PUFF PASTRY … MY ‘GO TO’

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but puff pastry is my absolute ‘go to’ when I want to make an impressive-looking dessert.  Take a peek in my freezer and you’ll always find a couple of packages.  All you need to do is take out a sheet or two, let it thaw in the refrigerator, and you’re only limited by your imagination.  Regardless of what I’m making, the results always look as if I’ve spent far more time (and money) than I actually have.

For this recipe, I wanted an elegant-looking tart … flaky, buttery puff pastry, filled with vanilla creme (referred to as creme patissière on the Great British Baking show), and topped with fresh strawberries.  I cut the pastry sheet into fancy envelope shapes for these.  Perhaps a little more time consuming, but I think the results were well worth it.  Let me know what you think.

(If you want to use packaged pudding mix for the pastry cream, go right ahead.  I’ll never tell.)

VANILLA CREAM TARTS WITH STRAWBERRY
Preheat oven at 425° for 20 minutes prior to baking.  Bake 18-20 minutes.  How many you get will depend upon the size you make.  Generally 12 from one sheet of pastry.
(This pastry cream recipe will make three cups and will keep up to three days.  Enjoy it in this recipe, other recipes, or alone with a dollop of whipped cream.)

1 package frozen puff pastry sheets (thawed in refrigerator)
1 pint strawberries, washed, dried and hulled (or any other berry)

3 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons butter, softened

Make the pastry cream first to allow it to set in the refrigerator while you make the tart shells.

PASTRY CREAM
Sift together the flour and cornstarch and set aside.  In a good-sized bowl, beat the eggs.  Add the flour/cornstarch and continue to beat until a pale yellow color and thickened.  Set it aside.  Now its time to heat the milk and sugar.  In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the milk and sugar to a simmer (bubbles around the edge of the pan).  Stir constantly to prevent scorching the milk.

When bubbles begin to form, take the milk off the heat and slowly pour about 1/4 of the heated milk into the beaten eggs.  Continue to whisk.  Do not add all the hot milk at once or the mixture will curdle and the eggs will cook.  Once fully incorporated, pour the egg mixture back into the hot milk pan, and place it back on the heat, stirring constantly.  It may sound difficult, but it really is not.

Lower the heat and continue to cook the custard until thick and lemony-colored.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the pan continuously.  After it has thickened, continue to cook for another minute.  There’s nothing worse than that “flour” taste.  Yuck!

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and butter.  Stir til smooth.

Place a strainer on top of a clean bowl and strain the custard, pushing down to remove any lumps which may have formed.  Then place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream.  Place the cream in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.  You can make this up to three days ahead.

TART SHELLS
Now its time for the tart shells.  This shape is called an envelope and I’m sure there’s an easier way to get the fold, but this is the way I did it.

Take the thawed sheet of puff pastry dough from the frig and place it on a lightly floured board.  With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out just a bit to even it out, and square it off.
Measure and cut 3″ squares from the sheet.

Now it’s time to cut inside each individual square.  Cut a 1/4″ border around each square except for two corners.  Leave two corners intact.  Take one cut corner and bring it over to the inside of the other side.  Now do the same with the opposite corner.  You should have a diamond pattern (or envelope).  Press down slightly around the edges.

Place the shaped puff pastry on parchment-lined baking sheets and place the baking sheets.  Square them off a bit and place the baking sheets into the refrigerator.  Puff pastry puffs up much better when its very cold.  This is when I preheat the oven.

Bake the pastry til golden brown, about 20 mins.  Remove from oven.  Now take a sharp knife and remove the center portion of each pastry, creating a pocket, or cavity for the pastry cream.  Place each pastry on a wire rack and let cool completely.

Now its time to assemble.  What could be easier … spoon (or pipe) a dollop of pastry cream into the center of each individual pastry.  Place a sliced strawberry on top and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Arrange your pastries on a serving tray until ready to serve.  Then show them off to all your guests and wait for the oohs and ahhs.  You deserve it!


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