Nothing smells of an English summer like strawberries. I’m very lucky to live in Essex, which grows some of the tastiest, sweetest, prettiest strawberries in England…not that I’m biased!
I have wanted to make crème patisserie for ages and thought it would be the perfect accompaniment to the strawberries in this classic, unfussy tart.
My earliest memory of crème patisserie has to be the Marks & Spencer choux bun. Like everything (except my waistline) they were definitely bigger in the past, and the creamy light custard filling tasted like heaven! It was the sort of treat that you almost ate too quickly in your desire to consume it, and then regretted that you hadn’t savoured it more. Of course, the CCM (Caked Crusader’s Ma) usually made sure there was more than one cake to be enjoyed…(see earlier comment about waistline!)
This tart relies on great ingredients and should probably only be made in the summer when the strawberries are local, and packed with flavour. The simple shiny glaze gives a professional looking finish.
The buttery pastry is crisp and crumbly and provides a lovely textural contrast to the thick, creamy crème patisserie.
Cut a very large slice, sit back and enjoy!
For the pastry:
250g plain flour
125g unsalted butter, straight from the fridge and cubed
50g caster sugar
For the crème patisserie:
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
25g plain flour
1 vanilla pod, cut in half lengthways and the seeds scooped out
optional: 4 tablespoons double cream (whisked in just before assembling tart)
For the strawberries:
2 large punnets (about 400g each) strawberries
3 tablespoons caster sugar
3 tablespoons water
Start by making the pastry. Place the flour, butter and sugar into a food processor and blitz until you have breadcrumbs. (You can do this by hand with the old rubbing the butter into the flour method)
Add the eggs and blitz again.
Tip out onto a sheet of clingfilm and, with a little extra flour if necessary, bring the mixture into a dough.
Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°C/300°F/Gas mark 2.
Roll out the pastry between two sheets of clingfilm until it is large enough to line a 25cm loose bottomed flan tin. There is no need to grease the tin as the pastry is so buttery. I found the pastry behaved really well and there was no tearing thus no patching needed. Leave any surplus pastry hanging over the edge.
Line the pastry with a sheet of baking paper and fill with baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 45 minutes. This sounds a long time but the temperature is very low so the pastry won’t burn.
Remove the paper and beans and, if the pastry looks wet, return to the oven for a further 5 minutes to dry it out.
When cool enough to touch, trim away the excess pastry.
Leave to cool and then store in an airtight container (the tart should only be built on the day of serving).
Now make the crème patisserie – this can also be made a day in advance and refrigerated until required.
Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until light and thick – don’t skimp on this stage, it will take several minutes.
Whisk in the flour.
Place the vanilla pod and milk into a saucepan and bring it to the boil slowly; take it off the heat as soon as it boils and remove the vanilla pod.
Pour the milk onto the egg and sugar mix and whisk all the time.
Return the mixture to the sauce pan and stir over a low heat until it comes back to the boil.
Stir all the time; you will feel the mixture start to thicken as it approaches boiling point. This won’t be a subtle thing – you will have no doubt that your liquid has firmed up!
If you find the crème patisserie becomes lumpy whisk it quickly, off the heat. Don’t panic though – you can always pass the mixture through a sieve. Some people are funny about this and think it’s a sign of failure - I always do this, just to be on the safe side, whether there are lumps or not – why be proud and risk it?
When the crème patisserie has thickened, remove the pan from the heat and press clingfilm onto the surface to stop a skin forming.
When it is cool, transfer it to a bowl and cover with clingfilm; refrigerate until you build the tart.
Add the cream to lighten your crème patisserie when you build the tart. Take the crème patisserie from the fridge and whisk in a large bowl – it will have set so whisking loosens it up.
Add cream, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve the light consistency you require – mine took 4 tablespoons. (if you don’t mind a thicker crème patisserie omit the cream, but still whisk it to lighten the texture).
Now prepare the strawberries: wash them and hull them (this means remove the green leaves and the little white core you get in the middle).
When the strawberries have dried, you are ready to start building the tart: fill the pastry case with the crème patisserie and arrange the strawberries on top.
Now make the glaze for the strawberries: place the sugar and water into a saucepan and bring them to the boil, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar dissolves.
Brush the glaze over the strawberries and leave to cool.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.