One of the best memories of my Norwegian-American grandfather is of his row of little strawberries that he carefully grew in coffee cans in his backyard. They were so tiny and fragrant and I loved picking them when they reached the perfect state of ripeness. In March, I decided to grow a few pots of these wild-type strawberries from seed-mignonette alpine strawberries, aka woodland strawberries (fragaria vesca).
Ive also formed a strong attachment to Persian mulberries, first from childhood picking sessions in suburban Chicago and now when they arrive at the farmers market here in Los Angeles. They have a wonderful, wild dark berry flavor thats slightly tangy & rich.
Recently the two berries have ripened at the very same moment and Ive been scrambling to find recipes for these precious jewels. So I decided on two cream & pastry solutions: tartlets with pastry cream and financier cake with vanilla ice cream. The following is the first installation, the next to follow. Warning-this dough is a pain in the butt to work with, but gives a very nice sandy texture.
BERRY TARTLETS WITH VANILLA PASTRY CREAM (paraphrased from Saveur Cooks Authentic French (pastry cream) & a French pastry book I borrowed from the library 10+ yrs ago, copied, & since lost the title & author (pastry)-sorry, will repost when I find it)
Pate Sablee (rich, crumbly cookie dough pastry)-make approx. 8-12 tartlets
1 stick butter, room temp
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 t superfine sugar
1 1/4 c cake flour
Cream butter until soft. Beat in sugars until light in color. Beat egg in small bowl, add half to sugar mixture, beating until smooth. Add rest of egg & continue beating until it resembles butter cream. Sift flour over bowl & incorporate. Gather up dough and place in large Ziploc bag (its very sticky and hard to handle without plastic). Flatten a bit to even out and set in fridge to firm up a few hours or overnight.
Preheat oven 350. While still in the bag, flatten the dough with a rolling pin until 1/8 thick. Open up bag & cut dough with a pastry wheel/sharp knife into shapes that will be large enough to fit into tartlet molds (when necessary, place dough in fridge to firm up); gently pat in to fill molds. Once all molds are done, place in oven and bake 20-30 minutes until golden-watch carefully. Set aside to cool.
1 c milk
1/2 t vanilla /1/2 vanilla bean
3 egg yolks
1/4 c sugar
1 T AP flour
Heat milk in saucepan until just boiling over moderate heat. Add vanilla and set aside to cool.
In a bowl, whisk yolks & sugar together, add flour and continue whisking. Add a bit of milk (should be cool), whisk, then add the rest of the milk. Place this back into the saucepan. Over low flame, cook the mixture until thickened, stirring, about 10-15 minutes. Take off heat, strain, and set aside to cool completely and firm up further in fridge.
Assembly: when ready to serve, place a spoonful of pastry cream in tartlet shell. Gently shake a bit from side to side to level out cream (or use an offset spatula) and set a few berries decoratively in the cream. Serve immediately.