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Vanilla Pastry Cream and Fresh Berry Tart

Before all the berries are gone and we’ve all moved on to apples and pears, I thought I’d better get this recipe posted.  There are many variations for tart dough and all work quite well with a few caveats.  Keep your ingredients cold (even putting the flour in the freezer) and working the dough just enough for it to come together.  If making dough is not your forte, feel free to use a high quality puff pastry.

One recipe of pastry cream (recipe below)
Fresh berries (about 4 pints)
Pre-baked tart shell (recipe below)
½ cup apricot jam, heated and strained (if desired)

Tart Dough
For about 1 pound pastry (enough for two 8 to 9-inch tart shells)
from Semone Beck’s cookbook, “Simca’s Cuisine”.  Method learned by Kathie Alex

2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons cold heavy cream, beaten with 1 large egg yolk

Place dry ingredients in a bowl of a food processor and process 2 to 3 seconds.  Evenly divide the butter around the bowl of the processor, carefully coating the pieces with the flour.  (Just don’t cut your finger on the blade.)  Pulse for 8 to 10 seconds, until butter is pea-sized.  Add the beaten egg and cream mixture through the pour-spout with the processor running, just until the mixture starts to stick together.  If the dough seems dry add additional cream, one teaspoon at a time.

Turn out onto a cold surface.  Using the palm of your hand smear a little of the dough at a time across the counter to evenly blend together.  Using a bench scrapper, bring dough together.  Divide it evenly into two pieces.  Form each into flat discs and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least a 1/2 hour before rolling out.  Wrapped tightly, dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for a month.<

When ready to make tart, roll out one of the disks about 1 ½ inches larger than tart.  Line tart pan with dough, folding over any excess and pressing against the sides of the pan.  It’s okay if the dough extends about 1/4-inch above the tart pan.  Return dough filled tart pan to the freezer for about ½ hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F conventional or 350°F convection.  Remove tart from freezer and line with parchment paper and then pie weights.  Place on a sheet pan and bake for about 20 minutes.  Remove pie weights and parchment paper and continue baking until golden.  Let cool completely.

When ready to assemble tart, spread the pastry cream over bottom of tart shell.  Fill with seasonal berries.  Brush with melted and strained apricot jam if desired and serve.  Place any of the tart that happens to be remaining in the refrigerator.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

1 plump vanilla bean
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) cornstarch
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
1 ½ pints fresh strawberries or other fresh fruit

Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out with the back of a paring knife.  Add the vanilla (seeds and pod) to a medium saucepan along with the milk, 1/4 cup of the sugar, butter, and salt.  Bring to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan.  Remove from heat.

Whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.  Add the egg and yolks to the cornstarch and mix into a smooth paste.

Slowly, and in small amounts, whisk a little of the hot milk into the egg mixture.

This is called tempering the eggs, which you need to do to get them to the same temperature of the hot milk in the pan, so they won’t curdle.

Once the egg mixture is warm to the touch, pour it back into the milk in the pan.

Return the custard to the stove and bring to a boil, whisking continuously for 2 to 3 minutes.

The pastry cream will thicken almost immediately but it is important to cook out the starch (2 -3 minutes) so that it isn’t grainy and so your pastry cream won’t separate.   When the pastry cream is done it will be smooth and glossy.

Strain the pastry cream into a shallow container and refrigerate until ready to use.