October 7, 2009

happiness is a french tart.

Something really exciting happened about two weeks ago. There's an item on my menu of baked goodies that almost no one ever orders. Finally, someone did. Maybe people are scared of them? I don't know. All I know is, I was like a kid in a candy store getting to stretch my baking muscles a bit and whip up some French-style mini tarts. The whole process - from making the pastry dough, to pressing it in to each individual tart pan, to whisking each filling...it all made me very happy.

The order was for my three different fillings: lemon, vanilla bean pastry cream with berries, and pecan-chocolate. I used the same crust for all three from my cookbook, The Modern Baker. All of them turned out really nicely (Well, ok, that's not entirely true; the only hiccup was that I had to re-make my vanilla bean pastry cream. The first recipe I used was B-A-D.)

The whole experience took me back to my days living in France, when the highlight of my week was going to the bakery on the corner and buying a tarte au citron. I completely fell in love with the French way of making pastries, and while I'm certainly no expert, I have such a respect for the method. There was this one boulangerie in particular in Nancy, where I lived, that had the best lemon tarts in the city. I would make a trip across town on foot just for one of those tarts.

It's the little things in life, I guess. For me, happiness is a french-style mini tart. Period.

Vanilla bean pastry cream (adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten)
6 extra large egg yolks (at room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, the insides scraped out
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp heavy cream

Using a mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is lightened in color. On low speed, beat in the cornstarch.

Scrape the vanilla bean into the milk and bring the milk to a simmer in a large saucepan.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the milk into the egg mixture (temper it by pouring only a little bit at first, and then pour in the rest of the milk). Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook on low heat for about 3 more minutes. Mixture should be smooth.

Remove from heat. Mix in butter, vanilla extract and cream. Strain into a bowl using a wire mesh strainer. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard surface and refrigerate until cold.