These little strawberry flowers are a perfect late breakfast. When you realize they are cookie type crusts filled with pastry cream and topped with fruit, there will be a part of you that rebels against such rich food, but here’s what I suggest: cut it in half. Better yet, get a breakfast buddy and share. These are about 6 inches wide, so half a tart feels like plenty if you stop and eat slowly, and really take pleasure in the bright Spring flavors. Thanks to the freshness of early strawberries, there is a lot less sugar than you might think. And as the caption suggests, I left off the glaze. They disappeared too fast.
Rich food like this is perfect for conscious eating. The richness of the cream, the tart sweetness of fresh strawberry, the crunch of the crust. Add the visual appeal, and you have a perfect accompaniment to a hot, bitter cup of coffee on the porch. These are a fair bit of work; so it’s more of a Sunday Brunch than a weekday experience, but if you are an early riser, you could mix and bake the night before, and assemble in the morning without too much trouble. Just don’t rush them.
These recipes come from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s ‘The Pie and Pastry Bible‘. My copy features in the image above. It’s a huge book, and while I collect cookbooks like I fear they will someday disappear, I go to this one a lot. Even for sweet things, I don’t like a ton of sugar, and I find that these recipes are often lower in sugar than other variations in similar recipes. So for these tarts, I used the Sweet Cookie Tart Crust, and the Pastry Cream. (If you’re unfamiliar with making pastry cream, you may want to check out a few YouTube videos on the topic. It isn’t difficult, but there’s a process.) Then I sliced the strawberries, and here we are. But there are a couple of important details.
Strawberries are just now becoming available. They don’t grow in my region, so we have to wait until they come from warmer climates. If you have regional fruit available, use it. You will be stunned at the difference it makes. Don’t get me wrong. These were delicious. But when our local fruit comes in, I’ll be visiting the farmers’ markets. Any fruit that won’t brown quickly is great for these tarts.
Second, vanilla. There are plenty of pastry cream recipes with vanilla extract. You can use vanilla extract. And you know I respect your budget. But if you can possibly splurge, try beanilla.com. (Not sponsored, just the one I use, and they will sell you small amounts of beans.) Real vanilla is so much better. Most of the inexpensive vanilla extracts you can buy are synthetic, or something even more unsettling. Don’t get excited about the beaver thing — it’s expensive, and you’re likely just getting synthetic. I use inexpensive extract all the time, for anything where vanilla is just a side flavor, like chocolate chip cookies, But where vanilla is the feature, like this pastry cream, it is really worth the extra flavor. If you’re going to sit and appreciate these, you will notice the difference immediately. Bonus on vanilla beans: After you scrape out the center for your pastry cream, you can put the bean in your sugar container, and leave it there. After a little while, it will fragrance and flavor your sugar with vanilla goodness. It’s subtle, but it’s another dimension of flavor you can enjoy when you are having something sweet as a treat.
So give these a shot. They’re small and delicious and meant to be shared.