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...
STRAWBERRY-THYME CUSTARD TARTS
inspired by Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole
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!