Mini Strawberry Tarts

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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.

Pastry Cream
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).

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I used the same pate sucree (sweet dough) recipe as the Tarte Aux Pommes I made the other day (click here for the recipe). See, I told you I use other pastry chef’s recipes too!  lol

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I used the small brioche pans I purchased from William Sonoma to make these individual shells.

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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.

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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).

Happy baking!

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Empowering, One Dorayaki At a Time

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I remember when my family and I first came to the states back in the 80s, it was virtually impossible to find delicate, French-inspired confections what rivaled those available in Japan. Dense sugary cakes topped with thick buttercream (with artificial colorings) and overly sweet and brick-like brownies filled the supermarket bakery counters, and those airy sponge cakes that we were so accustomed to were nowhere to be found.

That’s when my mother learned to bake at home. I think she baked almost every day one year. I looked forward to coming home from school every day, knowing that lemon-infused madeleines (she baked them in cupcake tins because she didn’t own a shell-shaped pan) and heavenly chocolate vodka cakes (yes, vodka!) would be waiting for me upon my return.

The dessert landscape has certainly changed in recent years. It’s now possible to bring home wonderful, high-quality cakes, cookies, macarons and any other confections imaginable, from even as close as your local neighborhood grocer. But there’s something still very empowering about baking things you crave at home, in your own kitchen, whenever you want, however much you want.

My recent empowering moment – making dorayaki, one of my favorite Japanese confections, at home! When the craving strikes, but a trip to a nearest Asian supermarket is out of reach (with a little bebe sleeping in the crib), we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do to satisfy the urges!

Dorayaki
(Makes 12 pancakes; 6 dorayaki)
Recipe taken from Cooking With Dog; I doubled the recipe to make more

Ingredients:

4 eggs
160 g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon baking soda
100 ml water
260 g cake flour
5 tablespoons water (to adjust the thickness of the batter at the end)
18 oz (1 large can) Azuki (sweet red bean paste)

Instruction:

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① Beat eggs, sugar and honey with a whisk. Beat the mixture for about 15 minutes. I used a stand mixture with a whisk attachment.

② In a separate bowl or a cup, dissolve the baking soda with water. Add it to the egg mixture, and mix.

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③ Sift cake flour and add it to the egg mixture; mix but be careful not to over mix.

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This is the consistency of the batter.

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④ Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and set aside for about 30 minutes.

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⑤ Adjust the thickness of the batter by adding water, one teaspoon at a time, to achieve the perfect consistency.  This is the consistency that you’re looking for.  You want the batter to flow down the whisk effortlessly without being too runny.

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⑥ Heat a griddle or a non-stick pan.  Drop the batter onto the griddle or pan; it should naturally form a circle when you drop the batter gently.

I noticed that the surface will come out perfectly brown (without any inconsistent spots) if you don’t oil the pan.  Make sure to use the non-stick kind so the pancake slides right off the surface.

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⑦ Flip the pancake when the bubbles form on top.  Cook the other side for about 20 seconds.

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⑧ Get the pre-made anko (sweetened azuki beans) ready.  You can get this at most supermarkets (in Asian grocery aisle) or at Asian stores.  You can always make your own but I found the canned version to be too delicious to pass up.  I can eat the entire can by myself in one sitting!

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⑨ Scoop about 2 tablespoons of anko and layer it onto one side (the “wrong” side) of the pancake.

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⑩ Take the second pancake to sandwich the anko.  You’re all done!

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These dorayakis are amazing. The cakes (called “castella” in Japan) are perfectly bouncy (different from a regular breakfast pancake) and the combination between the sweet cake and azuki is simply divine. I might like the homemade version better than the store-bought ones!  If you store them in the refrigerator, it’s best to bring them to room temperature before you eat them by leaving them out for about 15-30 minutes (they are much softer at room temperature).

I’m glad I found a YouTube cooking show called, “Cooking with Dog,” that shows viewers how to make Japanese food and desserts.  Each show is narrated by an English speaking dog, Francis, with thick Japanese accent. It’s hilarious and informative – do check it out!