This is why I go berry picking.
Every year around this time, I pack up the boys and head out to Long Island’s North Fork to pick fresh strawberries. Once you’ve tasted a warm, sun-kissed berry it’s hard to go back to anything store bought. I think I get more excited than the kids do. We pick to our heart’s content (read: until the boys meltdown) and haul our bodyweight’s worth of berries back to the car. It’s quite the event.
Needless to say, it’s worth the hours drive and any pint size tantrums that may occur. Little boys are wild.
On the drive home, I dream about what I’m going to make with my freshly picked berries. Jam is definitely up there on the list, but there’s nothing like the taste of a silky smooth strawberries + cream tart. The filling is reminiscent of a cream puff, or an eclair, nestled into a homemade graham cracker crust. It’s topped with oodles of strawberries, usually the littlest ones I can find (they’re so sweet!) I love the simplicity of this dessert and see no better way to honor a beautiful, seasonal strawberry.
This recipe is made up of 3 components; graham cracker crust, pastry cream, and whipped cream. I highly recommend making all 3 in advance. That’s what I do. I process a giant batch of graham cracker crumbs and scoop out whatever I need for my recipes. Both the pastry cream and whipped cream can be made up to 3 days in advance. With all of that out of the way, you now have the time to drive to the end of the earth to harvest your very own berries. It’s worth the gas mileage…
There’s one more thing that’s worth mentioning here~ the first time I made this tart, cutting it into slices never seemed to hold up. Although it tasted good, the filling oozed out onto the plate like a glob and looked like a hot mess. What was one to do? The secret is to ‘stabilize’ the filling with gelatin. A little bit of powdered gelatin mixed into your whipped cream will set your filling like magic. Your slices will remain perfectly intact. This also allows you to make whipped cream in advance without it becoming watery. Who knew?
- If you can’t find small strawberries, simply cut larger ones into thin slices. Arrange onto your tart and brush with warm apricot jam (with a splash of water) to seal in their juices. This will prevent your strawberries from leaking onto the filling.
- I’ve included 2 variations of pastry cream in the recipe below; the first is lighter and not as rich as the second. Both are excellent. It’s a matter of personal taste and what ingredients you have on hand.
- To maximize freshness, store un-washed strawberries in an air-tight container lined with a paper towel. Top with another paper towel and keep in the fridge (the paper towels help to absorb any extra moisture) Only wash your berries right before using.
- 1 box graham crackers
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- ½ c. unsweetened, dessicated coconut flakes
- 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 2 c. whole milk
- ½ sugar
- 3 tbsp. cornstarch
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 c. half & half
- ½ c. sugar
- 3 tbsp. cornstarch
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. powdered gelatin
- 2 tbsp. water
- 2 pints fresh strawberries
- ¼ c. apricot jam, warmed (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 325 F. Grab a 9″ spring form pan.
- To make the crust, process the first 5 ingredients (except the butter) in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer 1½ cups to a large bowl, and add the melted butter. Press the crumbs into your pan using the bottom of a ¼ cup measure to evenly press down the mixture. Bake in the oven (center rack) for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool completely before adding the filling. Note: store the rest of your graham cracker crumbs in a container or Ziploc bag for later use. For every 1½ cups, add 6 tbsp. of melted unsalted butter and bake as directed.
- To make the pastry cream, bring the milk to a boil making sure that it does not spill over. Remove from the heat. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and cornstarch until well combined. To temper the eggs, slowly whisk about ½ cup of the warm milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly (do not pour all at once or else the eggs will scramble). Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pan of milk. Increase the heat to low, and cook stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture has thickened, about 1-3 minutes (if at any point the mixture scrambles, pass through a fine sieve). Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the butter and vanilla. Immediately cover with plastic wrap (touching the surface of the pastry cream) so that it does not form a skin. Leave to cool at room temperature for an hour and then transfer to the fridge to chill, up to 3 days.
- To make the whipped cream, place the gelatin + 2 tbsp. of water into a bowl. Microwave for 1-5 seconds until completely dissolved. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the cream and sugar. Beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add the warm gelatin and run the machine until stiff peaks form (the gelatin must be warm or else the cream will not stabilize). Do not over beat. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill until ready to use, up to 3 days.
- To assemble the tart, remove the pastry cream & whipped cream from the refrigerator. Both mixtures will have become quite stiff; stir each one to loosen.
- In a large bowl, add the loosened pastry cream and ⅓ of the whipped cream. Whisk thoroughly to combine. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining whipped cream, in batches. You want to make sure that there are no white streaks visible.
- Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell and transfer to the fridge to set, about 1 hour.
- For the garnish, top with whole small strawberries* See note below.