm hands touch it, making it impossible to work with. After putting the dough into the tart pan, but before you start pressing, cover it with plastic wrap (the size of the pan).  Start pressing the dough out with the plastic wrap as a barrier, working out to the sides and up the edges of the pan, working out any bubbles as you go.]  Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prick the bottom of the shell with the tines of a fork. Line the shell loosely with heavy-duty foil, pressing well into the edges so the pastry does not shrink while baking [Lesson learned: the foil will stick to the baked shell and pull it apart.  Coat the foil with butter or cooking spray (enough to cover the edges) and then line the shell.  The foil will come off easily then].  Fill with baking weights, rice or dried beans—making sure you get all the way to the edges—to prevent shrinkage.  Bake just until the pastry begins to brown around the edges and seems firm enough to stand up by itself, about 20 minutes.

For a partially baked shell: Remove weights and foil and continue baking until lightly browned all over, about 10 more minutes

For a fully baked shell: Remove weights and foil.  Bake for an additional 20 minutes, but watch very carefully, because it can burn quickly.  Also, cover the edges with foil so that they down over-brown.  Cool for at least 10 minutes before filling.

 Blueberry and Strawberry Tart

  •  1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 10 medium sized strawberries cut in half, lengthwise

Follow instructions for pastry cream and pastry dough (fully baked shell).  Fill cooled shell with pastry cream. Decorate with blueberries and strawberries (or anything you like) in any pattern you feel like making!

Note: the dough will feel kind of hard, but the pastry cream will soften it.  Serve at room temperature.

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3 Responses to Like Water for Pastry Cream

  1. Mmm. I was lucky enough to have a piece of that tart presented to me last weekend. Mon dieu! Perfection.

  2. Miranda says:

    This looks wonderful. Your friends are lucky that you soldiered on.

  3. avanfleet says:

    The perfect tart Your crust is a beauty to behold.
    I was lucky to taste your tart and it was exqusite.

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