The end of August brings a shift in everything from the weather, to the fruit and our schedules. This week we went to meet my sons’ teachers and visit their class rooms, a day filled with excitement and a touch of dread. They are excited to reunite with all of the kids they haven’t seen over the summer, but the freedom of their/our summer schedule seems to be coming to an abrupt end. All of the sudden we are more conscious of their bed time and reluctantly reconnecting with the basic properties of writing a sentence. Oh, so much is forgotten in the heat of summer. Our carefree and shoe free days are ending, as is berry season.
My friend Jen, who has a glorious “cabin” in Northern MN, went wild blueberry picking with her 3 boys the last time they were up there. She brought me back a bowl of the little gems, which just goes to show what a good friend she is. They are incredibly sweet and filled with significance, just in their existing at all. While our attention turns to what we’ll soon make with apples, these little berries seem like a stolen summer moment. I had to make something that would preserve their true nature, not hide it. I didn’t want to bake them because their texture is perfect and needed to come through. I considered just snacking from the bowl in their purest form, but I’m a pastry chef and that just didn’t seem like fun!
I was flipping through The New Whole Grain Cookbook, written by my friend and very talented chef Robin Asbell. She has a recipe for a blueberry pie that is not baked and therefore showcases the blueberries in their perfect form and taste. Jen hadn’t brought me back quite enough to fill a pie dish, but I had enough for a beautiful layer in a tart. I decided to put them on top of orange scented pastry cream in an almond crust. I have to say it was delectable. My oldest son loves pies and tarts the most, and blueberry is his all time favorite. This seems like a perfect treat right before school starts. Anything to ease the transition! Thanks to Jen and Robin for their fruitful labor, generosity and inspiration!
The tart shell and pastry cream are from another of my favorite cookbooks, a real classic that everyone should have, Linda Dannenberg’s Paris Boulangerie-Pâtisserie. Linda got the pastry cream recipe from Stohrer, the oldest pâtisserie in Paris. The tart shell (pâte sablée) is from Gérard Mulot, another Paris favorite. Enjoy!
1 3/4 sticks (200 g) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup (90 g) confectioners sugar
1 large egg beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 cup (250 ml) milk (doesn’t seem to matter what kind)
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold)
I added the following to the recipe, but they are all optional:
zest from 1/4 orange
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
Blueberry filling from The New Whole Grain Cookbook:
I cut the original recipe in half because of the amount of blueberries I had. This is the perfect amount of a 9-inch tart.
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
scant 1/2 cup raspberry or blueberry juice (available at Trader Joe or co-ops)
1 1/2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water.
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
To make the crust: just so you know this makes a very soft/sticky dough, which makes it more difficult to work with. It is well worth the little bit of extra effort.
cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and make sure it is well blended. Add the salt and vanilla, mix until incorporated. Add the flour and almond meal, mix together until there are no more dry patches of flour.
Divide the dough into two equal disks and wrap well in plastic. Refrigerate for at least an hour. If you are only making one tart then freeze the other packet of dough for the next time you want a treat in a hurry.
Take one disk of dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes. This will soften the dough just enough so that it won’t crack when you are rolling it out.
I use a silpat and a piece of Vinyl to roll out my dough (or two sheets of wax paper), so that I don’t end up using too much flour. It also allows me to pick up the dough and put it in the freezer if need be. Roll it out until it is about 1/16″ thick and the right size to fit into a 9-inch tart pan.
If the dough is very sticky and will not easily peel off of the silpat, throw the silpat and dough right into the freezer for about 5 minutes.
When you remove the silpat/dough from the freezer you should be able to peel the dough easily.
place the silpat/dough over the tart pan and gently peel the silpat away.
If the dough is frozen, give it a minute to become supple, then you will need to push the dough down into the pan, it might crack a bit, but don’t worry! You can see around the edges that mine did this and I just pressed it back together.
Using a knife or metal spatula trim off the excess dough from the pan.
Preheat your oven to 350° and place the tart pan in the freezer while you wait for the oven to heat up.
Once the oven is up to temperature, take the tart shell out of the freezer and line with foil.
Fill the foil with beans and/or pie weights. As you can see I use a combination. I find the metal pie weights help to bake the shell more evenly because they conduct heat, but they can be quite expensive so I’ve added some beans to the mix.
Bake the shell for 25 minutes with the pie weights. Lift the foil/weights out of the shell and continue baking until the tart shell is golden brown, about 10 more minutes.
Cool the shell on a cooling rack while you prepare the fillings for the tart.
Prepare the pastry cream by following these directions. Note that the ingredients will be slightly different for this recipe, but the method is exactly the same.
Stir the chilled pastry cream to make it spreadable and add the zest, nutmeg and crème fraîche. Fill the tart shell with the pastry cream.
Prepare the blueberry filling:
If you are using wild blueberries, put them in a bowl of cold water so that the leaves and small hard berries will float to the top, where you can easily remove them. Pick the stems off and drain the water.
In a medium sauce pan bring to a boil 1/2 cup of the blueberries, the juice and sugar.
While vigorously whisking add the arrowroot slurry to the pot. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and salt. Continue to cook and whisk until the mixture is very thick and glossy, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Quickly fold in the fresh blueberries.
Quickly add the berries to the tart shell, on top of the pastry cream. Spread them into an even layer. Chill until set, about an hour.
Serve as is or with a dollop of crème fraîche.
For any of you with kids going back to school, good luck to them and may you all enjoy your new routine! For me it means getting back to work on the new book, which is due at the publisher in 5 short months. I’ll need some good luck as well!