Strawberry Cream Eclairs & a Strawberry Tart w/ a Secret Ingredient

The only thing more abundant than pollen right now is the strawberry crop.

In our part of South Carolina you can’t miss that sweet sign of Spring. We have a strawberry patch right by our house and there’s the Mecca of berries, Strawberry Hill USA, about 30 minutes away. That place will change your life.

I do enjoy polishing off a bucket of the ruby red reminders of the season, but I also like using them as part of the perfect dessert.

I’ve made ice cream, pancakes, shortcakes, cookies, strawberry-basil lemonade, and smoothies.

This year, though, I wanted to give you a decadent dilemma. So here are the two new ways I used the juicy jewels. Which one will you choose, my strawberry tart with a secret ingredient or my strawberry cream eclairs?

Remember, your desserts are only as good as your berries. Supermarket varieties won’t cut it. They’re picked way before they’re ripe so that they’ll hold up during transportation and shelving.

You want really ripe berries, otherwise you’ll have to add even more sugar than a recipe requires.

Let’s start with the strawberry cream eclairs.

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They are much easier than you’re thinking. I promise. It starts with the same pastry dough used to make cream puffs.

Here’s what you need:
PASTRY:
1 Stick of unsalted butter
1 Cup all-purpose flour
4 Eggs
1 Cup of water
Pinch of Salt

STRAWBERRY CREAM:
1 pint of heavy whipping cream
10-12 Strawberries, hulled
1/4 Cup powdered sugar
Splash of a vanilla

CHOCOLATE GANACHE:
1 a Cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 Cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch of instant espresso powder (optional)

Here’s how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 400.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a small pot, combine the butter, salt, and water.

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Once the butter melts, bring the mixture to a boil.

Turn the heat to low and stir in all the flour.

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Keep stirring till the dough forms into a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pot.

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Remove from the heat and use a hand mixer to beat in one egg at a time.

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Put the dough into a piping bag or a resealable bag and snip the tip at about a half inch from the corner.

Pipe the dough into the prepared sheets in 4-5 inch long ropes spacing them 2 inches apart.

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You should get about 12.

Bake for 40 minutes.

When they’re done baking, set the pastry onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

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While the pastry bakes, put the strawberries into a food processor and purée.

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You need 2/3 cup purée. Put it in the fridge to cool. If you have more than 2/3 cup, put the overage into a container and save it for iced tea or lemonade.

When the pastry is cool, put the one pint of whipping cream into the bowl of an electric mixture. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla, and whisk until soft peaks form.

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Stop the mixer, pour in all the purée and whip till stiff peaks form.

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Using the tip of a knife, poke holes into both ends of the pastry.

Add the whipped cream to a pastry bag fitted with a medium to large star tip. You need a tip here because it has to be able to go into the pastry.

Fill the pastry with enough cream, but don’t let it squirt all over the place. Adding it from both sides ensures that the whipped cream gets all the way through.

Microwave the 1/2 cup of heavy cream for one minute.

Add the chocolate chips to a long dish, then cover with the hot cream. Sprinkle in the espresso powder, if using, and let sit for 3-5 minutes.

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Whisk till smooth.

Dip the tops of each pastry into the ganache.

Arrange the eclairs in a pan and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes before serving.

To store, keep in a covered dish. They’ll last 3-4 days.

The strawberry cream really makes the eclair special.

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It’s light, airy, and fruity unlike the typical goopy (though tasty) fillings. The chocolate and strawberries are a perfect pair.

This is a regal version of a strawberry shortcake!

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If you’re not sold on the strawberry cream eclairs or if you have a ton of berries, move onto my strawberry tart.

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The secret ingredient here is strawberry balsamic vinegar. I got from a nearby oil and vinegar shop. It’s wonderful. It has a baby bite from the vinegar and the fresh sweetness of the berries. If you can’t find it, try using regular balsamic vinegar, which really highlights the flavor of the berries.

Here’s what you need:
TART CRUST:
1 ¼ Cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
10 Ice-cold Tbsp. of unsalted butter
1 Egg yolk
Splash of vanilla extract
Ice water

CREAM CHEESE LAYER:
1 8oz block of Neufchatel cream cheese, room temperature
1 lemon
2 Tbsp. sugar

STRAWBERRY LAYER:
3 Cups of berries, hulled and quartered
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1/3 Cup sugar
½ Tbsp. strawberry balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt

Here’s how you make the crust, which is almost like sugar cookie:

Please note, if you have an 8 or 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, you’re golden. If you don’t (I don’t), you can use a 9-inch spring-form pan.

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In a food processor, mix together the flour, salt, sugar. Just pulse it a few times. Then add the butter. Process for 10 seconds. Add the egg yolk and process for 2-3 seconds.

Put the sandy mixture in a bowl and add the splash of vanilla extract.

Then add 3 Tbsp. of the ice water. Use your hands to combine the dough. It should form a ball. Add another Tbsp. or two of water if needed to make the dough form the ball.

Wrap up the dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When the 30 minutes is up, preheat the oven to 425, then wrap the bottom of your spring-form pan with non-stick foil.

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Using a floured surface, roll out the dough till it’s just about the size of the bottom of the pan.

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Use the bottom to trim out a perfect, form-fitting circle.

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Put the pan back together, and drop in the dough circle. Add any leftover pieces to the pan and smoosh them into the rest of the crust.

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Using your fingers or a cup, create a short border around the pan. The dough should go up about a half inch. Prick it with a fork to keep it from bubbling.

If you’re using a tart pan, roll out the dough till it’s 2 inches bigger than the pan. Drape it over the pan, gently push it into the form of the pan and trim any over hang.

Now blind bake the crust. To do this, cover it with foil and add weights. I used uncooked barley. You can use uncooked beans. This step is a must, because it keeps the crust from shrinking.

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Bake at 425 for 12 minutes.

Then, remove the pan from the oven and lower the temperature to 350. Take out the weights and the foil, and continue baking the crust till it’s a light brown, about 15 minutes.

Cool the crust completely.

While it bakes/cools, prepare the strawberry layer.

Put 1 cup of the quartered berries into a small pot and mash them up.

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Add the cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and vinegar. Stir.

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Bring the mixture to a boil, and let it bubble for one minute, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or spoon.

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Remove the pan from the heat, and stir it.

Let the mixture cool. This is your thickener.

While that cools, prepare the cream cheese:

Mix the softened cream cheese, with the zest and juice of the lemon, and the 2 Tbsp. sugar.

Now, build the tart.

Spread the cream cheese onto the bottom of the cooled crust.

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In a bowl, combine the 2 cups raw, quartered berries with the thickener.

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Pour the combined berries over the cream cheese. Spread it out, but make sure to leave the border of the crust uncovered.

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Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let the berries set.

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The crust is sweet and cookie-like. The cream cheese is tart and the berries are bright and sweet. This is Spring.

How are you celebrating the strawberry? You are, aren’t you?!

Tip: To stockpile strawberries for later in the year, wash them, dry them, remove the stems. Then set them individually on a wax paper-lined pan and freeze for 2 hours. Then, put all the frozen berries into a resealable bag, squeeze out the air and freeze. By freezing them individually first you’ll keep them from clumping together. You don’t need a strawberry glacier.

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