Creme Brulee Tart with Fresh Strawberries
by Wolfgang Puck
The strawberry filling yields a wonderful surprise inside this recipe for Creme Brulee Tart. The fruit's combination of sweetness and perfume with a touch of acidity makes them a perfect complement
Growing up in Austria, one of the big reasons I loved this time of year was the arrival of erdbeeren. I later learned that in English they were called "strawberries," a name that may have had to do with the straw sometimes piled around the plants to protect the fragile berries, or with the fact that the profuse fruits look like they are "strewn" around the plants.
To me, though, "earth berries" seemed like a better name. Whether we found them growing in the wild, bought them in the market, or picked them in our home garden, erdbeeren felt like a wonderful sweet, fragrant, juicy gift from Mother Earth.
So I still feel like celebrating when strawberry season comes around. And yes, I know that strawberries can be found year-round today, thanks to modern agriculture and global shipping. But none of that year-round fruit could possibly taste or smell better, or be better for our planet, than strawberries locally grown in season.
That's why right now I enjoy fresh strawberries in so many ways. Of course, I eat them straight from the farmers' market, just giving them a quick rinse before I bite into them and savor their sweet juices. I'll slice them and use them as a topping for ice cream or serve with whipped cream on top of store-bought or homemade shortcake, pound cake, or angel food cake. I'll lightly saute them with a little butter and sugar and enjoy them as a sauce with souffleed or regular pancakes.
And sometimes I like to hide them in a dessert, yielding a wonderful surprise like the strawberry filling inside my recipe for Creme Brulee Tart. The fruit's combination of sweetness and perfume with a touch of acidity makes them a perfect complement for the custard cream of a classic creme brulee. A tart shell made from store-bought puff pastry adds extra flavor and texture -- though you should feel free to leave out the pastry and prepare the dessert in individual ceramic ramekins, still hiding the sliced strawberries in their bottoms.
Making a perfect, classic custard requires some perseverance, as you'll need to whisk together the eggs and sugar over (but not touching) simmering water for quite a while. But the results are well worth the effort. For the brulee (meaning "burnt") topping of caramelized sugar, you can use a broiler or one of the handy small propane torches now widely sold in kitchen stores. Either way, watch carefully to get the desired dark caramel crust without burning the sugar.
You'll know your work has paid off when both you and your guests delight at the surprise layer of strawberries -- experiencing the joy we all should feel when these berries from the earth appear.
Creme Brulee Tart With Fresh Strawberries Recipe
Serves 8 to 10
6 large cage-free egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise with a small, sharp knife
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
Creme Brulee Tart:
1/2 pound store-bought frozen puff pastry, thawed following package directions
3/4 cup sliced fresh organic strawberries, plus additional whole strawberries for serving
1/4 cup sugar
Creme Brulee Tart With Fresh Strawberries Recipe Directions
The night before or morning before you plan to serve the tart, prepare the custard. Put the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large metal bowl. Select a saucepan big enough for the bowl to rest comfortably on its rim. Add enough water to the pan to come close to but not touching the bottom of the bowl. Bring the water to a boil, then adjust the heat to maintain a simmer.
Rest the bowl above but not touching the water in the pan. With a wire whisk, and steadying the rim of the bowl using a pot holder, whisk the yolks and sugar until the mixture is light and thick enough to form a ribbon when the whisk is lifted out. (This may take many minutes; be strong and patient!) Remove the bowl from the heat.
Gradually whisk in the cream. Add the vanilla bean. Return the bowl to the saucepan, adjust the heat to maintain the barest simmer (take care that the water does not boil), and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens to a custard that will adhere to a tablespoon without dripping, about 45 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the heat. A few pieces at a time, whisk in the butter until thoroughly incorporated. Place a fine-meshed strainer over a bowl and pour the custard through the strainer, pressing it through with a rubber spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the puff pastry to a circle with a thickness of about 1/4 inch and a diameter of just over 12 inches. Pierce it all over with the tines of a fork.
Place a flan ring on a baking sheet. Lightly roll the pastry around the rolling pin and unroll it onto the ring. Gently press the pastry into the ring. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line the pastry in the ring with parchment paper or coffee filters. Fill the shell with aluminum pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Remove the paper or filters and pie weights.
A short while before serving, preheat the broiler (unless you have a small propane kitchen torch). Evenly spread the sliced strawberries over the bottom of the shell. Pour in the chilled custard, smoothing the top with a long-bladed metal spatula. Just before serving, sprinkle the 1/4 cup sugar evenly over the custard. Place the tart under the hot broiler, near the heat, until the sugar caramelizes, 1 to 2 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning; or use the kitchen torch, following manufacturer's directions, to caramelize the sugar.
Use a sharp knife to cut the tart into wedges and serve, garnished with whole strawberries.
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"Creme Brulee Tart with Fresh Strawberries"
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