Proper French patisserie. It’s hard. Lots and lots of ingredients. Multiple steps and advance preparation. A correct spoon and bowl for everything. Whisks not appropriate here. Stir it like that, not like this. Many things to learn before I am allowed to improvise and adapt the way I do at home.
No strawberry juice? Use tropical flavour. No red food colouring? No big deal. Feeling like making tartlets instead of one big tart? OK. Tarts a little crumpled on one side? Cover it up with extra strawberry cream.
It is supposed to be traditional French tarte à la fraise multiplied by four: strawberry flavour in the pastry and the almond base, amped up with pink strawberry custard and fresh strawberry slices.
My tartlets were pretty damn good even so. I can only imagine with bright red pastry and a perfect rose of strawberry petals they would be a knockout.
Four-square strawberry tart
from Hugues Pouget’s recipe – makes 28 mini tarts
150g butter, room temperature
20g icing sugar
40g ground almonds
20g strawberry juice
pinch of salt
couple of drops red food colouring
80g butter, room temperature
40g single/whipping cream
120g ground almonds
40g strawberry juice
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
90g caster sugar
at least 250g (up to 500g) strawberries to decorate
Make the pastry the night before: rub the butter into the sugar and flour with your fingertips to a breadcrumb-like texture. Add the ground almonds, egg, strawberry juice, salt and food colouring. Stir to combine and gently work into a ball. Flatten it into a disc, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.
Make the almond paste: cream the butter and the sugar. Stir in the other ingredients, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
The day of serving, make the custard: blend the strawberries to a smooth pulp. In a medium sized bowl, mix the egg, sugar and cornflour. In a medium sized saucepan, bring the strawberry pulp to a boil. Tip a third of hot strawberries into the egg/sugar mix and whisk furiously. Tip it all back into the saucepan and heat it on a low heat, still whisking. The liquid should gel and thicken without burning or becoming lumpy. Cook and whisk for 2 minutes then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Refrigerate for an hour.
Bake the tartlets: Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the dough very thinly and cut rounds with a large glass (a pint glass would do). Place the rounds in well greased cupcake trays and bake for 10-12 until just golden.
Add a teaspoon of almond paste to each tartlet and bake again for 7-10 minutes until the almond mixture is just set. Leave to cool.
Just before serving: dollop a generous spoon of strawberry custard on each tarlet and top with neatly sliced strawberries.