Tarte aux Fraises

For 10 years of my life I spent most of my school holidays and one weekend every month, crossing the English Channel with my parents to stay in our French holiday home. I loved everything about the French lifestyle, culture and most importantly, the food! The first stop we would always make once we had hit land on the other side, was our local boulangerie and pâtisserie. There was no question when it came to choosing what I wanted; la tarte aux fraises.

Perfect for a warm, Summer's afternoon in the garden, this strawberry tart is not only easy to make but this recipe will ensure you've got that authentic French taste. It's all about precision and not rushing the process. I got my recipe from Rosa Jackson and it has worked every time – I've tweaked a couple of the instructions though as I cook in an AGA and you must be sure to have flour to hand when rolling out your pastry!

Tarte aux Fraises 
Serves 6

For the pastry:

+ 175g plain flour
+ 45g (5 tbsp) icing sugar
+ a pinch of salt
+ 90g of very cold butter, cut up into cubes
+ 1 egg yolk
+ 30ml (2 tbsp) ice cold water

For the crème pâtissière:
+ 350ml whole milk
+ 1/2 vanilla bean
+ 4 egg yolks
+ 75g caster sugar
+ 30g plain flour

And don't forget to buy 700g of strawberries for the topping

  1. Sift the flour and icing sugar and place in the bowl of a food processor with the salt. Pulse once or twice to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk and water and process until the dough forms a ball. Be careful not to overmix, but do let the dough come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and work it very lightly until smooth, pressing it forward bit by bit with the heel of your hand.
  2. Roll the dough out immediately (going against tradition, which says to let it rest in the refrigerator) and line a 9-inch (24 cm) tart tin with the pastry, cutting the edges off with a rolling pin. If it tears, don't be afraid to press it back together, using stray pieces of dough to reinforce any weak spots. Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 F (200 C) or 400 F (190 C) on the convection setting.  If you are cooking in an Aga, place on the middle set of runners in the roasting oven. Line the pastry with a round of parchment paper and fill with baking beans or uncooked lentils/rice to blind-bake.
  4. Bake for 10-15 mins, until the pastry starts to brown around the edges. Remove the paper and baking beans before returning to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until evenly golden. Set aside to cool.
Crème pâtissière
  1. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the milk and add the bean to the milk. Bring to a boil, being careful not to let it burn.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks and sugar until fluffy. Add the flour and whisk well until smooth. Pour the boiling milk slowly into this mixture, whisking constantly. Return the milk mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Lower the heat (AGA – move to the simmering plate) and continue to cook the pastry cream, whisking, for 2-3 mins over very low heat to cook the flour (if you're using an electric burner, switch to another burner so as not to burn the pastry cream). Remove the vanilla bean, pour the cream into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic touches the surface, preventing a skin from forming. Set aside to cool.
  3. When the pastry and pastry cream have cooled, pour the cream into the pastry shell and spread it out with a spatula. Top with the strawberries, cut in half, with the cut side facing upwards to prevent too much juice from soaking into the cream.
Serve and enjoy!

With the egg whites you have left over, keep them aside in a bowl in the fridge and you have your main ingredient to make meringue nests or an eton mess with. This is a great way of ensuring that you are using up all waste (and two desserts are always better than one)!

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