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#23.0 and 23.1 : Strawberry Tart with Pastry Cream

If at first you don't succeed...

Local strawberries are at their peak now, so with some friends joining us for dinner, it seemed foolish not to feature strawberries in dessert. The plan was for me to head to Wickham's Fruit Farm in Cutchogue to get strawberries. Jeff was a little shocked that I spent $44 there; it turned out I bought the berries and more rhubarb (I can never have enough) and also several potted herbs to plant out on the upper deck. The berries were gorgeous, perfectly ripe, and had an intoxicating smell.

In typical fashion, Jeff combined at least three recipes to create the "best recipe" which called for a cookie-like crust topped with pastry cream and then the berries. We ended up using a crust recipe that called for browning the butter first, but simplified things by just browning the butter in a saucepan before adding it to the other ingredients. Using browned butter added extra complexity to the crust. We may need to use this technique again.

Browned butter has been a favorite ever since I had butternut squash ravioli with sage-brown butter sauce at Boulud Sud, a restaurant in NYC. I've replicated that at home several times, but had yet to brown butter to use in tart dough.

Look at that color!

No rolling pin required; you just press the dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom and then carefully pull the dough up along the sides of the pan. The recipe Jeff used called for using 2/3 of the dough on the bottom of the pan and the final 1/3 for the sides; he even got out our digital scale and weighed the amounts to follow the directions exactly.

Once the crust is baked, it's time to begin the pastry cream. We tried kirsch instead of vanilla.

Although the recipe doesn't call for it, we strained the pastry cream mixture, just in case any of the eggs scrambled. This time it wasn't necessary as we got a lovely smooth texture, but better to be safe than sorry.

The recipe called for glazing the strawberries with apricot jam. We had some strawberry jam which we used instead, and also topped the baked crust with a thin layer of the jam before adding the pastry cream.

Now comes the fun part - tackling the strawberries which had been waiting patiently.

After a quick rinse, time to hull and slice the strawberries, pick out the prettiest, and begin the assembly. (This is not something you want to do if you're in a rush.)

The Verdict: "Yes! Yes!"

After three pies Jeff wasn't wild about, I had said I needed to step up my game and come up with something sensational next time. This certainly was that. It was as delicious as it was beautiful, a real show-off dessert. We did think the pastry cream was perhaps a bit soft, which made it hard to slice perfectly. Luckily, we were having some more friends come over for dinner a few days later, so it seemed sensible to replicate the menu, from dinner to dessert. This time we used vanilla in place of kirsch, which may not have made much difference. But we also softened some gelatin, and added that, along with some whipped cream, to the pastry cream. This firmed up the pastry cream and made slicing easier, and the diplomat cream (or créme diplomat if you're in France) added nuance and body.

"The only problem," Jeff said, "is that we have pastry cream left over, and too many strawberries, too."

"That doesn't sound like a problem to me," I said. "It sounds like...breakfast tomorrow!"

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