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  • Mary Kay

Gram's Summer Strawberry Tarts

Strawberry tarts - what a delicious way to start the season!

These cute little tarts are just right for a fresh, delicious spring or summer recipe. Imagine you and your family picking fresh juicy plum strawberries in your own patch or a local garden spot. It's a wonderful way to welcome summer with early June strawberries. And, since the fruit is available basically all year round from your favorite grocery store, it's fun to make them in the middle of winter, too.

I know Gram didn't have any fresh strawberries before they ripened in mid-June on the farm back in the 1900's. When I was little, she and I would walk along the roadside by the farm searching for and picking the tiny, sweet, wild ruby red jewels. Then we'd add the larger plump strawberries from her strawberry bed to mix together for a delicious strawberry tart or strawberry shortcake. So, this day is for Gram. She would have loved to have strawberries available all year round.

Gram made this dessert as a large 10" tart, but I have always liked the idea of making individual tarts. They are so pretty made with seasonal fruit, and very easy. This tart recipe could be made in a 10" tart with a removeable bottom, but I used it to make individual desserts in four 4" tart pans with removeable bottoms. The ones I purchased in a local kitchen specialty shop (yes, they are out there) are made with non-stick surfaces, so they are easy to clean and, of course, you don't need to prepare them by smearing butter or shortening on the bottoms and sides. And, this recipe does not have a top crust so you can see the beautiful fresh fruit.

The combination of the custard filling, fresh strawberries and crispy tart crusts make this a special dessert at my house. My husband gave me a definite thumbs up to make this one again. I think next time I'll use blueberries from my freezer to make a sauce to pile on top of the custard. Whipped cream is also a nice addition to this dessert.

The first time I made the pie crust for these tarts, I used a food processor in stead of mixing the dough by hand like Gram did. The dough still came out very nice, but it seems the final product was not quite as flakey as Gram's recipe. She seemed to have the knack of making the crust nice and flakey by going the homemade route of working it with her hands and a pastry cutter. Of course, she excelled in making pie crusts long before the food processor was introduced to so many kitchens. She also made her custard on top of the wood cookstove. I don't know how she regulated the temperature but her custard was always delicious!

First you'll make the flakey tart crusts, then the custard filling and lastly, layer in the fresh fruit. I'm thinking of making a couple more versions, one using lemon curd in place of the vanilla custard, with fresh blueberries on top, and another using chocolate custard or chocolate pudding with fresh red raspberries on top. The sky is the limit to what you can do with these tarts!

Prepare your tart pans

Make sure your tart pans have the removeable bottoms and are clean. No need to spread butter or oil on them since there is plenty of butter in the crust. I use 4" tart pans with non-stick surfaces.

Easy Tart Crust:

1 1/4 C Flour

3 T sugar

1/2 Salt

6 T Butter, cold, diced

2 T Shortening, cold (use a good brand)

1/3 C Water, iced

- Pulse the flour and butter about 10 times in your food processor.

- Add water and process until the dough comes together, with just a few more pulses.

- Place the ball of dough on a floured surface and form into a disc.

- Wrap the disc of dough in and chill it for 30 minutes in the fridge.

- Roll out dough and cut 6 circles to fit into and up the sides of each 4" tart pan. If you like the crust thicker, go ahead and cut 4 or 5 circles. Do not stretch the dough while pressing it in the tart pan or it may shrink during the baking process.

- Blind bake the tart crusts by lining each tart crust with a buttered piece of foil, butter side down. Fill the top of the foil with dried, ceramic or metal beads made especially for blind baking. The weight of the beans or beads help keep the crust from puffing up.

- Bake tart crusts for 10 minutes at 375 F degrees.

- Take the crusts out of the oven and remove the beans or beads and foil.

- Prick the bottom of each tart with a fork, about 4 times.

- Bake the tarts another 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown.

- Cool before adding custard or fresh fruit.

Cook the pastry custard on top of the stove:

5 Eggs, from large room temperature eggs

3/4 C Sugar

3 T Cornstarch

1 1/2 C scalded milk

1/2 t Vanilla extract

1/2 t Almond extract (optional)

Fruit Embellishment:

6 Strawberries, large

20 Blueberries

2 T Apricot or Apple Jam

- Beat the room temperature eggs with the sugar for about 4 minutes on medium with an electric mixer. The eggs and sugar mixture should be very thick.

- Reduce speed and slowly add the cornstarch.

- VERY slowly add the scalded milk. Stir constantly for 5-7 minutes. This is where Gram says she built up her arm muscles. Switch to a whisk and beat hard for 2 minutes. The mixture will feel and look like pudding. It may look a little it's curdled, but my Gram always said to keep beating with the whisk.

- Add the flavoring(s) and heavy cream and whisk some more.

- Set up another bowl with a sieve on it and pour the entire mixture through the strainer. If there are little lumps, this is where they will get taken out of the custard so it ends up pleasingly smooth.

- Place plastic wrap directly on top of the custard, sealing the bowl and place it in the fridge to cool for about an hour. Make sure the plastic wrap is directly on top of the custard in order to avoid a "skin" on top.

- Spoon the custard into the cooled tart crusts and refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Embellish your tarts:

- Before serving your fruit tarts, wash your strawberries and blueberries and dry them on a towel.

- Warm the jelly in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl.

- When ready to serve your custard tarts, cut 3 slices in the bottom 3/4 of each strawberry and splay one on top of each custard tart. Add some blueberries for more color.

- Optional: Melt about 4 tablespoons of apricot or apple jelly and spread over the fruit to give them a glossy appearance.

Other serving ideas:

- Top with broken pieces of pecans or pistachios.

- Add a dollop of homemade whipped cream if you like. Okay, it's alright to add that store bought whipped, cream, too. It's a nice shortcut.

- Use lemon curd in place of the custard. You can make your own or buy a jar at a specialty store.

- Top the custard with your choice of fruits or a combination, kiwi, pineapple, pomegranate, blackberries, bananas, peeled orange slices, red raspberries. (If the fruit contains too much water, such as watermelon, it could seep into the custard, create a runny mess.)


Gram always stored unused and baked tart (just the shells) in her pie safe for up to a couple of weeks. Her pie safe was actually a stand along light green cupboard, that she kept on the back porch. It was about 5' tall by 4' wide. It had double doors and shelving inside where she kept pies and cookies. The cookies she kept in large jars. The pies she would just set on the shelves. The doors had mesh screening from top to bottom, which kept the sweet treats safe from any flies and gnats. I am not sure how long the pies kept in the pie safe (probably a few days), because she was always serving pie to visitors and at meals, so they were used up fairly quickly.

I leave the unused tart shells in the tins to avoid breaking them, and store them (no plastic wrap or plastic bag covering) high up in a closed kitchen cupboard where they stay dry and away from

dust and the puppy dogs. They are good up to a week or so. But, if the weather is very humid they might get soft or less desirable. If they get too soft, I reheat them, in their tins, in a low temp oven like Gram did. That tends to crisp them up for a delicious dessert.

It's fun to recreate recipes from both of my Grams. It's a great way to "Bake my own Memories!"

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