Summer berries are delicious. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries are all bursts of beautiful color and flavor. Most often I enjoy them for breakfast in a smoothie or with yogurt. I may have them in a shortcake or cobbler. However, a classic French Fruit Tart is really special…
It’s actually very simple, and when all the components are prepared and combined correctly, it’s an absolute amazing summer dessert. To achieve this, the crust has to be browned to crispy golden perfection, the pastry cream must be thick, rich, and perfectly smooth, and the juicy, flavorful berries must be perfectly ripe. Hit these three points and you have hit the summer dessert trifecta.
Ok, it may be a little intimidating to some. French pastry crust and crème pâtissière may sound fancy, but this is essentially piecrust and vanilla pudding. Sometimes old school is the way to go.
French Pie Pastry – Makes one (10-inch) tart shell
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into bits and chilled
- 2 large egg yolks
- 5 to 6 tablespoons cold water
To prepare the dough, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. Add the egg yolks and pulse to combine.
With the processor on pulse, add the ice water a tablespoon at a time. Pulse until the mixture holds together as a soft, but not crumbly or sticky, dough. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm and evenly moist, about 30 minutes.
To prepare the dough, lightly flour a clean work surface and rolling pin. Place the dough disk in the center of the floured surface. Roll out the dough, starting in the center and rolling up to, but not over, the top edge of the dough.
Return to the center, and roll down to, but not over, the bottom edge. Give the dough a quarter turn, and continue rolling, repeating the quarter turns until you have a disk about 1/8 inch thick.
Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, unrolling over the tin.
With one hand lift the pastry and with the other gently tuck it into the pan, being careful not to stretch or pull the dough.
Let the pastry settle into the bottom of the pan.
Take a small piece of dough and shape it into a ball. Press the ball of dough around the bottom edges of the tart pan, snugly shaping the pastry to the pan without tearing it.
Remove any excess pastry by rolling the pin across the top of the pan.
Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with the tines of a fork to help prevent shrinkage during baking. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
To blind bake, preheat the oven to 425°F. Crumple a piece of parchment paper, then lay it out flat over the bottom of the pastry. Weight the paper with pie weights, dried beans, or uncooked rice. This will keep the unfilled pie crust from puffing up in the oven.
For a partially baked shell that will be filled and baked further, bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the paper and weights. (You can reuse the rice or beans for blind-baking a number of times.) The shell can now be filled and baked further, according to the recipe directions. For a fully baked shell that will hold an uncooked filling, bake the empty shell until a deep golden brown, about 30 minutes total.
Pastry Cream/Crème Pâtissière – Makes 2 1/2 cups
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 6 large egg yolks
- ½ cup sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- Pinch of fine sea salt
Bring the milk almost to a boil in a saucepan. Add the vanilla seeds and bean. Cover and leave in a warm place to infuse the vanilla flavor, about 15 minutes. Remove the bean, wash it to use again, and reheat the milk to boiling.
In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and the sugar with a wooden spoon, until thick and light. Stir in the flour and the pinch of salt to make a smooth paste. (Add the vanilla extract, if using.) Whisk the scalded milk into the egg mixture, blending well, then return the mixture to the pan. Place over low heat and whisk until boiling. (Make sure the cream is perfectly smooth before letting it come to a boil!) Cook the cream, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.
Strain the cream into a bowl. To use immediately, cool over an ice bath, stirring often, until cooled completely. If refrigerating for later use, to prevent a skin from forming, press a piece of buttered plastic wrap onto the surface and refrigerate until cool, several hours or overnight. Store for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
Fresh Fruit Summer Tart – Serves 12
- 1 recipes French Pie Pastry, baked (see above/below)
- 2 pints berries or mixed summer fruit
- 1 recipe Pastry Cream
To assemble the tart, bake the crust and remove it to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the pastry cream. Once cooled completely, spread the pastry cream into the cooled tart. Serve immediately.
For more information about Virginia, visit www.virginiawillis.com
Follow Virginia on Twitter @virginiawillis
Check out Virginia on Facebook/VirginiaWillis