In the summer, I don’t like to spend a lot of time baking or fussing with my desserts (I do enough of that during the course of my work day). I prefer to take advantage of the bounty of fresh, ripe berries available and let their flavor be the focus. I also don’t have a problem lightening my workload
by taking a shortcut or two, like buying store-bought puff pastry. I call this simple dessert a tartlet, but it’s really nothing more than a round of baked puff pastry that has not been allowed to rise, and which is then topped with a lemon pastry cream and quartered strawberries. The pastry rounds can be
prepared a day in advance (as long as it’s not too humid), and stored in an airtight container. The pastry cream can be prepared up to 3 days in advance – just don’t fold in the whipped cream until you’re ready to assemble the tartlets, or the cream may weep (and so will you). You can
change up the flavors here, in the pastry cream and in your choice of fruit topping. For the pastry cream, you can even substitute a fruit puree for 1 cup of the milk in the recipe, and top with an appropriate berry or fruit mate. A peach or plum pastry cream topped with thin slices of the fruit would be lovely, for example. If you do decide to use a fruit puree, reduce the lemon zest to 1 teaspoon.
Strawberry Puff Tartlets
Makes 8 tartlets
Pastry Cream Filling:
2 cups (484 g/17 oz) whole milk
½ cup (100 g/3.5 oz) granulated sugar
5 large (93 g/3.3 oz) egg yolks
1/3 cup (40 g/1.4 oz) cornstarch
1 Tbsp (14 g/0.5 oz) unsalted butter
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
¾ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Puff Pastry Rounds:
1 lb puff pastry (store-bought or homemade, as you like)
1 lb small strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Make the Pastry Cream Filling:
1. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until pale. Sift the cornstarch into the mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk about ¼ of the milk into the yolk mixture, then whisk the yolk mixture into the pan with the remaining milk. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens and boils. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the lemon zest and butter until the butter is completely melted. Scrape the pastry cream into a stainless steel bowl and set the bowl in an ice bath and stir frequently until cold. Cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the Puff Pastry Rounds:
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll the puff pastry out to a thickness of 1/8 inch and, using a 3 1/2-inch round pastry cutter, cut out 8 rounds from the dough. Prick the rounds well with a fork and arrange them on a baking sheet that is lined with a silicone baking mat. Top the rounds with another silicone mat and another baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the baking sheet and silicone mat and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes, until the rounds are golden brown. Cool.
Finish the tartlets:
4. Spread a layer of filling on top of each puff pastry round (don’t use too much pastry cream, as it tends to escape over the edge of the pastry), leaving a ½ inch border around the edge. Top the filling with strawberry quarters, covering it completely. Dust generously with confectioners’ sugar before serving.