Thursday, April 2, 2009

lemon curd and strawberry tart



This is probably the single prettiest thing I've ever baked, despite the fact that I miscalculated and used too deep a pie pan. I'm not usually good with making edibles reminiscent of flowers, but I'm really pleased with how this turned out. I couldn't find a strawberry pie recipe that didn't either call for strawberry gelatin (I hate the stuff, in any flavor) or seem like it would make a really mushy fruit pie, so I decided to layer the fruit over a lemon filling. There were a few things wrong with it (the bottom crust was too thin, the sides puffed too much), but I've adjusted for them in the recipe and, even flawed, it was delicious.

Pie Crust (my mother's recipe)

1 stick butter
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 Tbsp salt
2-6 Tbsp ice water

- using two knives or a food processor (the much easier option), cut the butter into the flour and salt.
- add two tablespoons of ice water, continue mixing. if the crust isn't damp enough to stick together, add another tablespoon of water. keep adding until the dough is the right consistency (malleable but not sticky).
-refrigerate the crust in plastic wrap for at least an hour (if you leave it for more than three, you might have to thaw it a bit before using it), then roll out on a floured surface until it's about 1/4 inch thick (if you like a really thick crust, roll less and bake a bit longer). drape into a shallow pie pan, trim the edges. use the excess for a top crust if you want a traditional pie. this recipe doesn't use one.

-this will make enough crust for one large deep, open-topped pie, or one regular sized covered pie.
- for this recipe and other wet-filling recipes, pre-bake the crust at 400ºF for about 10 minutes, using whatever sort of weighting technique you prefer. don't forget to fork in a handful of holes to let the crust breathe.
- this recipe also works pretty well to make half a dozen or so mini-tarts, in which case you should separate the dough into smaller balls before refrigerating it.

Lemon Curd

1/2 cup lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup and 2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp butter

- in a heavy pot or in a double boiler, whisk together all of the ingredients except for the butter, and stir them over medium/medium-high (depending on how impatient you are) heat until the mixture thickens to the texture of sour cream
- cut the butter into small pieces and, removing the pot from the burner, whisk until all of the butter is absorbed.
-pour into the (cooled or semi-cooled) pie crust, let sit in a fairly cool place for fifteen minutes, or long enough for the top of the lemon curd to solidify a bit.

Prettiness

one box fresh strawberries (eight or nine large berries)
1 tbsp white sugar

- when the lemon curd has cooled and is fairly stable on top, cut the stems off of the strawberries and then slice the berries so they form triangular petal shapes.
- arrange them on top of the lemon curd (careful, it's sticky). it's fastest to use the big middle slices for the outer edge, and pick smaller ones as you work your way in. i made a fairly simple flower shape that reminds me of the dahlias my neighbor used to grow.



- bake the pie for fifteen to twenty minutes at 350F on the oven's middle rack. two minutes before the timer goes off, take the tablespoon of sugar and sprinkle it over the strawberries.
- serve with whipped cream (preferably the real, sugar-free, artery-clogging kind) or ice cream


Obviously this recipe could be spiced up a fair bit. It can also be varied quite a lot, as the strawberries can be replaced with basically any kind of fruit, or fruit can be left off altogether. It's a good way to use up fruit you might not eat, though. The strawberries I used were a couple days past their prime, where the skin isn't all that refreshing to bite into but the flavor is still rich. I'd love to make a version of this with a burnt sugar top instead of the berries. I've made lemon tarts in the past (sadly I lost the recipe for that filling, but I like the lemon curd better) and topped them with frozen raspberries and sugar I'd put through a food processor. The fruit could even be mixed into the lemon curd... basically you can make up whatever sounds best to you.

I must admit that the two photos above were taken prior to the final baking of the pie, because I wasn't sure whether the fruit would sink in when the curd was heated up. It didn't, but the juice from the strawberries ran out and gave the yellow bits a pretty pink tint. If not for the fact that our oven isn't completely level, it would've been perfectly lovely. As it went, it was still very pretty, though not as cool-looking as when the bright yellow contrasted with the red.



I used the leftover pie crust (since this one clearly didn't need a top crust) to make some quick veggie and cheese pasties for dinner (which I ate after the tart). They were basically amazing, but I'm going to wait to post that recipe until I've figured out a real recipe and also mastered that lovely way of twisting the edges that Cornish people are probably capable of at the age of five.

Looking at those photos of the tart, it suddenly occurs to me that strawberries sliced in that particular way are distinctly similar to certain Georgia O'Keefe paintings.

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