Friday, July 18, 2014



Since becoming a non-professional baker, I've come to realize that some fruit are "in season" during different months of the year, depending, of course, on where you live. For example — strawberries. I say "for example" as if there are others, but as it is the most significant, it is the only example I'm giving. Strawberry season not being in sync with other parts of the world is my biggest disappointment. In Japan, strawberries are sold during colder months (usually starting around December and peaking around March), whereas in the U.S. or European countries, I hear that strawberry season is during the warmer months usually starting around May and peaking in the summer. Well, in my past B.B. (Before Baking) days, this fact was insignificant to me and went unnoticed. I enjoyed strawberry season the Japanese way, enjoying the sweetness of them indoors, while wearing a sweater. Just for the record though, the thought that 'strawberries would taste even better outside in the sun' (perhaps a summer picnic?), did cross my mind more than once. I must've known deep down in my heart. Now, in my current A.D. (After Discovering) baking days, summertime is torture. I read wonderful blogs with beautiful photographs, and the 'spring & summer recipes' sections of lovely cookbooks only to find them dotted with delicious-looking recipes using lush, ripe strawberries. And then there is Instagram . . . It is all truly maddening.

It is May now (this post was originally written then, so kindly forget that it is July for a moment), and it is time to say goodbye to strawberry season here in Tokyo. The cartons of red at the local grocery store are getting fewer and fewer, and unless you have kind relatives living in the coutryside that will send you fresh strawberries, it is time to choose your last cartons of the season. Well, that is exactly what I was doing the other day when I found some very appealing, smallish berries with the stems still attached. Perfectly pretty and perfectly rare. A good combination in my opinion, and they even turned out to be flavorful. One carton disappeared over a single french toast breakfast, but with an idea in mind, I went back for more. One of the recipes that makes being deprived of strawberries during summertime such a disappointment for me is tartelettes. They appear quite often in my references, and it's what makes me ending up with a deep feeling of need for the wrong things at the wrong time of the year. To fulfill this craving in May would be the next best thing to fulfilling it in July or August. And so, the grand finale for this year's strawberry season was realized: 'tartes aux fraises à la rustique' — a little sooner than summer, but at least not in the remains of winter.


* { tarte aux fraises, pâte sucrée adapted from : miette by meg ray with leslie jonath, crème pâtissière adapted from : the little paris kitchen classic french recipes with a fresh and simple approach by rachel khoo }
— continue reading for the recipe

< for the pâte sucrée >
240g flour
30g granulated sugar
pinch of salt
110g cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons whipping cream (35% fat)

< for the crème pâtissière >
500ml milk
1 vanilla pod
120g 6 egg yolks
100g granulated sugar
30g cornstarch

strawberries (enough to adorn 6 tartelettes)
confectioner's sugar for dusting

< for the pâte sucrée >
1. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the cold butter and coat the pieces with the dry ingredients using a bench scraper or spatula. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Whisk the egg yolk and cream together in a small bowl, and add to the flour mixture. Using a spatula and your hands, mix until the dough comes together in large chunks. Gather the dough into a ball, shape it into a disk, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 180℃.
4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. Roughly divide the dough into six, and roll out each portion on a lightly floured surface until about 6-7mm (1/4inch) thick. Drape the rolled-out dough over each tartelette tin and gently push in to fit the bottom edges and sides. Take care not to pull and stretch the dough out to prevent shrinking. Let the excess dough drape over the edges of the tins and trim neatly by rolling a rolling pin over the edges. Prick all over the bottoms with a fork and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
5. Bake the tartelettes directly from the freezer until golden brown for 20-25 minutes. (The recipe originally instructs to bake the tartelettes for 10-12 minutes but I usually bake mine for 25 minutes, sometimes even longer to get them golden brown. This is probably due to the fact that I use a convection microwave oven which is very small. If you use a large oven I would recommend checking on them after the first 10 minutes and modifying the time accordingly.) Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

< for the crème pâtissière >
1. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds out. Add the seeds and pod, milk, and about 20g of the granulated sugar into a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
2. While heating the milk, whisk the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar together in a bowl until light and thick. Add the cornstarch and whisk until fully incorporated.
3. Remove the simmering milk from heat and remove the vanilla pod. Add the milk in a slow stream to the egg yolk mixture while whisking vigorously. (Be careful not to cook the eggs.)
4. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat. Making sure that the bottom and sides don't burn, whisk continuously until the mixture thickens. Once the mixture releases a bubble or two whisk for another minute and remove from heat.
5. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve over a tray lined with plastic wrap. Cover so that the plastic wrap sticks directly to the cream and place in refrigerator until completely cool, preferably overnight.

< to assemble the tartelettes >
preparations: Wash the strawberries and gently pat dry with a paper towel. Hull and cut if they are large.
1. Transfer the cooled pastry cream to a bowl and whisk until smooth. Once smooth, transfer into a large pastry bag with a medium round tip. Pipe the crème into each tartelette until full.
2. Adorn with the strawberries and dust with confectioner's sugar, just before serving.

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