Friends, I had a kitchen disaster. Lest we forget the experiment part of this whole affair. It had everything to do with the strawberries.
I got a little too excited by a few more baskets of beautiful berries I bought after making these scones last week and I started dreaming up a coffee cake concoction that involved a delicious purée. And when I baked it, it was a beautiful sight — a strawberry fields dream — for about twenty minutes out of the oven, until the berries cooled and the loaves deflated.
What’s worse: I tried to remove one from its pan and it broke, most ungracefully, into two large hunks of hot loaf with lava-like purée dripping out onto the counter. I should tell you that it was delicious. It was. But it certainly wasn’t pretty and it got me thinking: What’s in it for the authentic spontaneity of spooned coffeecake eaten from a forgivingly clean kitchen counter?
Photos of dainty dishes in restaurants, are often about catching a plate of hot pasta on its best behavior: piping with steam and slim noodle strings al dente. There’s this whole ritual of styling. Instagram and its users know it well, although the Instagram-pitch stems, ironically, on the promise of immediate delivery of what’s happening. But “real time,” shouldn’t really have time for filtered styling, should it?
The thing about food is, it will sit still for us on a plate, it likes to be directed, it likes for its crumbs to be repositioned. It lets me take my time, to artfully arrange and rearrange… But how often do we po(i)se ourselves in the line of fire, in the line of authenticity?
Let me tell you a thing that I believe to be authentic about the time that I had making this tart: I’ll start by saying it was frustratingly delicate. I almost gave up. The whole affair was finnicky, the cream which didn’t want to have its temperature taken, burned me in the process. Then I went through a whole series of mini-tart shells and when I discovered they were too fragile and breaking, I had to start all over with new dough before I had something strong enough to hold a most luscious cream.
But then, it was just that: lusciously luscious. Unafraid of butter. And even though it’s the creamiest thing I’ve made it’s also surprisingly fresh and refreshing in taste. I suppose cold cream melting into lemon in a summer mouth is like that. Lightly indulgent. Don’t forego the berries.
For the 9″ tart crust (pate sucree):
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons
- 1 1/3 cup flour
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 egg
For the lemon cream (adapted from ‘Baking with Dorie’ via SeriousEats.com):
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, plus 5 tablespoons, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
- zest of 3 lemons
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup fresh blueberries for sprinkling
To make the crust (“smearing method,” adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking):
In a large bowl, combine flour, powdered sugar and salt, then using a pastry blender or your fingers, rub cold butter into flour mixture, until butter chunks are roughly mixed into flour, forming small oat-like bits.
Beat an egg with a fork in a small bowl, then pour over rough dough, mixing it into the flour-butter mixture with a fork, until chunks of dough begin to cohere. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and fold gently with your hands. Then smear dough, about two tablespoons at a time, with the heel of your hand against the floured countertop. Collect smeared chunks into a ball and flatten into a 1″ disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (at least 1 hour) until ready to use.
To make the lemon cream:
In a medium bowl, rub sugar together with lemon zest until sugar is moist and fragrant. Add lemon juice and eggs and whisk together until combined. In a double boiler or using a large metal bowl over a saucepan with several inches of simmering water, beat together mixture over medium heat, stirring continuously to prevent eggs from scrambling.
Mixture will begin to thicken and leave a trail as you lift your whisk to stir. Continue to stir and occasionally check the temperature of your mixture. Remove mixture immediately from heat when thermometer reader 180 F.
Push curd through a strainer into a large bowl, discarding lemon zest. Allow curd to cool slightly, about 3-5 minutes, to avoid butter melting when it is added to the mixture in the next step. While mixture is cooling, cut softened butter into 1/2″ chunks. When lemon curd has reached ~140 F, begin adding butter, about four to five pieces at a time and blending well with an electric mixer after each addition. Once all of the butter has been added, continue beating the mixture until lemon cream s light, uniformly smooth and fluffy. Press plastic wrap tightling against the surface of the lemon cream and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least four hours.
To assemble the tart:
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Roll out tart dough and fit it into a 9″ tart shell with a removable bottom and brush with egg wash. Then prick the surface of the shell with a fork and freeze for about 30 minutes to allow shell to set (also helps prevent shrinking and puffing). Bake shell for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove lemon cream from the refrigerator and loosen it with a rubber spatula or spoon when ready to use. Spoon directly into precooked and cooled tart shell. Dot the cream with fresh blueberries and then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve cold.