It is Mother’s Day, and as typical since I began spending the academic year in Nashville, I am alone in my kitchen, without my son, who is a thousand miles away in New York, to cook for. Now, I know that most people don’t want to cook on Mother’s Day, but being in the kitchen is my idea of relaxing. And cooking for my son…well, that’s the best.
It is also the third anniversary of Little Compton Mornings this weekend. Looking back on my first anniversary post, I feel the way I suppose most mothers do from time to time: that they have, in some way, failed their offspring. Since moving to Nashville during the academic year, I have been less attentive to my blog-child than I would have liked, and feel guilty and neglectful. Or perhaps it is just that my blog has been going through the terrible two’s. Fortunately, many of you seem to understand that, like all mothers, I do the best I can. Thankfully, it’s not children who expect you to be perfect.
Today, I cook what I like, and for no particular reason other than the fact that there are local strawberries, and very good ones I might add. One compensation for spending September to May in Nashville is that I enjoy two growing seasons, one here and one in Rhode Island. I get “the first strawberries” twice. I bought enough to make some preserves, to eat some out of hand, and to make this classic strawberry tart.
To all of you mothers among my readers, Happy Mother’s Day. Now that I’ve made this tart, shown next to the beautiful flowers my son sent me, I think I will go to the movies.
Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry Tart
This tart involves a few steps, but is very easy; you can even make some jam while the pastry is chilling. It is a celebration in itself.
Chocolate Pâte Sucrée
1 cup less 2 T a-p flour
2 ½ T cocoa
8 oz unsalted butter, cool room temperature
½ cup + 2 T confectioners’ sugar (10x)
1 egg yolk (freeze the white)
Sift the flour and cocoa and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, place the butter, cut into 4 or more pieces, and sift the 10x over it. Cream together on medium speed until the sugar is blended. Add the yolk and mix again until completely incorporated. Gradually add the flour/cocoa mixture, stopping after you have added about half it to scrape down the bowl with a spatula, then continuing until the dough comes completely together. Remove, pat it into a disk, and wrap in wax paper and chill for at least 2 hours.
Remove the dough and soften enough to roll by cutting it into several pieces and kneading them with your hand, then forming them back together into a disk. Tap the disk with your rolling pin, then roll it out quickly on a floured surface; once soft, it gets really soft. Lift the dough carefully into your tart pan, trimming the overhang to about ½”, and turn this overhand to the inside against the edge. Chill again for 30 minutes or so, preferably in the freezer. Preheat the oven to 375 F while it chills.
Remove the pan and flute the edge or press it with a fork. Prick the bottom with fork, and line the pan with foil and some weight (beans, rice, etc.) or a smaller-size pan, lightly greased. Bake 10-12 minutes; gently remove the foil/weight or pan, and bake another 3 minutes or so, until you can smell the chocolate and it the interior is mostly dry. It will look a bit like a large brownie. Cool on a rack.
Vanilla Pastry Cream
I use a standing mixer for this, but it can be done entirely with a whisk. I don’t strain it; you can if you want. Makes a generous 2 cups.
2 cups whole milk
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped into the milk
6 large egg yolks (freeze the whites)
2/3 cup sugar
2 T flour
2 T cornstarch
Bring the milk and vanilla bean to a boil in a 3-4 qt saucepan. Remove, cover, and keep hot.
Ribbon the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed; it will become pale yellow. Sprinkle the flour and cornstarch over it and beat at low speed until incorporated.
Fish out the vanilla bean pod from the milk and discard. With the mixer running on low, pour the hot milk into the egg and sugar mixture until combined, then pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan; you may need to wash the pan first if it has milk residue. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly and vigorously so it does not burn or stick, and boil for about one minute until it is thick and creamy and any foaminess is gone. Pour into a bowl and rub the surface with butter. Cool completely in the refrigerator.
While your pastry shell is cooling, core the most perfectly ripe, heart-shaped, medium-small strawberries in your batch; you will need about 40-50 for a 9” tart. Set them, peaks up and with space between them, on a towel.
When the pastry is completely cool, fill it with the pastry cream, smoothing with spoon or spatula, and set the strawberries, peaks up, into the cream, pressing down a bit. Begin at the center with one or three larger strawberries, then work out toward the rim in concentric circles, trying to match the berries by size.
Optional (recommended if your strawberries are not real red, or if you just like the shine): Melt a little strained strawberry jam; I make very fluid strawberry preserves, so just pour off a little and heat it. Brush the tops of the berries with a thin jewel-like layer. Chill for an hour or so before serving.