As early/mid April to late June is the peak harvest time for strawberries here in northern California, the fruits–which are actually a member of the rose family–abound. Strawberries belong to the Rosaceae family, as do apples, pears, quinces, peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, blackberries and raspberries. I’m not certain how accurate this is but the strawberry is said to derive its name from the former practice of using straw as a mulch when cultivating the rose plants. Whatever their origin, I’m happy to enjoy them while they are at their peak.
Part of my motivation to bake with them was due to the numerous recipes I’ve seen on the blogosphere showcasing this springtime bounty. I’ve seen strawberry granitas, compotes, shortcakes and cupcakes galore, but my heart was set on another sweet treat: A tart. But I wondered what kind of twist I could put on the usual pastry cream or custard filling. I do like them both, in fact, a custard-y treat should be making its way here on the blog soon since I’ve had a hankering for Portuguese egg tarts lately.
I found inspiration in one of my cookbooks using one of my favorite foods: almonds. Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Fruits includes a recipe for frangipane, an almond cream. I’ve always been intrigued by frangipane and I know how to make my own almond paste so the decision was made. I eschewed the pineapple, their fruit of choice for this tart (next time) but I had high hopes for incorporating strawberries instead.
First item to cross off the list was the almond paste for the frangipane. I learned to make it myself out of need last year and I haven’t had to use store-bought since. It’s very easy to make and you will never have to dash to the store for a last-minute item. The frangipane was next, also simple to make. Just a few additional ingredients to lighten up the almond paste made a very light-textured, almond-specked cream. To be honest, I might have eaten a good portion of the almond paste AND the frangipane before they even made it to the tart! In my book, they qualify as dessert all on their own.
But I still had a tart to make…
Instead of making one large tart, I decided to make four smaller ones, well, to up the cute factor (and also for portion control). I had some doubts about making this as a galette (free-form tart) which I always like for its rustic quality but I felt that the recipe wasn’t very clear. I will spare you the details but the first two tarts were a fail. The recipe required sautéing the fruit in butter and sugar first but even cutting the butter still made the flavor too pronounced for me. There was also the matter of the filling being too runny (even when drained) so the galletes fell apart as soon as I put them in the oven. I salvaged them by the putting them in the tart pans but they weren’t pretty!
I took matters into my own hands by using my last two clean mini tart pans for the rest of the batch. I rolled my last two pieces of dough, arranged them in the pans and popped them in the freezer between filling applications. After applying the frangipane for the bottom layer and allowing to cool in the freezer for a few minutes, I arranged the strawberry slices in two layers. I felt that sautéing the strawberries in butter and sugar wasn’t really a value-added step in my first batch so I gave each strawberry layer a light sprinkling of sugar. You may know by now my penchant for desserts being “not-to-sweet” so I was curious if I would lose much flavor by eliminating the sautéed fruit.
Well, well, well–it worked. I have to say that my version was no slouch compared to the first batch. In fact, I actually preferred it. The frangipane and paté sucrée already have butter so the filling didn’t need it either. The freshness of the strawberries comes through and you can control the sweetness by the amount of sugar you sprinkle on them. This is a keeper of a recipe. Use store-bought almond paste or make it yourself but do try the frangipane. It’s divine. As for the sweet pastry crust, my go-to version is too easy and too foolproof not to use. You have no reason not to make this!
- For the crust, please click here (This will make enough for one 10 oz dough or 4 smaller ones)
- For the almond paste, please click here
For the frangipane:
- 3 oz (1/3 cup) almond paste
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon kirsch (I used Cointreau instead)
- 1 pinch salt
- About 3 cups sliced strawberries
- 1/2 cup frangipane
- 10-oz galette dough, divided into four
- Sugar, for sprinkling on the strawberries