We have a tradition of allowing each family member choose the menu for their birthday celebration. Some ask for exactly the same meal each year, some switch up the meal, but stick to the same dessert, and others change the entire menu each year. My oldest daughter falls into the last category so I never quite know what to expect.... and it isn't unusual for her to change her mind at the last minute. That's exactly what happened this week. She originally requested my Vanilla Nut Bars for dessert, but then changed her mind and asked for a mixed berry fruit tart. It's very early spring here and I've been dying to see some bright colors so I was more than happy to comply.
The mixed berries will sit on a bed of vanilla pastry cream that has to be cooked and cooled completely before assembling the tart so I'll start by making that.
In a small bowl I whisked together sugar and egg yolks until they were completely combined.
Then I sifted in cornstarch.
And whisked until the mixture was smooth again.
Back to the milk mixture - as soon as small bubbles begin to form around the perimeter of the pan, remove it from the heat.
Quickly whisk a ladle or two of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture and whisk it vigorously to combine. This helps "temper" or raise the temperature of the egg mixture so it doesn't curdle when we pour it into the hot milk mixture to finish cooking.
Pour the warmed egg mixture into the hot milk mixture and return to the heat (medium), whisking constantly until the mixture thickens.
It won't take long at all. Just a minute or two. Don't stop whisking, and be sure to get the whisk down in the corners of the pan. A flat whisk is very helpful here.
As soon as the mixture thickens, turn off the heat and whisk in the butter until it melts and incorporates completely.
Strain the pastry cream through a sieve to remove the vanilla bean pod and any little lumps or bumps of cooked egg or whatnot that might have formed.
Even though those vanilla beans are used, they still contain wonderful flavor so don't thrown them away. They can be rinsed and dried and tossed into a container with granulated sugar to make homemade Vanilla Sugar. I have a jar that I've been using for years. I just keep adding dried vanilla pods and sugar so I never run out.
Back to the tart. Cover the hot pastry cream with a layer of plastic wrap touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming, then chill until cold. The more shallow vessel you use, the faster it will chill.
While the pastry cream chills, we'll make the shortbread tart shell by combining room temperature butter, sugar, flour, salt, and egg yolks in a stand mixer. This is a great time to use your BeaterBlade attachment so you don't have to scrape the sides of the bowl. Great invention!
Those of you who don't like rolling crust will be happy to hear that this particular crust recipe is now ready to go straight into the tart pan.
Press the crumbs evenly into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
I use a straight-sided measuring cup and my finger to help press the crumbs along the edges of the tart pan. The flat bottom of the measuring cup also helps press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the pan.
Freeze the unbaked tart shell for 20-30 minutes while the oven preheats.
When it's time to bake the tart shell, place the tart pan on a sheet pan and bake it in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes or until the edges of the tart shell start to turn golden brown.
Note: if your tart pan is dark like the one I'm using, be sure to lower the oven temp by 25F.
Mmm - we're almost done! The tart shell has to cool completely before filling so set aside for about an hour. Hint - I've been known to use a fan to speed the cooling process along. It works pretty well.
Alrightly, when you're ready to assemble the tart, spread the chilled pastry cream evenly into the completely cooled tart shell. An offset spatula is the perfect tool for this.
That was easy. Now for the really fun part.
Arrange the berries any way you like. I opted for this intentionally random placement. I forgot to get photos of the glazing process, but all you do is heat a couple tablespoons of apple or apricot jelly with a splash of water to thin it out a bit, then brush it all over the fruit. It's an optional step, but it adds a beautiful shine. Chill until you're ready to serve.
Mixed Berry Fruit Tart
makes a 10-inch tart
Vanilla Pastry Cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Shortbread Tart Shell
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
3 kiwi fruits, peeled and sliced
5 strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries
2 tablespoons apple or apricot jelly (for glaze)
To Make the Vanilla Pastry Cream:
Remove from heat as soon as small bubbles start to appear around the perimeter of the pan.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks until smooth.
Sift cornstarch into the egg mixture; whisk until smooth again.
Add a ladle or two of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture; whisk immediately.
Pour the egg mixture into the milk mixture and return to heat, whisking constantly for a minute or two until it thickens.
Remove from heat and whisk in butter.
Pour hot mixture through a sieve into a shallow bowl.
Cover pastry cream with plastic wrap touching the surface.
Chill until thoroughly cooled.
To Make the Shortbread Tart Shell:
Place all the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a BeaterBlade attachment; mix on low speed until evenly combined and mixture looks crumbly.
Press crumbs evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan.
Freeze tart shell for 20-30 minutes while the oven preheats.
Preheat oven to 350F (lower temp by 25F if you use a dark tart pan like I did).
Place tart pan on a rimmed sheet pan and bake in the center of the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the edges of the shell turn golden brown.
Cool completely before assembling (about an hour).
To Assemble Tart:
Spread vanilla pastry cream evenly into cooled tart shell using an offset spatula.
Arrange prepared fruit as you wish.
Heat jelly with a little water until the jelly melts and makes a glaze; brush on fruit.
Chill tart until service.