When fragoline, the tiny woods strawberries, appear in markets and trattorie in late spring, it is truly cause for celebration. During their brief reign, there is no other dessert worth contemplating. Eaten simply out of hand or in a cookie crusted cream tart, now is the time to revel in this sweet seasonal gift.
Torta di Fragole (Strawberry Tart)
Makes 10 servings
Sweet Pastry Dough (recipe follows)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
2 tablespoons dark rum, divided
1 tablespoon butter
1 quart (1 1/2 pounds) medium or small strawberries, halved if desired
1/2 cup all-fruit apricot preserves
Coat a 12-inch round baking or pizza pan with no-stick spray. Prepare the dough. Pat into the bottom and 1 3/4 inches up the side of the pan. Prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake for about 30 minutes, pricking any big air bubbles with a fork, or until the entire surface is lightly browned. Remove to a rack. Store, covered with waxed paper, in a dry place for up to 24 hours.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour. In a measuring cup, beat the egg, egg yolks, and half-and-half or milk. Add to the pan; whisk until smooth.
Cook, whisking constantly, over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture starts to bubble. Cook, whisking vigorously to prevent lumping, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Continue whisking until mixture cools slightly. Whisk in 1 tablespoon rum and the butter. Pour into a bowl. Set aside to cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or as long as 1 day.
Place the preserves in a glass measuring cup. Cover and microwave for 60 to 70 seconds, or until bubbling. Press through a fine sieve. Discard the solids. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon rum.
Up to 2 hours before serving, spread the pastry cream evenly over the crust. Top with strawberries decorative pattern. Brush the top evenly with the apricot glaze. Refrigerate, uncovered, for up to 2 hours.
Sweet Pastry Dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
2 egg yolks, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
To prepare by hand: In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest, and salt with a fork, pastry blender, or hands. Add the butter. Cut or break it up into fine bits, mixing well with the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center. Add the egg yolk mixture. Toss to mix. The mixture will look crumbly. Turn the mixture out onto a work surface. With hands and a dough scraper, work the mixture into a smooth disk.
To prepare in a food processor: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Process to mix. Add the butter. Pulse 12 to 15 times to incorporate. With the machine running, drizzle in the egg yolk mixture. Turn off the machine. Pulse 6 times. The mixture will look crumbly. Turn the mixture out onto a work surface. With hands and a dough scraper, work the mixture into a smooth disk. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, if desired, so dough is easier to handle.
Speaking as someone who does not usually lose her mind over custard, this tart is breathtakingly good thanks to the precious unmistakable flavor of the fresh strawberries mingling with the sweet cookie crusted cream tart.