There are so many different ways to reach the same destination when it comes to baking. Everyone and their mothers have their own version of how to make the basics – like pie dough, pate choux, and pastry cream. Navigating through baking books and online recipes can be overwhelming at times with countless variations to choose from, so I usually narrow down to these three experts to guide me through the process: Dorie Greenspan, David Lebowitz, and Martha Stewart.
This is not to say that I don’t seek other patisseries’ tutelage — I do. I have overflowing shelves full of baking books from other authors to prove it. But when I’m in a need of an absolute fool-proof recipes for French-inspired desserts (and am not particularly in the mood to experiment), I go straight to Greenspan, Lebowitz, and Stewart, as I consider them to be the definitive authorities on the subject. Although they are all American, two formers live in Paris (I thinks Greenspan travels back and forth to Paris and New York) and their authenticities are certainly not lost in translation. And of course, Martha. Martha, Martha, Martha. Love her or hate her (and I happen to love her, clearly), there’s no denying that her recipes come out perfect, every. single. time.
When I was searching for the recipe for pastry cream for the strawberry tart, I compared all three. Greenspan and Lebowitz’s recipes were very similar, but Stewart’s used a few less eggs … and since I was down to just four eggs in the refrigerator (as opposed to six), I decided to go with the Domestic Queen’s version.
And the result? Fantastic, of course, sandwiched between the buttery pate sucree and fresh strawberries.
Makes about 2 ½ cups
Adapted from marthastewart.com
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
In a medium saucepan, combine milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot-milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until it has been incorporated. Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard vanilla bean.
Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter, and beat on medium speed until the butter melts and the mixture cools, about 5 minutes.
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Just before using, beat on low speed until smooth (you can also whisk by hand).
I used the small brioche pans I purchased from William Sonoma to make these individual shells.
I tried a few different ways to place the strawberries and this seems to work the best. I put the whole strawberry, sans stem, in the middle, and arranged the sliced berries around it.
I used the apricot jam and water mixture for the glaze. Definitely take the time to do this final step, as it makes the tarts look more professional (and it tastes great).