Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Individual Summer Berry Tarts with Apricot Glaze

This is my go to dessert recipe when I am having guests over for dinner. You can do parts of the recipe the day before (dough, cream, & tart shells) and finalize just before your guests arrive. While this recipe might seem a bit daunting at first, it is well worth it. 
Serves 5-6 

Step 1: Dough
1/ 2 cup sugar
2 sticks softened, unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 all-purpose flour
Before you begin, make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature. Add the sugar to the butter. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, combine the two until they are just blended together.
In a separate bowl, combine the egg, vanilla, salt and the zest of one lemon. Beat with a fork to blend everything together. Add this mixture to the sugar and butter. Mix again until evenly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
Next, add all of the flour in at once and fold in until it’s just incorporated. 
Once the flour has been incorporated, gather the dough together in the bowl and place onto the countertop.
Knead the dough briefly by rubbing it to ensure the flour is fully covered with the fat from the butter. Do this just a few times. Bring the dough together and cut it into 2 equal pieces. Shape them into flat rectangles. Wrap each piece tightly with plastic wrap. Press each piece to flatten slightly to even out. Place onto a tray and into the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes to chill.

Step 2: Pastry Cream 
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
5 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups whole milk
1 pinch salt
To start the pastry cream combine the egg yolks and sugar using a whisk. Then add the cornstarch and whisk until well blended (about 2 minutes) until light in color.
Heat the milk, vanilla and salt over medium heat and bring just to the boiling point. Add a bit of the milk at first to temper the eggs, and then continue to whisk and add the milk bit by bit until fully incorporated.
Transfer the mixture back into a clean pot over medium-low heat. At this point, it’s important to whisk constantly, until it thickens and bubbles. Make sure to get the whisk right into the edges of the pot so everything cooks evenly and the bottom doesn’t scorch.
Once the mixture has clearly thickened and has started to bubble, whisk continuously for about another minute to cook out the cornstarch. Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and place over an ice bath to cool. Stir a few times to quickly bring down the temperature. Once cooled a bit, cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.
Transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely. 

Step 3: Preparing the Tart Shells
To roll the dough, lightly dust the counter and rolling pin with flour. If you find that the dough is cracking as you begin to roll it out, it may be too cold. Just allow it to sit at room temperature for a few minutes and then continue.
To prevent the dough from sticking to the counter, gently lift it and turn it slightly after every couple of rolls. Dust lightly with flour if anything sticks.
Work quickly so the dough doesn’t get too warm. Roll it out to about 1/8" of an inch thick. At any point, if you find the dough is getting too warm or it is too soft to work with, place it onto the back of a floured baking sheet and chill in the refrigerator until it is easier to work with.
Place the tart shells onto the dough and cut around, leaving about an inch or so.
Remove the tart shells and the excess dough. The leftover dough can just be pushed back together and used for another time.

Gently lift the dough and place it into one of the tart shells. Note: don’t worry if any tears occur - you can simply press the dough together. Press the dough into the base and along the sides. Pinch the dough over the edge of the tart pan to form a thicker wall. Then gently squeeze the dough along the edge so it rises a bit above the edge of the tart shell. This is a great trick in case the dough shrinks at all during baking. Press the pieces of excess dough together and freeze for future use.
Place the shell onto a tray and into the freezer or refrigerator while you assemble the remaining tarts. Once all of the tarts are assembled, poke the base of the dough a few times with a fork.  
Place back into the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to ensure the dough is very cold prior to baking.

Step 4: Baking the Tart Shells
While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
To blind bake the tart shells, remove them from the refrigerator and place a small piece of parchment inside each one. Then fill with dried baking beans or pie weights.
Flatten the beans slightly to ensure the base and sides are weighed down. Then place the tart shells into the oven and bake for about 13 to 15 minutes or until you can see the edges just start to turn golden.

Once the shells have started to set, remove the beans. The dough should look like it has started to cook and set and the edges should also look a bit golden. Place back into the oven and continue to bake for another 5 to 10 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown.
For even browning, you can rotate the tray during baking. Also, if the edges seem to be getting too dark, yet the base still looks undercooked, place a piece of parchment over top. The parchment will slow any further browning while giving the bottom time to fully cook.
Once done, the edges should be golden brown and the base should be fully cooked. Place onto a rack to cool completely.

Step 5: Preparing the Fruit
While the tart shells are cooling, begin preparing the fruit. Use only fresh fruit.  Note: the better quality the fruit, the better your tart will look and taste.
Wash the fruit just before assembling and make sure to handle it gently. Rinse very gently in a colander and then place onto a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
For the raspberries, make sure any water trapped inside is allowed to drain, as any excess water will lead to a soggy tart. Also be sure to remove any stems from the blueberries. If using smaller, wild strawberries, you can leave the stems on as they are soft enough to eat. This just makes for nicer presentation, but you can remove them if you prefer.

Step 6: Assembling the Tarts
1 cup fresh strawberries (approx.)
1 cup fresh blueberries (approx.)
1 cup fresh raspberries (approx.)
You can also use kiwi if you prefer, which is what is shown in the above picture. 

To begin assembling the tarts, whisk the pastry cream well to smooth it out. It may be hard to whisk at first, but eventually it will become smooth.
Spoon a bit of the pastry cream into each shell. Spread it out evenly, using a spatula. 
Begin placing the fruit on top of the pastry cream. Start with some of the blueberries, then a few of the raspberries, followed by some of the strawberries. Fill in any holes with blueberries to ensure the entire surface is covered.
Once all of the tarts are filled with fruit, set them aside while you prepare the glaze.

Step 7: Apricot Glaze
1 cup apricot jam (or jelly)
2 tbsp water
To prepare the glaze, place the apricot jam into a small pot, add the water and stir to combine. Bring it to a boil and then strain to remove any pieces of apricot. Straining the jam makes it easier to brush on and it also gives the finished tarts a more refined look.
Place the strained syrup back into a clean pot. When ready to glaze, bring it back to a quick boil, as hot glaze also makes it easier to achieve a thin coat. Once hot, remove from the heat and begin glazing the tarts.

Step 8: Finishing Up
To finish the tarts, gently brush on the glaze, making sure they are evenly coated. Aside from making the tart look nice and shiny, the glaze helps to hold the fruit intact and protect it longer from the air.
Once done, remove the ring so the jam doesn’t firm up and stick to it. Just gently pop it out from underneath. Also, be sure to remove the bottom of the tart pan.
As you’re applying the glaze, it may thicken as it cools, which will make it harder to apply. Simply place it back onto the heat and add a touch more water to thin it out. Basically, it should be thin enough and hot enough to easily coat the fruit.
Once done, refrigerate the tarts for at least 2 hours to give the pastry cream time to set. This is especially important if you are making a larger tart that will need to be cut into portions. These tarts will keep until the next day, and even the following day; however it’s best to make them and serve them on the same day for optimum freshness.

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