Telling of two strawberry tarts

I’ve become quite fond of mini desserts. Diminishing the size of a sweet also reduces the guilt, and there is actually ample satisfaction in just one bite. Plus, a mini donut, cake or pie is just so darn cute. I believe this has something to do with the recent cupcake craze…cake, by the cup, is not only visually charming, but seemingly less harmful, nutritionally speaking.

But I have to say that I’ve had a longtime interest in little pies. Tarts, tartlets, whatever you like to call them, have intrigued me since I pored over the pages of the “Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook” as a child (more on this book later) and returned again and again to one photograph of a towering display of tarts of in a wide array of flavors and interpretations – a baby lattice cherry pie, a tiny chocolate cream pie, a miniature tart basket full of berries and more. I studied this page with both hunger and admiration throughout my childhood.

So, over the last year, two of my favorite Food Network chefs produced recipes of pies in miniature that I wanted to try. Given that both recipes use strawberries, I thought I’d share both for pie-of-the-month during strawberry season.

Now before you think I am going overboard with this pie thing (it began as a whim, turned into a challenge and is now a responsibility), I read an article recently in the Contra Costa Times in which 2011 has been declared (at least by some – including me) the year of the pie! Yes, it’s true. Somehow AWS latched onto a trend before she knew it was so.

Now, tartward we go! Delicious, ripe strawberries from the farmers’ market are everywhere you turn this time of year, so my main ingredient for both recipes was readily available. My first recipe came from Giada de Laurentiis. She made Baby Strawberry Honey Pies in one episode that were so adorable and looked so delicious, I could not resist. The recipe also seemed appealing in its simplicity – store-bought pie dough is used for the pastry in pies, formed in the cavities of a mini muffin pan – yes, they are really tiny!

Only about a teaspoon or so of filling – made from the mouthwatering combination of strawberries, honey, lemon juice and orange zest – is needed to fill these bitsy nests. A top crust of a mere two inches is laid over the top – I found the intricacy of using the tines of a small fork to crimp the crust edges a very delicately satisfying experience.

Despite the micro-crimping (which was actually a delight to do), this recipe is pretty easy to put together. My only misgiving about it is that, during my first go at the little pies, the bottom crusts did not brown as well as I would like. A second try at the recipe had me baking them for about three minutes longer, and I would recommend this, keeping in mind your own oven temps. The little pies are really tasty; just a bite or two, they require no fork. The filling, with the juicy strawberries, rich honey and bright citrus, cooks up nicely and tastes like a flavorful, yet not overly sweet jam. And those pies are just as cute as they can be – irresistible!

Now the second strawberry tart comes from Ina Garten, aka, the Barefoot Contessa, and is considerably more labor-intensive. The end result is worth it, but with one exception – you end up with only four six-inch tarts. If I’m going to go through a multi-step, spend-a-large-part-of-my-Sunday process on tarts, I would have liked to have ended up with six or more (greedy!). Still, these tarts are wonderful, and one of the key riches that came out of my trying this recipe is that I learned to make pastry cream, a stovetop custard that is smooth, buttery and vanilla-laden. The cream recipe could be used in a number of future desserts, from sandwiching a layer cake together to filling cream puff shells. Oh, another benefit to trying the tarts is that I splurged (not expensive, really) on some mini tart pans (the kind with removeable bottoms), which I know will be used again.

So I would recommend trying this recipe. Be forewarned, however: you will be making and chilling pastry dough, cooking and chilling pastry cream, rolling and filling small tart pans with dough, blind baking the tart shells, filling the baked crusts with pastry cream, slicing strawberries and arranging them atop the cream, glazing the tart tops with apricot jam, shelling and accessorizing the tarts with pistachio nuts (if you’ve ever shelled pistachio nuts, you are aware that this is not a task quickly accomplished).

If you wade through all these processes – and a good baker would not whine about these (I am not, just spelling it all out) – you will end up with a very elegant little tart that is not only beautiful, but scrumptious. The buttery, crisp shell complements the rich cream and juicy berries. The pistachios add an interesting hit of color, flavor and crunch. The tarts would hold high esteem when served to special guests for dessert after dinner or at a special tea or brunch.

Baby Strawberry and Honey Pies
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis,
“Giada at Home” (

Vegetable oil cooking spray
2 unroll-and-bake refrigerated 9-inch pie crusts (recommended: Pillsbury)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon arrowroot
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
8 medium strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces, to yield about 1 1/4 cups
1 egg, beaten
Special equipment: a 12-count nonstick mini-muffin pan, a 3-inch round cookie cutter, a 2-inch round cookie cutter

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the crust: Spray a 12-count nonstick mini-muffin pan with vegetable oil cooking spray. Put a strip of parchment paper, 1-inch wide and 5-inches long into each muffin cup, allowing the excess paper to overhang the sides of the cups. Unroll the pie crust and using round cookie cutters, cut out 12 (3-inch) circles and 12 (2-inch) circles of dough. Lightly press the 3-inch circles of dough into the bottom and sides of the prepared muffin cups.
For the filling: In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, lemon juice, arrowroot, and orange zest until smooth. Stir in the strawberries.

Spoon the filling into the muffin cups and using a pastry brush, lightly brush the edges of the dough with beaten egg. Put the 2-inch circles of dough on top. Using the tines of a fork press the edges of the dough together to seal. Lightly brush the tops of the pastry with the beaten egg. Using the tip of a knife, make a 1/4-inch wide slit in the center of each pie. Bake until the crust is golden, about 14 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes. Using the overhanging parchment paper as handles, remove the pies from the pan. Remove the parchment paper and serve.
Makes 12 mini pies.

Blogger’s note: I substituted flour for the arrowroot.

Strawberry Tarts
Copyright 2004, Barefoot in Paris, All Rights Reserved

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons cold shortening (recommended: Crisco)
1/4 cup ice water
2 cups Pastry Cream, recipe follows
2 pints whole strawberries, hulled and halved
1/3 cup apricot jelly
3 tablespoons shelled pistachios, halved, optional

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Put the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and shortening and pulse about 10 times, or until the butter is in the size of peas. Add the ice water and process until the dough comes together. Dump on a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the dough and fit into 4 (4 1/2-inch) tart pans with removable sides. Don’t stretch the dough when placing it in the pans or it will shrink during baking. Cut off the excess by rolling the pin across the top of each pan. Line the tart shells with a piece of buttered aluminum foil, butter side down, and fill them with dried beans or rice Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil, prick the bottom of the shells all over with a fork, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Before serving, fill the tart shells with the pastry cream. Arrange the berries decoratively on top of the cream. Melt he apricot jelly with 1 teaspoon of water and brush the top of the tarts. Sprinkle with pistachios, if using, and serve. Makes 4 tarts.

Pastry Cream:
5 extra-large egg yolks, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups scalded milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Cognac
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch.

With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk to the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Don’t be alarmed when the custard comes to a boil and appears to curdle; switch to a whisk and beat vigorously. Cook, whisking constantly, for another 2 minutes; the custard will come together and become very thick, like pudding. Stir in the vanilla, Cognac, butter, and heavy cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold.
Yield: 2 cups of pastry cream

Blogger’s note: I left the Cognac out of this recipe.

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