I think anything custard based has to be my downfall. Oh, and crisps. And wine. And… well there are many things that constitute my culinary weaknesses but there is something incredibly luxurious, comforting and luscious about a crisp pastry tart brimming with custard and topped with sweet, juicy berries. There are a couple of techniques in this recipe that might seem off putting or too difficult for someone new to pastry but I urge you to try it out. Practice makes perfect and I’ll offer you some practical tips to try to help you get the best possible results. Once you have mastered the skill of a pastry base, and indeed the crème patissiere custard, the basics learned can be applied again and again with a multitude of toppings, fillings, and flavour combinations. For example, the orange zest can quite easily be omitted from this recipe. Likewise, substitute the strawberries for any fruit that is in season. The joy of pastry and custard is that they marry well with many fruits such as the thin slices of Pink Lady apple that adorn the custard tart at the end of this article.
Strawberry Custard Tart
For the pastry it is essential that the butter is very cold, I would even recommend leaving it in the freezer for some time before adding it to the other ingredients. In fact, in terms of crisp, crumbly pastry, cold is an essential component needed to make good pastry. Make space in your freezer for your tart tin before you begin this recipe. Another technique used here is that of “blind baking”. This is where you bake the pastry case on its own as opposed to say, a quiche, where pastry and filling are cooked together. To help with this task, you need to cover the pastry in greaseproof paper and baking beans. Make a cartouche (a circle of baking paper) and crumple it up in your hands, and follow by unfolding the paper back out again. You’ll notice that the greaseproof has become much more pliable and useable. Repeat this action another few times. This allows that when placed over the uncooked pastry, and the baking beans added, the paper will mould easily into every corner of the pastry, giving an even bake.
For the Pastry
- 185g plain flour
- ½ tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. fine sea salt
- 1 tbsp. caster sugar
- Finely grated zest of ½ orange
- 75g cold butter, cubed
- 1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for glazing the pastry)
- 3-4 tbsp. single (whipping) cream
For the Custard (Crème Patissiere)
- 4 egg yolks
- 65g/4 generous tbsp. caster sugar
- 3 tbsp. plain flour
- 300ml whole milk
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
To finish the tart
- 2 x 227g (2 punnets) fresh strawberries, hulled, sliced in half and
- 6 tbsp. apricot jam
- Preheat the oven to 180°C Fan/200°C/400°F
- For the pastry sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Stir in the sugar and orange rind. Add the butter and rub in between the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. (Alternatively this can be achieved by using the paddle attachment of your food mixer or the pastry cutter attachment of your food processer.) Stir in the egg yolk and cream to bind. Form into a ball, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 10 minutes.
- When chilled, remove the clingfilm and roll out the pastry, using a light sprinkling of flour to prevent it from sticking. This pastry will crack so be patient. Bring it back together with your hands and continue to roll until you have enough to line a 25cm/10in loose-bottomed tart tin. Use a sharp knife to trim the edges of any excess pastry and use this pastry to “patch” and cracks or holes you may have. Prick the base numerous times with a fork and place this pastry in the tin back into the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the freezer, line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes, remove the paper and the beans. Brush the pastry with the egg white, return to the oven and bake for another 6-8 minutes until golden. Leave to cool.
Cooked Pastry Case
- For the custard, put the milk and salt into a medium sized saucepan and bring almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Use an electric whisk or food mixer to beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy (They should lighten in colour, and thicken in consistency) Gradually stir in the flour. With the electric whisk going (or the motor of your mixer running) whisk the warm milk into the egg yolk and sugar mixture until fully incorporated. Strain this mixture through a sieve back into the saucepan and continue whisking over a medium heat until just bubbling. Cook for about 3 minutes to thicken and to cook out the taste of the raw flour. You need to be careful at this stage to give full attention to the custard, constantly and consistently whisking to prevent you from making scrambled eggs. Use your instinct here, if you feel it’s getting too hot, remove from the heat for a moment, and continue to mix. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the vanilla, and then cover with greaseproof paper.
- To assemble the tart; spread the custard in an even layer into the pastry case and arrange the strawberries in a pattern on top. Melt the apricot jam in a pan and when pliable use a pastry brush to coat the strawberries, giving them a lovely glaze and glossy finish.
Custard Tart Topped with Thin Slices of Apple
Apple Custard Tart