Strawberry-Thyme Custard Tarts

I need Spring.  We had a particularly tragic weekend, two children from two different friends unexpectedly died this weekend.  If I ever needed sunshine and dirt it was Saturday.  Thank the heavens, dirt and sunshine were exactly what I was given.  Between moments of tears and sadness, there was glorious home-grown compost to be spread, green tips of garlic pushing through the mulch, and strawberries pushing out their first leaves reaching for the sun.  While cleaning the asparagus patch, I cried almost uncontrollably.  But, as the day went on and the dirt therapy continued, I was able to deal with some of the endless emotion attached to the loss of these two children.

I cannot imagine losing a child.  The empty hole that is left behind is impossible to fill.  I have lost a parent and I know the kind of emptiness that brings.  I can only imagine that life would never again feel the same...that something would forever be missing.  There are things about life that I will never understand and the pain, suffering, and death of children is one of them.  It's impossible for me to comprehend.

With all of the sadness, I made something sweet and tangy and full of life this afternoon.  I concocted a miniature tart filled with vanilla bean custard and topped with cream and strawberries with thyme.  A little brightness, a little lemon, and a lot of cream seem to help mask the feelings for a minute or two, if not, you just eat another tart until the strawberries take over your soul and make you almost happy...

inspired by Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole

Tart Shells:
1 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut up
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
2 to 3 tsp ice water

3 egg yolks*
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp cornstarch
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup heavy cream

* iI you use farm fresh eggs, the custard will be a beautiful golden color.  Get eggs that are organic range fed for the most dramatic deep yellow yolks.  

1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
2 -3 large organic strawberries, finely diced
1 sprig thyme, leaves removed
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar


To make the tart shells:  Combine the flour and the sugar in a medium bowl.  Blend in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until the butter is the size of small blueberries.  Stir in the bean egg and 2 teaspoons of water with a fork.  The dough will be crumbly but should hold together when pressed with your fingers.  If necessary, add additional water.  Shape into a flat round, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or until chilled.  

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 1/8-inch thickness.  Using a 3 1/4-inch round cutter,  cut the dough into 12 rounds.  Gently press the rounds into a muffin tin.  While pressing, ruffle the edges so that the crust resembles a flower.  Place the muffin pan into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up the dough.  

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Line each shell with foil (about 3-inches square) Pressing the foil into the bottom of the muffin cups.  Bake for 15 minutes until the edges are light brown.  Remove the foil liners and bake an additional 2-3 minutes.  Remove the tart shells from the oven and reduce the oven to 325ºF.  

To make the filling:  While the tart shells bake, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a small bowl until blended.  Add the cornstarch, vanilla beans, and cream and whisk until combined.  

Gently remove the tart shells from the muffin cups and place on a baking sheet.  Spoon off and discard any foam that has formed on top og the egg mixture and pour 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling into each shell.  (There may be some filling left over depending on the size of the shells.)

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the custard is slightly puffed and set.  Cool on a wire rack until room temperature.  

To make the topping:  Whip the cream to soft peaks, add the tablespoon of sugar and then whip for a few seconds to combine.  In a small bowl, add strawberries, thyme leaves, lemon juice, and remaining sugar.  Allow to sit until juices start to run, about 10 minutes.  Spoon a bit of cream over each tart, then top with the strawberry mixture.  Serve and then smile...these are full of sunshine!


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