I've been meaning to get this post up for over a month; the time keeps getting away from me!
This recipe actually accomplished two things for me, I made a new Ina recipe, which I will definitely make again because it was super easy. I also, learned how to make pastry cream. Cognac pastry cream to be specific. I don't know why I had avoided homemade pastry cream for so long, it intimated me I suppose. No more!
My friends have a New Years Eve party every year. Each year they change the theme, and everyone dresses according to the theme. They also do a menu based off the theme. Therefore, I knew if I was going to bring something to the party, it needed to fit within the theme...which was luau. Don't get me wrong, this is a very fun theme, but it's the middle of one of the coldest winters in recent memory in New England. Needless to say, there wasn't a lot of tropical inspiration on Food Network. This was going to be a bit tricky to figure out.
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When I think luau, I think pineapples and kiwi. I don't know how true to life that is, but that's where I was at. I honestly started googling Ina Garden + pineapple. I came up with what looks like a delicious pineapple carrot cake, but that didn't quite fit what I was looking for. So, I did what I always do, I started skimming through my cookbooks. In Ina's first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa there is a recipe for fresh fruit tart. It looked beautiful and easy to put together, plus I could use whatever fruit the grocery store that looked good. Fruit is luau-ish, right? I was a little nervous about making my own pastry cream, but it had to happen some time, so off to the store I went.
Because I was pressed for time, I used a pre-made tart crust. That being said, next time I would make my own. I figured if I was making my own pastry cream, the pre-made tart concession was fine. I also purchased a bottle of raspberry preserves in the event that the pastry cream didn't work out, because Ina says you can use that as well. Luckily I didn't need it, and now I have it for another recipe.
So here's what you need:
1 tart shell (I bought it pre-made but you could make your own)
a variety of fresh fruit (I used strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi, and mango but you can use whatever looks fresh)
pastry cream (recipe follows)
*I also used apricot preserves to make a glaze, this isn't in Ina's original recipe but I wanted it to be shiny and have a little something extra.*
Let's start with the pastry cream because it will need to chill for a bit before you make the tart. You will need the following:
3 egg yolks (I saved the whites to make meringues later)*
6 tablespoons of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon cognac or brandy
Heat milk in a large pan until it simmers. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium speed for about three minutes. I used my KitchenAid's paddle attachment, but you could use a hand mixer if that's what you have. You will know you have the right consistency when the mixture turns into yellow "ribbons." Switch to a lower speed and beat in the cornstarch.
Slowly (no really slowly, unless you want sugary scrambled eggs; I'll answer for you, you don't), pour the milk into the egg mixture. You want to continually whisk while you do this. At this point I was pretty sure I did it wrong because it was not thick and "pastry creamish" it was just kinda warm milk soupy-ish. I considered giving up and just using jam for the tart base, but I knew I wanted the cream. Stay the course friends, it will turn out okay!
Once the milk and egg mixture are combined, pour the mixture back into the pan that you simmered the milk in. Cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (I love the wooden spoon from WS's open kitchen line and have since swapped the one pictured with it). Be amazed at how thick and luscious this custard has turned out to be. Start to get excited. Taste it before you remove it from the heat to make sure that the cornstarch has been cooked in. If it has you won't taste it.
Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cream, vanilla and cognac until combined. It's important to do this right away so that the butter melts.
The next step is to strain the mixture into a bowl. If I'm being honest I almost skipped this step. I looked at the cream (newbie that I am) and said "Ina (sometimes I talk to her), this looks pretty good, do I really need to strain it?" I know the Ina would say that if it's in the recipe it's an important step, and since I like to do everything by the book the first time through (experimenting in later renderings), I decided to go ahead and strain it.
Guys- don't skip this step. DON'T SKIP THIS STEP. I said it again for emphasis. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but let me tell you, straining the mixture creates a silky, smooth, shiny cream. It seriously transforms it from "okay I made this cream" to "woah, you made that." So just do it, it only takes a minute, and you do half to wash an extra dish, but it's worth it.
The only thing left to do is add the 1/2 teaspoon of cognac or brandy. Remember a second ago when I said that I always follow the recipes the first time through? Well that's not exactly true. I added more brandy to the cream. The 1/2 teaspoon didn't bring the flavor through enough for me. Now you could omit it entirely, but I definitely liked the flavor that it gave the cream, and I though it rounded out the sweetness with a little warmth. It is still winter here after all. So I would say add brandy or cognac to your liking. Chill your cream about 30 minutes or until cold.
The rest is super easy. Spread the cream in the bottom of the tart and add your fruit on top. You could do any design you want. Ina made casual groupings on hers, so I tried to replicate that, I thought the blocks of color were a nice look. I went for more tropical fruits since it was a luau theme. I would recommend putting larger sized fruits first, and then filling in the spaces. You also want to think about height. I used a pile of raspberries in the middle, and added a few more once all the fruits were in place to give it a little more height. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.
If you want to a nice shiny glaze like you see in pastry shops, heat a little apricot jam and water or brandy in a sauce pan until it reduces to a glaze. Brush over the fruit and serve immediately. I wouldn't recommend using a berry jam or a cassis liquor as it will alter the color of the fruit (just speaking from experience here).
To save time for a party, you could make the cream a day in advance and just assemble that morning. I thought this was a refreshing alternative to cakes and cookies, and honestly it has a nice 'wow' factor with minimal effort. I should warn you though, now that you know how to make the pastry cream, you may find yourself "whipping up a quick batch" on a random Wednesday night where you feel like eating your feelings. It will work and you will feel better, but you know...calories. No? That's just me? Okay, well anyways let me know if you try this! What's your favorite thing to bring to a party?