We like to eat seasonal and regional food here. Grapes in the fall, asparagus in May, plums in October and French strawberries as from now!
Strawberries are a wonderful dessert fruit, most delicious of course when plucked from the garden, still warm in the sunshine, but we'll have to wait a few months for those. The first French strawberries to appear on fruit stands are large and firm and ideal for using in tarts.
Here is my favourite recipe: an almond rich pastry, amaretto flavoured creme patissiere, fresh strawberries and a light glaze. Serving this at dinner generally provokes a moment of silence, as guests take their first spoonful of the pastry/cream/fruit combination.
Because I don't like the creme patissiere too firm, this is not the best behaved tart to slice and serve. To avoid extra difficulty, I make the cream and the pastry ahead of time then assemble at the last minute.
The pastry is dead easy, just throw the following into our mixer and whizz until it has formed a round ball. Leave in the fridge for a short while, roll out to fit your tart mould, then back blind at 190 until golden brown.
6 oz or 1 1/2 cups of flour
1 oz or 1/4 cup of ground almonds
3 oz or 1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 egg yolks
3 oz or 1/.2 cup butter
To make the creme patissiere you will heat 1 litre of milk in a pan with a split vanilla pod. While it's heating mix in a bowl 6 egg yolks, 1/3 cup flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Pour the hot milk over the eggs and sugar mix then pour back into the pan and stir gently until the cream starts to thicken. Watch this carefully, it doesn't take long. Pour back into the bowl and leave to cool.
Once this is cool I beat up some fresh cream until fairly thick and mix the cream into the creme patissiere, along with a good tablespoonful of amaretto liqueur. Leave in the fridge until ready to assembly the tart.
You only need to make the glaze now. Simply cook a small handful of strawberries in a pan with orange juice and sugar to taste. When thoroughly cooked press through a sieve and mix in 1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatine.
To assemble your tart, remove the pastry case from the tart mould (this isn't obligatory but it looks so much prettier), cover the pastry base with the cream then carefully lay the strawberries all over in neat circles. If the strawberries are enormous you may want to cut them in half.
Pour the glaze over the strawberries and smile graciously as you bring the tart to the table amidst applause from a deliriously happy crowd!
And, if you enjoy this recipe and one day you're feeling saintlike, you might like to make up small individual tarts and .... prepare yourself for instant stardom!
photos all found at Google images