Sunday, 23 June 2013

Baking Blues (Strawberry Tart)

At the end of a week, I often find myself in the kitchen for one of two reasons; the need to relax, or the desire to rise to a challenge.

The former may sound a little strange as most people don't associate a complete day of baking with relaxation, unless they're focussing solely on the enjoyment of eating baked goodies. For me though baking is a time when my mind is completely clear, free from any of the worries or details that are associated with work. I am able to glide through a recipe without feeling distracted by the details of work or drained through concentrating on the recipe.

As I'm not working at the moment, the amount of baking I inflict upon family and friends has sunk to virtually nothing; I have nothing to escape from, nothing that requires a relaxational counterweight.

Yesterday however there was a challenge to rise to. Usually this entails finding a way of using up an excess of open jars of jam, a chunk of meat from the back of the freezer, the crop of limes in the garden...

On this occasion it centred around three kilos of jamming strawberries.

As we have way too much jam in the house, I decided upon strawberry tarts. Crisp buttery pastry brimming with softened fruit and drizzled with a slightly caramelised strawberry coulis before being served with thick cream and icecream.

The pastry was simple (made simpler by the use of a food processor). Put 175g of plain flour, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1 tbsp caster sugar and 120g cold diced butter (the recipe calls for unsalted butter but I use the salt-reduced stuff). If you want, add a big handful of grated parmesan, roasted coconut or lemon zest to direct the pastry towards sweet or savoury. Whiz this together until it resembles breadcrumbs, then with the motor running slowly drop in 3 tbsp of iced water. The mixture should come together to form a very soft pliable dough. If it feels too soft put it in the fridge while you work on the other components.

The strawberries were as simple, lightly stewed with a tbsp of caster sugar and the juice of half a lemon. When these were soft but still retained their shape they were taken off the stove and sieved to remove any excess juice. This juice was returned to the saucepan and boiled with another 2 tbsp of sugar and the juice of the rest of the lemon. This thickened into a berry coulis which could be drizzled over the uncooked tarts or kept for serving.

As the strawberries cooled slightly, the pastry was rolled, fitted and blind baked before these cases were filled with the softened fruit and coated with the remnant coulis. I don't remember how long they were baked for but it was until the visible pastry was golden brown.

 If only I were confident that they could last longer than the evening. 

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