I’ve been candid about my love-hate with traditional American fruit pies before. Maybe my classic French training is to blame or perhaps it’s my fondness for French food generally. Whatever the reason, my preference is for a fresh fruit tart such as this strawberry tart. And for those that feel that making a homemade pie is to labor intensive, I got you covered, this tart is less work.
Some say fruit tarts derived from the Medieval pie-making tradition and are themselves actually flat, oven-faced pies. By definition, a “tart” is a type of baked dish consisting of a filling over a pastry base with an open top. The tart pastry itself is typically what’s called a “shortcrust pastry” (or pâté a foncer) and the filling itself can be either sweet or savory (such as quiche).
The French word “tarte” can be translated to mean either “pie” or “tart” making a traditional American pie and a French tart more similar than most would suspect. Tarts have shallow sides and only a bottom crust. Classic tart crusts are often made using a pastry dough which typically consists of flour, unsalted butter, cold water, and sometimes sugar. The goal being a firm, crumbly crust. Tarts are served un-molded and out of their baking pan.
In contrast, “pies” are baked in a deep dish pan with sloped sides. They can have just a bottom, just a top, or both A pie crust is most often made of flour, salt, cold water, and lard (or shortening) but can also be a combination of fats such as butter, lard, or vegetable shortening, or just butter. The goal being a crisp, flaky crust. Unlike tarts, pies are served straight from their baking dish.
My love of fruit tarts is mainly because of their simplicity, but their elegance is not lost on me either. Often more delicate than a traditional deep-dish pie, the fresh fruit on top can often look like a culinary work of art.
In this strawberry tart recipe I use a simple pâte sucrée for the crust that can easily be made in a standard kitchen mixer. The hardest part here is the pastry cream (or Crème Pâtissière as it’s known in French). This creamy custard, used in many classic French desserts, is worthy of the time it takes to master it. Artistically, when assembling the tart, there’s lots of room. I like to slice and fan my berries, but the options are limitless, so go ahead, get creative.
Types of Pastry Dough For Tarts:
- Pâté a Foncer– A French shortcrust pastry that has egg in it.
- Pâté Brisée– Similar to Pâté a Foncer with a rich and buttery flavor but it is lighter and more delicate due to a higher quantity of butter.
- Pâté Sucrée– Known also as “sweet dough”, is made with more sugar which sweetens the dough but also impedes the gluten making it more flaky.
- Pâté Sablée– Also known as a “shortbread dough” with the digest quantity of butter and low ratio of eggs compared to all the other tart doughs.
Pâté Sucrée (Sweet Dough)
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 7 tablespoons, cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- Step 1 In the bowl of a food processor, such as a Cusinart, fitted with a blade attachment, add the flour, sugar, and salt, pulse to blend.
- Step 2 Add the butter and pulse until it resembles a coarse sand-like mixture. Add the cold water and pulse a few times to blend, be very careful not to over mix.
- Step 3 Transfer dough to a large work surface. On a lightly floured surface, gently knead 4-5 times to incorporate. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about at least 1 hour.
Pastry Cream + Tart Assembly
- For the Pastry Cream:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup sugar, divided
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scrapped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- For the Tart Topping:
- 2 pints whole strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 1/3 cup apricot jelly
- 2 teaspoons cold water
- Step 1 For the Pastry Cream: In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla bean (and seeds) to a simmer over medium heat till the sugar dissolves and mixture begins to simmer.
- Step 2 In the meantime, using a medium size mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until pale yellow in color. Add the cornstarch to the yolks and whisk well to incorporate.
- Step 3 In a slow, steady stream add the milk mixture to the eggs while whisking constantly.
- Step 4 Discard the vanilla bean an place the mixture back into the saucepan you were using. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thick, do not allow to boil and is thick enough to hold whisk marks. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and butter.
- Step 5 Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium size mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skim from forming. Chill the pastry cream until set, about 2 hours.
- Step 6 Baking the Tart Shell: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Step 7 On a lightly floured surface, Roll out the dough slightly larger than the tart pan you are using and gently mold into a tart pan with removable sides. Cut off any excess dough by rolling the rolling pin across the top of the pan.
- Step 8 Line the tart shell with a piece of lightly oiled parchment paper (oil side down) and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the tart shell until beginning to set, about 10 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment, gently prick the bottom of the tart shell bottom all over with a fork, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the tart from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
- Step 9 Assembling the Tart: Right before serving, fill the tart shell with a good amount of the chilled pastry cream. Arrange the strawberries decoratively on top of the cream.
- Step 10 In a small microwave safe bowl, heat the apricot jelly with 2 teaspoons of water till melted, about 30 seceonds. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the strawberries with a thin coating of jam. Serve immedietly.