Fruit and Custard Tart

Beautiful, isn’t it?  Beautiful, but deadly. This tart was almost the end of me, I’m telling you. My mom said that sometimes, when things start to go inexplicably wrong in the kitchen, there’s no fixing it. It’s like Hestia is angry and your fate is in the hands of the gods. Sunday was one of those days for me.

A simple crust, a simple egg custard; the day of cooking started out so well…and then things just spiraled desperately out of control. Traditionally, it’s the pastry that scares me. I still haven’t mastered it and about 50% of the time I end up standing in the middle of my kitchen, shrieking at the crumbled, busted, pile of used-to-be crust. Add to that the fact that the temperature in my summer kitchen hovers somewhere between unbearable and hades, I’m pretty much terrified of all things pastry-like. But this time round, the crust came through easily, with just a few cracks (cracks are beautiful ok? They lend character…or something). I had started cooking early and was pleased as punch. By 1 PM I had a finished, cooled crust and a gorgeous looking custard in the fridge. Oh, well, wasn’t that easy, I thought. Aren’t I good at this, I thought. Self satisfied and smug, I left the custard to cool and went about my day feeling like a kitchen goddess. Apparently the real kitchen goddess wasn’t thrilled with my attitude.

When I returned to my perfect, smooth, cooled custard, I realized that it wasn’t the thick, pudding-like consistency I required, but instead more akin to a Creme Anglaise. Whoops. In my care to not boil my custard, I apparently didn’t cook it enough; it never set. At this point my science brain kicked in. The cornstarch obviously wasn’t heated enough, why couldn’t I just return it to the stove, heat it slowly, stirring constantly and thicken it up? Beats buying 2 dozen more eggs and 6 more cups of cream. Oh, I didn’t mention that part? Pretend you didn’t read that, this is totally good for you. So I went for it and ended up with curdled, greasy, scrambled eggs. At the point it was 6 PM and back to the store I went. Another 2 dozen eggs. Another 6 cups of cream. I switched the technique up a bit the second time, using one I’m more familiar with; one that I’ve used a thousand times for various custards. I stood over that stove like a hawk and whisked until my arms ached. And I ended up with curdled, greasy, scrambled eggs. WHAT THE ^@#$%^%$(?. At this point, I stared that custard down, I told it that in no way was I planning on going BACK to the grocery store, at 7:30 PM for yet another two dozen eggs and 6 more cups of cream. I hollered at Hestia and promised to never be cocky again (at least in the kitchen). Then I grabbed my last ditch resort, my awesome, oh-so-powerful blender, and I whipped that custard into submission.
The results were gorgeous. The custard was thick and creamy, like beautiful sweet mayonnaise (for me, that’s a good thing; apologies if you’re a mayo hater). Finally, 10 hours after the start of the cooking process, I got around to the decorating (the fun part) and I think it turned out pretty spectacular in the end. The thing is, I still have NO idea what happened to my custard. I guess I was just having one of those days. One of those days where the chocolate seizes and the sauce breaks for no other reason that it was in the stars. No other reason than you looked at it funny. No other reason than your energy was off or your heart wasn’t it in it. And next time, it’ll work out perfectly and you’ll never know what went wrong. Cooking is intangible like that. Intangible and wonderful, when you end up with something as beautiful as this.
Fruit Custard Tart
Crust from Susan Mendelson. Custard from Audrey Home (an “English Lady” that my mum used to know).

Despite my difficulties, I’m posting the custard recipe as it’s written because it’s absolutely sound in it’s base. I’m convinced that I was just cursed and it will work perfectly for you. If not, well, there’s always the blender. I multiplied the recipes because I was using a 12″ pan, but this will make a 9″ to 10″ tart.

Sweet Pastry
8 T unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1 1/2 c flour
1/3 c sugar
3 egg yolks
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla

Confectioner’s Custard
8 T cornstarch
4 c milk (I used heavy cream)
6 T sugar
1 t vanilla
16 egg yolks (I know. Gulp.)
Cream, if needed for thinning

Assorted fruit
Apricot jelly

Make the crust:
  • Heat oven to 400ºF
  • In a food processor, pulse the butter, flour and sugar until it resembles small peas
  • In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice and vanilla
  • Add the egg mixture to the food processor and pulse until just combined
  • Dump out onto a floured surface and lightly press into a ball (don’t overwork)
  • Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours
  • Roll out and press into 9-10″, removable-bottomed tart pan
  • Line with foil, sprinkle with pie weights (or dried beans) and bake for 15 minutes
  • Remove foil and bake an additional 5-7 min, or until browned. Let cool
Make custard:
  • In a medium saucepan, blend cornstarch, milk, sugar and vanilla and gradually bring to boil, stirring constantly
  • Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is very thick (VERY thick, nearing paste). Turn off heat and cool slightly
  • Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl
  • Temper the egg yolks by slowly adding the hot milk mixture, a little at a time, whisking constantly. You want the eggs to come up to temperature without cooking
  • After all the milk has been added, return the mixture to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until it again thickens to the consistency of thick pudding. Do not allow to boil
  • Let cool completely. If it’s too thick, stir in some cream
  • Pour/spoon the custard into the tart shell, smoothing the top
  • Decorate with your favorite fruit
  • Melt the apricot jelly in a small saucepan and brush over the fruit

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