My friends seem to be getting a wee bit spoiled.
Case in point: last weekend was a combined birthday bash for Richard and some of the folks in his family who have birthdays in May and June. My line of thought on this party was "Oh, perfect! I'll make cupcakes of some sort to bring, which will be nice because I haven't made cupcakes in quite a while." Perfectly reasonable, no? So, I asked Richard what kind of cupcakes he would like for his birthday. This is what he says to me:
"No, I don't want cupcakes. I want a tart."Wait wait wait--back up--come again?! Now, you all must understand something about Richard. He's not a food enthusiast like I am. Not in the slightest. This is the guy who, when I met him years ago, would have been perfectly content eating the same turkey-cheese-iceberg lettuce-mustard sandwich for lunch every single day for years on end. People who meet us nowadays are constantly scratching their heads about how we're together, since Richard feels as dispassionate about food as I feel passionate about it. Over the years, I've managed to train him well on certain things--for instance, he now has a fine appreciation for well-made tapioca tea or fresh, finely-rolled, raw-fish-incorporated sushi. But he often still snubs his nose at my culinary... er... creations. So, imagine my incredible surprise upon discovering that I'd actually trained and spoiled him far more than I had even thought, Mr. "I Want a Tart and not Cupcakes for my Birthday."
So once his choice of desserts was settled, I set about working on designing a tart worthy of a closeted dessert connoisseur's birthday. And there's possibly no food item Richard loves more than strawberries. I've never seen anyone inhale the same vast amounts of the fruit like he does. Hence, I knew it had to be a strawberry tart. Because there would be so much strawberry-age involved, I wanted to darken up the rest of the flavors more and to develop a robust earthiness to the layers underneath the sweet summery berries, so I went for a strawberry, rosemary-caramel, and buckwheat tart.
The tart has a base of buckwheat pastry--slightly nutty and sweet from the buckwheat but with a darker tang than with a regular, white flour crust. The pastry is coated with a light layer of rosemary caramel that is just salty enough to cancel out the sweetness, and the rosemary offers a hint of brightness and uniqueness to the strawberries on top. (The rosemary isn't overpowering at all.) The strawberries sit on a bed of simple vanilla pastry cream and are brushed with a generous amount of freshly-reduced strawberry syrup, basically packing double the amount of strawberry flavor into a single fruit layer. With patience, you can slice the strawberries and arrange them around the tart, or, go for the rustic look by plopping entire tiny whole strawberries on top.
Richard's a man of few words (yet another big difference between us, since I'm prone to blathering on and on and on), but given that he pretty much polished off the entirety of the two tarts that I made on his own, I'd say that this was a fair success. Next year, though, he's getting cupcakes....
Read on for recipe....
Strawberry and Rosemary-Caramel Buckwheat Tart
makes one 9" round tart
for tart crust:
100 gr buckwheat flour
160 gr AP flour
50 gr sugar
7 Tbspn butter, cold and cut in pieces
1 egg yolk
3-4 Tbspn cold water
1. Using a food processor or pastry cutter, mix the buckwheat and AP flours and sugar until combined. Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture until the size of small peas.
2. Add the egg yolk and gradually add the water just until a dough begins to form when you press it between two fingers. Do not overmix.
3. Form the pastry into a ball and refrigerate for at least one hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
5. Remove the pastry dough from the fridge and press the dough into the tart pan. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork, cover with parchment paper, and weigh down using dry beans or pie weights. Return to freezer/refrigerator for a few minutes if the dough has softened.
6. Bake for ~13-15 minutes until the edges just begin to turn golden. Remove the beans and the parchment paper and continue to bake for 3-5 minutes more, until the crust has completely turned golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
100 gr sugar
~2 heaping Tbspn fresh rosemary leaves (~1 1/2 large sprigs of rosemary)
3 Tbspn butter
1/2 tspn coarse salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tspn freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Have all ingredients pre-measured and ready next to the stove.
2. In a small, light-colored saucepan, wet the sugar with just enough water to make it the consistency of wet sand (~1 - 1 1/2 Tbspn water). Add the rosemary leaves.
3. Cook the sugar and rosemary on medium heat. Do not stir once the sugar starts boiling--swirl the pan around gently to insure even cooking. Cook until the sugar is a deep amber color, right before it is about to burn. Immediately add the butter and salt and whisk thoroughly. Be careful--this will sputter!
4. As soon as the butter has completely melted, remove from heat and carefully add the heavy cream, whisking continuously.
5. Once the cream has incorporated, pour the caramel into another heat-resistant container to cool, straining through a fine mesh sieve to remove unevenly cooked sugar, if necessary. Let cool briefly. Stir in the lemon juice. Let cool briefly, and spread a thin layer onto the bottom of the tart crust. Save any extra caramel for other uses. Let the caramel cool to set.
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
150 gr sugar
2 Tbspn AP flour
1 tspn vanilla extract
1. Bring the milk and cream to just a simmer.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar. Whisk in the flour.
3. Using the simmering milk, temper the egg mixture by adding a little bit of the hot liquid at a time, whisking constantly.
4. Return the milk and egg mixture to heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the saucepan until the mixture thickens and can thickly coat the back of a spoon.
5. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
6. Let cool. Once cool, pour on top of the caramel in the tart crust and smooth. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let it set.
for strawberry syrup and final assembly:
12 oz. (~285 gr) frozen strawberries, thawed with juices
1 tspn (~5 gr) lemon juice
1-2 Tbspn sugar, to taste
fresh strawberries, sliced or whole
1. Extract all the juice from the frozen strawberries by pressing them through a fine mesh strainer. You should have a little more than a 1/2 cup of juice. Set the pulp aside for other uses.
2. Boil the strawberry juice until it has reduced by more than a half (~3-4 Tbspn left).
3. Stir in the lemon juice and then stir in the sugar to taste. Let cool briefly.
4. Arrange the fresh strawberries on top of the prepared tart. Brush the strawberries with the slightly warm strawberry syrup.