Berry season, sweet berry season

Oregon Strawberries

fresh strawberry jam

If you’re planning a trip to Oregon, a great time to visit is early June when the strawberries are in season. The sweetest berries ever are grown in Oregon. Thanks to the long mild spring and early summer climate, strawberries are sweet, red,  juicy and delicious. Lots of rain, cool nights and warm sunny days seem to make for perfect strawberries. The berries stay on the vine and ripen slowly, allowing the sugars to increase before harvest. Keeping up with the short, fast paced strawberry season is challenging, but I did manage to turn a flat of Oregon Hood strawberries into a few dozen jars of jam before they disappear. It’s a good thing berries can be preserved in so many forms to prolong their edible lives.

I’m adapting to a new summer schedule, or actually, absence of a schedule. Even our doggies are sleeping in a bit later. They run around outside all day and are completely worn out by night time. I didn’t think this was possible for Bleu, our overactive border/aussie mix puppy. There’s finally hope for my ability to catch up on much needed sleep. I’m not a morning person, so it was a little disconcerting when I first realized we had adopted a morning puppy. If Bleu had the ability to whistle, that’s what he’d be doing each and every 6 am. Since whistling is not an option, he pounces on us wagging his entire body, as if to tell us it’s the most amazing day ever, and we need to get up so we don’t miss a second of it.

Meet Bailey (left) and Bleu. Sister and brother from another Mother. Bailey has never met a person she doesn’t love, but doesn’t love dogs (she tolerates her brother). Bleu is suspicious of everyone, with the exception of his pack and a few other people he’s accepted as friends, but he loves dogs.

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I made these berry tarts a few months ago long before berry season started. You can make the shells days in advance of the custard filling. I like desserts that allow me to do things in steps so they seem much less time consuming. The custard can also sit covered in the fridge for a day or so. Just add the freshly washed fruit, and whatever other toppings float your boat, just before serving. In my opinion, raspberries are even better on these than. Because of their delicate, soft texture and hollowness, they’re easier to eat than strawberries.

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Start by making the tart shells. If you find this is enough baking for one day, you can freeze the shells for later use. If you’re feeling energetic, continue on…

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Unlike a pie shell, a tart’s shell texture is more like a shortbread cookie. It has to be sturdy enough to cradle its contents without crumbling.

Create the custard filling.

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You can freeze the tarts at this stage for several months. But don’t wait that long, cause you’ll miss out on the fresh berry season.

The original recipe for these tarts was taken from the Miette cookbook written by the owner of Miette Pastry Shop based in San Francisco. I’ll be visiting them next month to do a little sample tasting.

Fresh Fruit Tarts with Pastry Cream
Makes ten 3 1/2 inch or two 7-inch tarts

(a slightly modified recipe from Miette pastry shop in San Francisco)

Pastry Shells:
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 large egg yolks
6-8 Tablespoons heavy cream
1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds using your paddle attachment. Add the cubed butter and beat until the mixture is as fine as cornmeal (about 5 minutes).

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of the cream. Add this to the flour mixture in the mixer bowl and mix it all until just combined. Add more cream 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together into large chunks. Gather the dough into a ball, pat it into a disk and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

3. Divide the dough to make the portions you need and pat gently into disks. Roll out each dough disk on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick and 1 inch larger in diameter than the pans you’re using. Drape the rolled-out dough into the tart pans, gently pushing it into the bottom edges and against the pan sides to make a strong, straight shell. Trim the edges flush with the top rim of the pans. Prick all over the bottom with a fork and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the shells for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in the pan, remove and cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Pastry Cream:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
7 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Use a sharp knife to slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Throw in the pod. Heat until almost boiling (bubbles will begin to form at the edges). Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 1 hour.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Set the bowl on a kitchen towel or nonskid surface and whisk the egg mixture while pouring about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the mixture to temper. Gradually pour in the rest of the milk, whisking constantly. Pour the contents of the bowl into the pan and turn the heat to medium-low.

3. Cook, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a slow boil, about 2 minutes. Immediately strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container. Discard the vanilla bean. Let the pastry cream cool to room temperature, for about 10 minutes, then whisk in the butter until it’s completely incorporated.

4. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

Final assembly: Divide the chilled custard among the shells evenly. Top with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or your favorite fruit. Make sure to wash the fruit just before placing it onto the cream filling so that it stays firm and fresh.

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Next up: blueberries. Ready. Set. Start your tarts.

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5 thoughts on “Berry season, sweet berry season

  1. Yummy. I bought some berries today and might consider making these tomorrow for my Barter Basket. I sure miss the HOOD strawberries from the northern fields. I can’t get them here in S. Oregon. Cute dogs. I live where there are 2 border collies in residence and they are great dogs.

  2. Your gorgeous Fruit Tarts with Pastry Cream makes me think tea time and of a beautiful summer in England. I love the places food can take us!

    • Updating my blog and just saw your comment. Thank you so much for your sweet comment! I too love how foods can conjure up moods and mentally take us to other places and times. I hope you’re having a good fall season!

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