It’s funny how weekend plans can change on a dime when it comes to unrequited food cravings. I was all set to become all zen-like with my wok when my dinner out last Friday night did not quite have the sweet ending expected and all thoughts of stir-frying dissipated like a drop of water on a hot pan.
Let me explain. “Hungry” Hubby and I went to dine at what could be the most popular restaurant in Richmond, and rightly so. Ambience is unparalleled; food has always been consistently good and more than a couple of times – excellent. But like all other dining establishments in the Richmond Metro Area, the dessert menu fails to tantalize.
Now, as I have a pastry business myself I tend to stir clear of offering any kind of opinion regarding a restaurant’s last course because I believe everyone’s taste buds are different. But I think it is long overdue for someone to say quite simply: “Let’s raise the bar on dessert, people!”
I am not a difficult person to please. I realize this is not New York City or San Francisco, but is it too much wishful thinking to have sweet goods such as the tartlets of Balthazar (yes, T.W. they still haunt me) and the delectable baked goods of Tartine be within easy reach? Even I, on my limited budget, make it a priority to visit these food Meccas to enrich my palate and not lose touch as to what is a quality pastry instead of staying in my own comfort zone and fester in mediocrity. What I am trying to say is restaurants should invest in their culinary team and send their staff to New York, Chicago or San Francisco at least once a year to scope out the dining (and pastry) scene.
Sigh – okay end of rant.
So, last night instead of reading my newly acquired Wok book, I pulled out Tartine in hopes of consoling myself with photographs from this beloved San Francisco Bakery. But images were not enough and I found myself pulling stuff out of the refrigerator to make pastry cream. I already had leftover tart dough in the freezer from the Meyer lemon curd tart I made a couple of weeks ago – there was no stopping me now. That night, I dreamt of a very berry tart, and I knew exactly how I wanted it.
Sweet Tart Dough (K. Zuckerman Sweet Life)– check out recipe here. Instead of blind-baking, I baked the tart all the way through. Remember, the color has to be golden brown to release the buttery taste otherwise the flavor will be “floury”.
Pastry Cream (Tartine)
Whole milk 2 cups
Vanilla bean ½ bean
Salt ¼ tsp.
Corn Starch 3 tbs.
Sugar ½ cup + 1 tbs.
Large Eggs 2
Unsalted Butter 4 tbs.
Pour the milk in a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pods into the milk. Add the salt, place over medium high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. The larger batch, the more careful you should be.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
When the milk is ready, ladle about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes. In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture should come just below boiling point. However if the cream is allowed to boil you will curdle the cream. Remove from heat and immediately pour trough the sieve into the bowl.
Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skin from forming. Cut the butter into 1 tbs. pieces. When pastry cream is ready whisk the butter into the pastry cream 1 tbs. at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tbs.
To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream. Be careful whisking the cream when it is cold. Overmixing will break down the starch and thin the cream. Pastry cream will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Bavarian Cream (Tartine)
Gelatin ½ tsp.
water 1 tbs.
Heavy cream, very cold ¾ cup
Pastry Cream(above), cold 1 cup
Soften gelatin in the water. Heat ¼ of the cream and dissolve the gelatin. Meanwhile whip the remaining ½ cup of heavy cream until firm peaks form. In a mixing bowl, whisk the pastry cream to smooth it out. Fold in the whipped heavy cream. Whisk about ½ cup of the whipped cream-pastry mixture into the gelatin mixture. Add the gelatin mixture to the rest of the cream combination and whisk to combine.
Filling the tarts
Have the cooled tart shells ready. Spoon the desired filling onto your tart shell. You don’t want to fill the shell to the top as the weight of the fruit can cause the pastry cream/Bavarian cream to overflow the rim. Fill with fruit.
(I arranged the raspberries first into the cream and then scattered the blueberries letting them fall where they wanted. Then I filled in the empty spaces with the appropriate berries.)
Nothing beats a vanilla bean for flavor infusion. A good vanilla bean is moist and flexible. I prefer Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. They are the best quality and quite expensive but they are so totally worth the price. Flatten the pod with the back of the knife as this will make it easier to slice down the middle and scrape the beans out. Since this bean is boiled in milk, you can wash, dry and grind it to make vanilla bean powder, which you can use to sprinkle on dessert.
The pastry cream was scrumptious and rich with the scent of vanilla- it took all the willpower I had not to just consume the whole bowl right then and there.
The steps for the Bavarian cream were kind of suspect. I had some lumps when I added the cold pastry-whipped cream mixture to the gelatin-mixture; either the gelatin-mixture was too cool or it would have been better to add the gelatin-mixture to the cream as it was being whipped.
I filled some tarts with straight pastry cream and others with Bavarian cream. From what I’ve tasted so far, pastry cream is better for berries. The Bavarian cream would probably work better for fruits that have their own sweetness like mangoes, as it is very light and not too sweet at all.
The sweet-tart recipe is one I love and hate. It can be frustrating to work with because it keeps breaking apart and you’ll have to play patch-up work with the misbehaving dough. I keep swearing to look for a new recipe but each time I taste the buttery crispness of the baked shell, I fall in love with it all over again. I did find that it helps a lot to roll it between waxed parchments rather than a floured surface. Use one side of the parchment when transferring to a tart ring- if you lift it with your fingers – it will break. I also skipped glazing the tarts – as fresh looking as the berries were, it would be a shame to cover them with a shiny glaze.
As Elisabeth Prueitt said in her book, more than just recipes, first-rate ingredients play a vital role in the result of your pastry – if you use the best there is no need to bury your dessert under layers of sugar.