Over the weekend, I got lost on a hike and met an older man gathering blackberries. He told me he used them to make jam, and this bush was his favorite. I sampled a few, and waited to get sick. When I didn’t, I vowed to come back and pick a basket or two or three. Visions of blackberry jam, blackberry tart, black berry pie, black berry ice cream, danced in my head.
At home I still had a cup and a half of half and half — isn’t that a mouthful — from my ice cream escapades, so I made some vanilla pastry cream. I also had a handful of strawberries left to make two small five inch tarts to tie me over until blackberry festivities.
I used David Lebovitz’s crust recipe from the Chez Panisse almond tart. It creates a perfect, crumbly crust that even remains crisp after a night in the fridge. The pastry cream required a bit more exploration.
Making pastry cream is fairly similar to making any other sort of custard, including ice cream custard. You introduce hot milk or cream to egg yolks, and then gradually cook it until the mixture is thickened. Most recipes call for whole milk, but I found that half and half will work in a pinch. It’s not as light as my favorite pastry creams, but I don’t think anyone noticed the difference.
Some of the recipes for pastry cream that I looked up included ones by Kitchn, Epicurious, and Olga’s Flavor Factory. Some included flour as a thickening agent, but some of the comments reported a flour-y taste. No thanks! I ended up using Olga’s directions, but roughly Kitchn’s proportions.
- 1 cooked and cooled short crust (1 recipe was enough for 2 5-inch tart shells)
- about a cup and a half of strawberries, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cups half and half
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup of sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 1 vanilla bean
- 4 tbsp of butter
Prepare a medium sized bowl and put a strainer on top.
Heat the half and half in a medium heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup of sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Stir occasionally. Vanilla beans may clump. You can avoid this by mixing the vanilla bean seeds with the sugar first.
Meanwhile, in another bowl, beat 4 egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the corn starch and stir until it dissolves.
Once the half and half mixture is hot, gradually trickle in the half in half into the egg yolks while stirring vigorously. You want to start by introducing the hot liquid very slowly to gradually warm the egg yolks. You don’t want to scramble the eggs. Once you’ve add all the half and half, pour the mix back into the sauce pan and continue cooking until the custard has thickened.
Check by drawing a line through the custard on the back of a spoon. If it leaves a clean trail, it’s done.
Work the custard through the strainer. The strainer will catch any cooked eggy parts. Add the butter to the strained custard. The butter will cool the custard slightly as well as thicken it. Stir until smooth.
Lastly, press a piece of saran wrap over the surface of the custard to prevent it from forming a skin. Refrigerate until chilled.
Assemble the tart by filling the cooled shell with cold pastry cream. Arrange sliced strawberries on top. I started by placing the widest side of the strawberry on the other edge and working in a circle to the center. Then I added strawberries to any open spaces.