Walk around any Los Angeles farmers market — or head to Oxnard this weekend — and you'll see strawberry season in full display, the baskets and flats of Gaviotas and Albions, Chandlers and Seascapes, arranged like ad hoc garnet jewel cases. And after you eat your fill, take an extra few pints home and make Dorie Greenspan's La Palette strawberry tart. (Read our two-part interview with the cookbook author and food blogger.)
Greenspan's tart recipe, from her award-winning Baking: From My Home to Yours, is a simple one, composed of an excellent tart crust (a pâte sablée), a layer of strawberry jam, and an arrangement of cut and sugared fresh berries. Named for a the Parisian café La Palette, the tart is, as Greenspan writes in her book, the café's greatest draw, “a dessert that, sadly, doesn't turn up on the menu in any predictable way. We got lucky one summer afternoon and, to guard against the disappointment of not being so fortunate on subsequent visits, I immediately took to making it at home.”
Greenspan suggests serving the tart with a bowl of crème fraîche, or “embellishing the fruit with a little black pepper and eau-de-vie. It's a brilliant way to show off good berries and turn something simple and spare into something alluring and romantic.” Turn the page for Greenspan's recipe for both the pâte sablée and the tart itself.
La Palette's Strawberry Tart
From: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan.
Note: the recipe for Sweet Tart Dough makes enough for one 9-inch crust.
Sweet Tart Dough:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter,
cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1. Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in–you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.
2. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. J
3. Just before your reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change–heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
4. To press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don't be too heavy-handed–press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
5. To partially or fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).
6. To fully bake the crust: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. (I dislike lightly baked crusts, so I often keep the crust in the oven just a little longer. If you do that, just make sure to keep a close eye on the crust's progress–it can go from golden to way too dark in a flash.) Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.
7. To patch a partially or fully baked crust, if necessary: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, bake for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.
*Storing: Well-wrapped, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully-baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, I prefer to freeze the unbaked crust in the pan and bake it directly from the freezer–it has a fresher flavor. Just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.
Best quality strawberry jam
1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (see above) fully-baked, cooled and removed from pan
About 1 quart ripe, fragrant strawberries
Splash of kirsch, a drop of fraise or framboise eau-de-vie or a spoonful of crème de cassis (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Crème fraîche (first choice) or whipped cream
1. If you are going to be serving the whole tart at once, spread a generous layer of jam over the entire bottom of the crust, then cut it into wedges. If you are serving fewer people, just cut as many portions of the tart as you need and spread the jam over the cut pieces.
2. Halve as many strawberries as you need (quarter them if they are very large) for the number of people you'll be serving–be generous–and, if you think the berries need it, toss them with sugar. If you want to add a teensy bit of liqueur, stir it in now (but go easy–you want the liqueur to enhance, not take over, the flavor of the berries) and add a bit of the black pepper, if you'd like.
3. Put each piece of crust on a plate and spoon over the berries and their juice. Don't try to follow the outline of the crust, just spoon the berries onto the center of the crust and let them tumble over either side. If the point of the crust peeks out from the berries, so much the better.
4. If you'd like, you can top each portion with some crème fraîche or whipped cream, but I think it's more fun to do as they do at La Palette and just put a pot of it on the table and let everyone take a share.
*Storing: While you can bake the crust early in the day and keep it at room temperature, and you can also halve and sugar the berries an hour or so in advance, this dessert should be assembled just before serving.
**Playing Around: This idea of crust-jam-and-fruit can be adapted to any berry (it's great with blueberries) or any soft fruit like peaches, apricots, plums or nectarines (fresh or poached). When the season changes, you can use sautéed apples, pears or quinces. Omit the pepper and eau-de-vie and add whatever flavorings you want.
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