Oh boy, my very first blog post! This is also my first post for Tuesdays with Dorie. O.K., I'm not officially a member yet (gotta send an e-mail), but I've baked this week's recipe. It was "La Palette's Strawberry Tart," chosen by Marie of A Year From Oak Cottage. Wonderful choice, Marie!
I chose to make an almond pastry crust. As I usually do with pastry, I used a mix of unbleached all-purpose flour (about 2/3 of what the recipe calls for) and unbleached pastry flour (about 1/3). I ground up the almonds (whole, unblanched) in the food processor with some of the flour, added in everything else as directed -- now the recipe says to pulse in long pulses until the dough comes together. My dough was looking mighty dry and crumbly even after several long pulses. Worse yet, those nice little lumps of butter were breaking down into teensy tiny crumbs of butter. Uh-oh. My experience with pastry dough says the dough has a nicer texture with some small lumps of butter.
So I dumped the crumbs out into a bowl and gradually added some heavy cream to bring the dough together. I got carried away with adding the cream and ended up with a soft dough that could easily have been rolled out. Oh dear, hope this is going to work...I chilled the dough a bit, then pressed it into my mini-tart pans. I forgot to butter some of the tart pans. Oh well, let's call it an experiment. Does it make a difference? (Answer, no, for me it didn't. After baking, the tartlet crusts released just as well without buttering the pans.) I froze them overnight.
Time to bake - I took a hint from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Pie and Pastry Bible" and lined the tartlets with buttered circles cut from coffee filters. Put my well-used bean pie weights on top, just in case. Baked away -- uh-oh, when it's time to take out the liners, they are sticking to the pastry something awful! Hm. Let's bake them a little longer, maybe when the dough sets up more the liners will release...7 minutes later, the liners do indeed come out better, still with a little sticking but nothing that really affects the appearance of the pastry. Problemo, though...now the edges are really brown and the insides are still not done. And I have no foil edge coverings for these tartlet pans. Rats. Forge ahead. Turn the oven down a bit and bake them some more anyway. Victory! The bottoms are light brown, the edges are dark brown, but not burnt. Yippee!
The rest was easy -- slice the strawberries--actually my DH Jim did this for me which made it even easier! They weren't local, it wasn't quite strawberry season yet in Wisconsin though it should be soon. They were organic from California, Driscoll's brand. A bit larger than I like (I think the smaller strawberries have more flavor) but still quite tasty. Sprinkle berries with a bit of superfine sugar and some home-made orange-flavored brandy. Pull out what's left of the homemade creme fraiche and stir in more superfine sugar and orange brandy.
Whisk up a batch of shortcakes (actually it is my standard scone recipe) using some "scone mix" I had stored in the freezer -- because we just HAD to have some strawberry shortcake as well. Spread strawberry jam on tart shells, split shortcakes, top with berries and creme fraiche, serve!
Oh yum! But you know what? We liked the tarts quite a lot, but we liked the shortcakes even more! I guess we are just not French enough (actually, not at all).
The pastry came out quite nicely despite all my worries. Crisp and firm yet tender, not tough at all. Some other folks have reported that they had trouble cutting the crust. Well, tartlets solved that problem -- just pick 'em up and bite off a piece! (I love eating with my fingers. Sometimes I think I am not quite civilized, at least by American standards. It's not your fault, Mom, you tried!)
My "notes for next time" say that for the pastry dough, I'd decrease the sugar a bit, say down to 1/3 cup, and increase the almonds, say up to 1/3 or even 1/2 cup, while decreasing flour proportionately. Just my taste -- I'd prefer them less sweet and more almond-y. Also, I think I will add a tablespoon of heavy cream to the egg yolk before I put it in. Unbleached flour does tend to need more liquid than bleached, which is what Dorie says she uses. Then I will try trusting Dorie and whizzing away!
I still have two cooked tart shells and 3 uncooked ones in my freezer and they will not go to waste! (P.S. -- the scone/shortcakes are long gone.)