Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From Paris Sweets: Fresh Strawberry Tart with Marshmallows

Strawberry Tart with Marshmallows adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

Supply, time and refrigerator capacity challenge the seasonal cook, especially if she is tries to rely on locally grown produce.

Strawberry season was too short, but I always say that.

I was in a quandary this year about what to do with the berries. I knew that if I didn’t make jam I would regret it come, oh, January when the nights are long and the daylight is puny and cold. But to make even three jars of jam the old-fashioned way requires a good two pounds of berries.

That cut into a supply already diminished by the “car-loss factor” which occurs when the driver eats the warm and juicy berries as she drives home from the market.

Timing is especially critical for fresh-berry desserts and it’s tough to decide what to make.

I was on track to make this fresh strawberry tart with marshmallows in June. Instead, I chose another French dessert, one that has been stalking me since I had it at Lenôtre on a sunny Parisian day.

I had to get it out of my head and onto a plate.

Le Fraisier is composed of two thin layers of vanilla cake sandwiching fresh strawberries and crème mousseline (a silkier version of pastry cream into which softened butter is beaten—oh yes). This creation is topped with a thin sheet of marzipan. It is as pretty as it is tasty.

I prepared it to celebrate our first house guests. Their visit was delightful but the dessert failed. The pastry cream was too thin, the cake slightly dry and the marzipan covering difficult to slice. My husband and our friends were complimentary and asked for seconds.

That is what friends do.

The remaining stash of berries—no longer pretty enough for a tart—became jam. And then the season was over.

But the strawberry tart in Paris Sweets needs to be made right now, this summer, because by next June I should be on to another cookbook. Therefore I’ve had to resort to definitely non-local supermarket strawberries.

Flavor-wise, they weren’t too bad, but their hard white core was characteristic of berries bred for long distance travel. I do not often buy supermarket strawberries, but when I do, I take a big sniff of the package. If the strawberry aroma goes to my brain and makes me a little bit high, then I might take them home. Sometimes I take a strawberry whiff and walk on by.

This tart is adapted from one served at the elegant Ladurée. It involves crème mousseline and fresh strawberries in a sweet tart crust.

It also calls for homemade marshmallows flavored with strawberries and orange-flower water. I did not make my own marshmallows but substituted kosher marshmallows from the store that I shaped with scissors. (I am late to the marshmallow making game. It is on my list of things to try this fall.)

Using Dorie’s recipe, the créme mousseline was successful. (Not surprising.) The mistake I made the first time that I did not cook the cream for 2 minutes past the point of boiling. The other recipe I used did not specify that and I removed it from the heat too soon. Dorie’s version tastes better, too.

What I like about this recipe is that it’s the kind you can rely on in times of need. It joins some of the basics that every cook should have under her belt. With a good tart crust and some pastry cream, you just add whatever fruit is available — fresh peaches, berries, sautéed apples + apple butter — and there you have something beautiful and good tasting.

Tarte aux Fraises à la Guimauve
Adapted from Ladurée via Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan
One fully baked 9-in. sweet tart crust
Crème mousseline

4 c fresh strawberries
2 t powdered sugar
Marshmallows (optional)
Red currant jelly

Créme Mousseline
1 1/4 c whole milk
2 t vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
3 large egg yolks
3 T cornstarch
1/2 c sugar
1 stick of butter plus 3 T unsalted butter, at room temperature

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to boil. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until thick. Continuing to whisk, drizzle a bit of the hot milk onto the yolks. Pour the rest of the liquid over the yolks, whisking the entire time.

Put the pan on medium heat and bring to a boil while whisking the entire time. Keep it at a boil, whisking quickly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and add the vanilla. Scrape this mixture to a clean bowl and let cool on the counter for 3 minutes.

Cut 5 1/2 T of butter into chunks an stir into the hot pastry cream, continuing to stir until the butter is melted and incorporated.

To cool the pastry cream, you can set the bowl in a larger pan of ice water, or you can place the bowl in a refrigerator. If placing in the refrigerator, cover the surface of the cream with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming on top.

Once the pastry cream is cold, put it into the bowl of a mixer with a whisk attachment. Put the remaining 5 1/2 T butter in a small bowl and, using a spatula, work the butter until it is soft and creamy. Put the mixer on high speed and gradually add the softened butter, beating well after each addition. Whip until the cream is light, smooth and satiny. Proceed to assemble the tart.

(Rejoice because you will have extra pastry cream left over from the recipe. It can be refrigerated for 3 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. To use frozen pastry cream, leave in the the refrigerator overnight to thaw, then whip with a mixer to restore its body.)

To assemble: Spread enough pastry cream to come within about 1/4 inch from the top of the crust. Take 3/4 c of the berries and mash them with a fork. Add the powdered sugar and let rest for 3 minutes. Place the berries in a sieve and shake it to remove as much liquid as possible. Put these crushed berries over the pastry cream, leaving a slim border bare.

Cut the remaining berries in half. Cut the marshmallows into pieces slightly smaller than the strawberries. Arrange the berries and marshmallows in alternating concentric circles. Alternatively, you can cover the entire tart with concentric circles of strawberries and dot the top with pieces of marshmallows.

To finish, warm some currant jelly in the microwave. Brush this warmed jelly over the strawberries to add color and luster.

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