Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fruit Art, Fruit Tart

Last weekend was my oldest son's birthday. I texted him asking if he could pick any homemade dessert, what would it be? ....   ....   .... Yeah, that's right. No reply. He's in his early 20s. Actually, technically he's now in his mid 20s (what the?!). His age and generation, and the fact that the text came from his (dear, dear) Madre would help explain the lack 'o reply. But, he was driving north across the Canadian border with his fiancee to go bouldering on a rare bluebird spring day, so I'll cut him some slack. Anyway, I decided this was just dandy - I got to pick! No problemo. Sort of. No problem in that I got to try a new recipe, and stick my nose in the baking books. But coming down to a final choice was a mini-problem. I am definitely an indecisive person. At least I think so.... But this was an ideal state of indecision, like a kid at eye level with the candy shelf type. Ultimately, I went with a fruit tart for the following reasons: lots of nutritious fruit on top, to satisfy those healthy and fit bouldering stud muffins who often are on a no sugar thing; a shelf life longer than "it tastes best if eaten within four hours of baking," since I had to make it a day in advance and buckle it behind a seat belt for a 90 mile delivery drive; and I got to shop for and purchase a new tart ring. Sweet!

I stood indecisively weighing my two tart ring options at the kitchen section of one of my local grocery markets. This kitchen section is a cut or 10 above most in a grocery store. High end brand names and lots of niche products. I found lots of tart molds in a variety of sizes and shapes. After I finally decided on a 9-inch ring versus 10-inch, I got stuck on the price delta of my 9-inch options. Both were made in Europe, so that always helps a person feel important. But the $ difference was nothing to sneeze at. The only product difference seemed to be that the more expensive version had a non-stick coating. Hmmm....... well, I bought the non non-stick coating one. I figured the butter in the tart crust would offer enough of a non-stick quality. I don't know if that was really the reason, but it worked like a charm. I spent $14.99 instead of $23.99, and felt smug when I removed the tart ring with ease.

I used the pate sucree recipe from Joanne Chang's cookbook called Flour for my tart crust, and the pastry cream recipe from Jacquy Pfeiffer's cookbook called The Art of French Pastry for the cream filling, and a quick cruise of #fruittart on Instagram for decorative inspiration. Overall, I was very pleased with it visually and taste-wise. What I would do differently next time:
  • Use pie weights in the pan when pre-baking the crust, as it tended to puff up a bit.
  • Take Jacquy's advice and infuse the milk in advance with real vanilla bean seeds, versus adding vanilla extract just after cooking the pastry cream. I have used real vanilla bean before in creme brulee, and I know it can make a show-stopping improvement in vanilla flavor.
  • Cook the pastry cream at boiling point for less time than I did. I tried to follow the instructions, but since I wasn't certain about when it started to thicken and boil, I think I overdid it. I considered starting over, but since taste seemed unaffected, and since the cream would be covered by fruit, I went with it. I felt like the texture was too thick and globular. It also could be that I put it in the freezer in a 'pile of cream in a bowl' fashion versus spreading it thin on a sheet as instructed. (Jeez, follow instructions, ya think?!)
  • Slice the strawberries so that the hollow section isn't visible. Some of the strawberries looked 'prettier' than others.
  • Finally, I chose not to brush jam on top for a glossy, glazed look. It turned out just fine without it. I would try it next time though, so I know how to prepare it that way.
Arranging the fruit on top was A little bit of creative pondering in advance before plopping your fruit down is good. And when the last raspbery was placed, I had a clap-my-hands-together-say-awwww-yeah! moment.

And about that final raspberry -- ensure you have a few extra on hand in case your younger, true early 20s, son decides to steal one off the top after arriving home late. It's akin to smudging the frosting, or blowing out a candle on the dinner table. It just says "I was here" so eloquently.

So Happy Birthday to my first born! His fiancee and I stuck candles in the tart and made him endure our horrible, off-key singing of the birthday song. What can I say but all the cliches. I think it was delicious, yummy, sublime. Made me so happy to hear him say, "Mom, this is SO GOOD!" You should make one too, so you can hear the same life-affirming compliment. (If your child is a teenager, you might have to wait a few years for free-flowing compliments and gratitude, but be patient, I promise they turn back into real people.)

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