Scientists, or psychologists, or a special task force of People Who Know Things Like This say it takes exactly 21 days of doing something for that something to become a full-fledged habit. 20 days? Apparently not enough. You must repeat whatever it is for at least 21 days for it to go from “that thing I’ve been doing” to “something I can’t stop doing without experiencing withdrawal.”
I was on vacation for 22 days. Whoops. That was poor, poor planning on my part.
Because now I can not stop being on vacation. I can’t wrap my head around my normal schedule. I went to the gym both yesterday and today, and felt a little like dying. Writing? Pfffft; totally over my head. And it doesn’t help that it’s 156 degrees here by 9 am, so the thought of turning on the oven? Terrifying. It’s so hot I had to pack the Wee One in frozen broccoli bags just to get her home from the grocery store yesterday.
I’m going to break my vacation habit. In the meantime, given the situation many of us are in (and by “situation” I mean “walking outside is like walking face-first into a convection oven), I’m going to share with you a super-easy, fancy-looking, very cold fresh fruit tart. It’s great for summer nights when you don’t feel like baking and you want to eat something light and chilled.
The only thing that involves an oven here is the tart crust, which you can make at your convenience. You’ll make the pastry cream on your stove top, sure, but to me, stove tops don’t heat up your house the way ovens tend to do. Besides, the pastry cream takes mere minutes to make.
I made this for our Independence Day party while on vacation, so I topped it with strawberries and blueberries (red and blue, right?) You can really throw anything on this tart and it’ll be great. Peaches would make for a lovely “peaches and cream” thing, or you could make a sunset rainbow out of an assortment of stone fruits (plums, peaches, apricots, cherries). Any type of berries work beautifully, or you could even try a tropical thing with pineapple and kiwi and things like that. I encourage you to get super creative: do your thing with it, and I’m sure it will be delicious, and refreshing, and all the things cold pastry cream and fruit should be.
Don’t feel like messing with the tart crust? Cool. Because this pastry cream is good by itself, or dollopped over fruit, or fruit and cookies, or fruit and a store-bought pound cake. Or angel food cake. Whatever, people; when I say “wing it,” I mean it. It’s hot. The last thing I want is for you to feel burdened with tart crust.
If nothing else, the recipes I’m giving you for both the pastry cream and the tart crust are solid, solid recipes, people. I use them all the time. They are not finicky, and they are a breeze to put together. You’ll notice from my horrid photo that it doesn’t look much like a traditional tart; this is because my vacation kitchen didn’t come with a selection of tart pans. You know what I used? A 9-inch Springform pan. And it worked. That’s how forgiving the crust is; it didn’t even get offended when I placed it in an unfamiliar home. And the pastry cream is basically like eating the best vanilla pudding ever. So, you may need 2 batches.
Go forth and make dessert easy on yourself. The recipe may seem wordy, but I get chatty with you and like to explain things so there’s no guesswork. You do this once, you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.
Both tart crust and pastry cream recipes adapted, just barely, from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking: Recipes and Techniques for Successful Home Baking. True to its name, it is one of my totally “essential” cookbooks. although both these recipes exist in the revised edition, which is currently availale, i own the first edition, which you can find here.
Easy Fresh Fruit Tart + Pastry Cream
for the tart crust:
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
for the pastry cream:
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and scraped OR, in a pinch, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
for the fresh fruit tart:
- the fruit of your choosing: if you’re doing berries, get a few pints. larger stone fruits, maybe 5-6. I leave this up to you because you can arrange it like i did, or pile it on messily, which I always find very ‘come-hither’ in a good way.
Onward. Make your tart crust:
Coombine the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse until your mixture forms large, coarse crumbs which look a bit like damp sand that’s been tossed about. Your dry ingredients should have taken on a wet, shaggy look.
In a small bowl. lightly beat the egg yolks with the cream. With the motor running, slowly add the egg mixture and process just until the dough starts to come together and look like a cohesive thing. Don’t let it go all the way to what you would consider a “ball” of dough, if you can avoid it.
Remove your dough and shape it into a flat disk, maybe an inch or so in thickness. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
Bake your tart crust:
Preheat your oven to 400˚F. If you’re using a tart pan, you shouldn’t have to do much preparing of it. If you have to do what I did and are using a Sprinform pan, spray it lightly with cooking spray, although if it is nonstick, I suspect it would come out fine without greasing. A good average size pan to use is a 9-inch tart or Springform pan, but other sizes would work: just take it into consideration because you may have extra dough or need to roll it out in a different shape (i.e. a rectangular tart pan).
Spread out a sheet of waxed paper on your work surface.*
*Listen: if you completely rock at rolling out dough and then doing a mid-air transfer of said dough to your pan, you are way more talented than I am. You do it your way. For those of you who, like myself, suck a little bit at rolling out dough and then gracefully moving it to its final resting place, do yourself a favor and use the waxed paper.
Roll your tart dough out on the waxed paper, working from the center towards the edges, until it’s about 1/4 of an inch thick and is large enough to cover and go up the sides of your chosen pan (up to a 9-inch diameter and you should be just fine).
Securely lift your wax paper, dough still on it, and take it over to your pan. Concentrate, breathe, and…flip your dough over, trying to get it as close to the center of your pan as possible. Use your fingers to press it into the pan, trimming off any edges which may be hanging over the sides.
Once your crust edges are tidy, place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes, or until firm.
After chilling, line your tart dough – bottom and up the sides – with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights, dried beans, or uncooked rice to keep your crust from poofing. Bake until your crust dries out, about 15 minutes. Check it by lifting up the edge of the foil. If not dried out, give it another 2-3 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce your temperature to 350˚F.
Carefully remove foil and pie weights from the center of your crust by lifting the edges of the foil and pulling up and out. Place back in the oven to bake until golden brown, about 10 more minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make your pastry cream:
In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk and the vanilla bean pod and scrapings until small bubbles appear along the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat, then remove the pod. Alternately, if you are using the vanilla extract instead, warm the milk and the vanilla extract until small bubbles form, then remove from heat.
In another saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until smooth – no lumps should remain anywhere. Slowly add in the hot milk, whisking as you go. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Once it has reached a good boil, continue whisking for 1 minute more, still stirring constantly (and vigorously, by this point). Remove from heat and stir in the butter until it is melted and everything is homogenous.
Pour into a bowl (I prefer a Pyrex-like bowl for this) and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Take a thin-bladed, pointy knife and poke a few holes in the plastic to allow steam to escape. Refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Assemble that tart:
Get your choice of fruit washed, dried, and ready to go. If it’s berries, then there’s not much to it except for maybe slicing the strawberries up. If it’s stone fruit, cut it into little crescent shapes as you would normally. If it’s things like kiwi or pineapple, do thin rounds for kiwi and maybe little half-circles or quarter-circles for the pineapple. Really, it’s up to you. The only thing i suggest is to have the fruit dry and to plan ahead with your design so you can place the fruit on and not have to stop and think about it.
Once your fruit is ready and waiting, take your completely cooled tart and your totally chilled pastry cream and set them out on a countertop. Marvel at your handiwork. Yeah; you did that.
Spread the pastry cream inside the cooled tart shell, trying not to disturb it too much. It’s formed a little bond with itself during the chilling process, you see, and every time you run your spoon or spatula through it, it breaks that bond. it will set up again, but I try not to overwork it. Smooth it out evenly, working from center to edges.
Now, the fun part: arrange your fruit in whatever manner you wish. I like to work center-to-edges for this too, but you go with your own personal flow. Once all the fruit is in there to your liking, place back in the fridge to chill and re-set, about 2 hours. I like making this right before guests come over, which means it gets ample chill time through dinner or whatever, and is all set up by service time. That being said, this is not something you want to make a day ahead, because the juicier your fruit, the more it is likely to start leaking out on to the pastry cream. Keep your components separate until a few hours prior to eating.