Strawberry season has been in full swing since Memorial Day weekend, when supermarkets were stocked with big red California berries at good prices and sweet northwest Ohio berries began to be picked.
When there's an abundance of strawberries, it's a good time to show off the plump red berries in a lovely tart, which can be a three-step process if you know what to shop for: the prebaked tart, the strawberries, and a package of glaze.
It's a $5 dessert that looks like a glossy magazine cover that could catapult your culinary reputation into a new level of gourmet. It's low in calories and fat, provided you don't serve whipped cream with it. It is also reminiscent of European desserts.
Timing is everything, however, and knowing where to shop helps.
I spent several days before Memorial Day looking for the prebaked sponge cake layer, imported from Europe. It is more like a sponge cake than a pie pastry. Ranging in price of $1.49 to $2.29, I found the product (several brands) first at Bassett's Market in the Starlite Plaza in Sylvania, and later at Kilgus Market at 3346 West Laskey Rd. and The Andersons in Maumee. Kazmaier's 5-Star Markets and Churchill's sell these prebaked cake tarts during strawberry season and through the summer. Undoubtedly other stores do, too.
Dr. Oetker Clear Glaze for fresh fruit tarts and cakes is $1.09 for two packets (at Kilgus and The Andersons). It's simply tapioca starch, cream of tartar, and stabilizers: two tablespoons of sugar and 1 cup of cold water or fruit juice is all it needs on the stove to become a syrupy glaze that sets up instantly when drizzled over fresh fruit. (There is a red glaze, too.)
Some people add a pudding or creamy custard on top of the cake before topping with fruit, but I don't: Why add the extra calories that you don't need? The dessert, which requires no baking, can also be served garnished with whipped cream or topping, but neither is necessary.
Once you have the ingredients, making the fruit tart is quick and easy. Wash and hull the berries, slicing each in half lengthwise; drain on paper towel. Place the cake on your best cake plate. Arrange the berries around the perimeter of the tart proceeding toward the center until it is all filled in. Prepare the glaze (2 to 3 minutes) and then drizzle until the berries are lightly covered. You may not need to use all the glaze. Lightly cover the cake plate with foil so it does not touch the top of the cake and place in the refrigerator until it is ready to be served. These desserts last amazingly well, about two to three days refrigerated depending on the freshness of the fruit.
You can also use other fruit such as blueberries, peach slices, kiwi, or raspberries and other berries with the strawberries for colorful and delicious variations.
When you can't find the premade sponge cake tart in the supermarket, make a tart from scratch, using a 9 or 10-inch tart pan, with a removable bottom. "I sell a lot of these pans at this time of the year," says Sharon Dela Hamaide, owner of Kitchen Tools & Skills in Perrysburg.
Citrus-Scented Pastry from All-American Desserts by Judith M. Fertig (Harvard Common Press, $18.95) is flavored with ground almonds and fresh lemon. It is more of a cookie pastry dough than the purchased tart cake (which is a firm sponge cake or genoise). I topped it with strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and sliced peaches, and then the glaze.
Or bake a classic sponge cake batter (or genoise) in the tart pan using my recipe, which is the exact amount for a 10-inch tart pan or a 9-inch round cake pan. Technique is important in this recipe. The whole eggs are beaten with an electric mixer until very light, first by themselves, and then with sugar to give leavening. Only 2/3 cup flour is added by whisking followed by the melted butter at the end. The 10-inch tart pan bakes quicker than the 9-inch round. Cool and then turn on a rack and top with fresh fruit and the glaze.
The sponge cake or genoise is a quicker recipe than the Citrus-Scented Pastry, but both make pretty and delicious desserts.
Mrs. Dela Hamaide also notes that many of her customers make the glaze for topping the fruit from apricot jelly by melting and brushing it on top of the fruit. An apricot glaze (2 to 3 tablespoons strained warmed apricot jam) can be brushed on fruit or 2 to 3 tablespoons jelly can be melted and brushed on the fruit of a tart.
Red Currant Glaze comes from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook by Ruth Van Waerebeek with Maria Robbins (Workman, $14.95). The Belgian Tart with Fresh Summer Fruit has a Flemish Yeast Dough base, but the glaze is the same whatever cake base you use.
In The Village Baker's Wife by Gayle & Joe Ortiz with Louisa Beers (10 Speed Press, $19.95), the authors write that homemade jams and jellies make the best fruit glazes. They use currant jelly to glaze darker fruits such as berries and apricot jam for lighter fruits such as peaches. To make a fruit glaze from a jam, puree the jam in a food processor or blender, and then strain it through a fine sieve. Warm and use as directed.
The fruit tart made with a gluten-free crust and a jelly glaze may be the perfect dessert for those people who need gluten-free foods.
Joy of Cooking: All About Pies & Tarts by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (Scribner, $15.95) has a wheat-free crust recipe that is easy to make, freezes well, and tastes like a French tart dough. Xanthan gum, which is used as a thickener and is made from fermentation of corn sugar, can be found in health-food stores and online.
Gluten-free flours make great tart shells, writes Analise G. Roberts in Gluten-Free Baking Classics (Surrey Books, $16.95). They are crunchy and delicious and stay that way for days. Her recipe uses brown rice flour mix, which can be used for fruit tart, key lime tart, lemon curd tart, chocolate cream pie, etc., all of which are recipes in the cookbook.
Strawberry tarts are truly a cool dessert for any occasion.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.
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