Strawberry Tarts & The Patisseries of Paris

How could it have happened? The spire of Notre Dame burned. Our greatest achievements are fragile. These photos – most taken in Notre Dame’s neighborhood a week before the fire – remind me that we must treasure beautiful things because they are impermanent. I will try to appreciate the beauty of the classics, like Strawberry Tarts, even more. With echoes of cathedrals and chateaux, the patisserie tradition in France includes symmetry, elegant precision, and sometimes a flash of whimsy. Gargoyles, candy ferris wheels, chocolate ducks, fruit tarts, decorated eclairs (fancy! a new trend), macarons, and classic cakes are all part of the artistry of Paris in the spring.

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Chocolate Royal
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Opera Cake & Chocolate Hazelnut Cake from Dalloyau

No matter how much time I devote to loitering in front of patisserie shop windows and drinking too much cafe in the cafes, my research on the glory of French patisseries is never done. Early spring in the 8th Arrondissement, where flower buds are visible on the trees but they haven’t quite popped, a cool hint of winter in the mid-day air, is just where I want to be. Coffee and pastries in the morning, then a visit to Domaine de Chantilly (home of the famous Chantilly Cream, which is featured many times in A BAKER’S PASSPORT, the new book based on this blog)…that is a quality agenda.

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Chantilly Cream at the Chateau de Chantilly – can’t resist that silky texture!
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Market flowers at Rue Cler
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Early spring fruits & veg at Rue Cler

The shop windows, full of classics like Tarte au Fraises and petite St. Honoree Gateaux, have a seasonal element, too. This makes the advent of strawberry season all the more important. My favorite spots are the small neighborhood patisseries and cafes – the ones you stumble upon on your way somewhere else and you discover THAT butter croissant. Yet, who could pass up a visit to the A-listers (Pierre Herme, Laundree, Cafe Pouchkine?) Especially now that they are all aligned under one sumptuous roof at Printemps near St. Lazare if you need a one-stop tour of the best patisseries and chocolatiers. Otherwise, here are a few guides to get you heading to some beauties:

Patisserie Guide from Cookbook Author/Pastry Chef David Lebovitz

Patisserie Guide from Bloomberg

Paris Sweets by Cookbook Author Dorie Greenspan

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To bring those classic pastries home to you, let’s start with the Strawberry Tart. Even now, after decades of pilgrimages to the cafes of Paris, this is the dessert that makes me wonder how anything so simple can taste so good. It does, every time. This recipe from A Baker’s Passport will bring the French patisserie tradition right into your kitchen starting with a classic Pate Sucre, the sweet pastry crust; then you’ll make a Creme Patisserie loaded with vanilla beans, and strawberries. It is almost strawberry season. Now you are ready!

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Strawberry Tart: Pate Sucre Tart Shell, Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream, Strawberries

Equipment: medium bowl, electric mixer, 1 (9-inch) tart pan, rolling pin pastry brush
Time: 2 hours
Yield: 1 (9-inch) tart
Level: Medium
For the Tart Dough (Pate Sucre):
2½ cups (12 ounces) cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks/8 ounces) butter
½ cup (4 ounces) sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Pastry Cream (Crème
1½ cups (12 ounces) whole milk
½ cup (4 ounces) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
½ cup (4 ounces) sugar, divided
4 egg yolks
⅓ cup (2 ounces) cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
For the Strawberries:
4 pints ripe strawberries, trimmed
½ cup (4 ounces) apricot jam,
melted and strained

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Sift together the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks,
cream, and vanilla, and mix until incorporated. Add half of the flour mixture, and mix at low speed until smooth. Add the remaining flour mixture, and mix at low speed until the dough comes together. Place the dough on a floured work surface. Shape it into a flat disc, wrap with parchment paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes until firm. Meanwhile, prepare the pastry cream by combining the milk, cream, vanilla bean, vanilla seeds, and ¼ cup sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. While the milk mixture is heating, whisk the egg yolks, remaining ¼ cup sugar, and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Bring the milk mixture to a scald (not a full boil.) Remove the vanilla bean pod. Remove the milk mixture from the heat, and carefully pour a splash of the milk mixture to the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, about ½ cup at a time, until all of the milk mixture, is incorporated. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and stir with a rubber spatula over low heat for a few minutes until the mixture starts to thicken. Add the salt and butter; cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap, and cool to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a floured work surface, roll the dough to a 10-inch circle, about ¼- to ½-inch thick. Fit the dough in a 9-inch tart pan. Place a piece of parchment paper over the dough, add baking beans or pie weights, and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the tart from the oven and remove the parchment paper and beans. Return the tart shell to the oven and bake another 10–15
minutes, until golden brown. Let cool. To assemble the tart, pour the pastry cream into the tart shell, and top with strawberries. Brush the strawberries (either sliced or whole as you prefer) with warm apricot glaze. Cut into slices and serve.

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Bon Voyage and Vive La France.

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