Thursday, April 30, 2015

Caroline's Fresh Strawberry Tart

Kicking off spring with a fruit that's technically  in season in June, but hush. No one has to know.

Spring is finally here!! Unfortunately, in my neck of the woods, it means that we might have a day of freezing rain and flurries followed by a day that's in the upper seventies and beautiful, followed by another early morning frost and just dear god, it never ends! Just like most years, I'm assuming we're very quickly going to be moving on to hot, muggy summer, so it's time to make the best of the cooler warm weather while we've got it.

I've been trying to find some good spring and summery recipes to feature on the blog, and stumbled upon this one thanks to, a great website with a lot of fun information about the popular author and the world she lived in. I'm actually not a fan - although I can't say I wouldn't be either, I've just somehow never read any of her books and only seen a movie adaptation or two - but I do really like this website. It has a great selection of historical and historically inspired recipes that are either mentioned in Austen's works, personal correspondence, or were otherwise popular while she was alive. As Caroline tends to be popular with collectors for her wardrobe's Regency look, it seemed only natural to come here to find something to try out!

After a lot of deliberation, I decided to give this recipe for a strawberry tart a try. Strawberries are featured in Emma, and the recipe featured in this article is adapted from a historical recipe to a modern kitchen.

Now, obviously tarts weren't invented during the Regency period - they've been around since at least the Medieval period, and although you can enjoy a savory tart, for most Americans and Brits, we think of dessert when we think of tarts. Strawberries are another obvious dessert fruit, and have been eaten and cultivated for centuries. In Jane and Caroline's time, people were likely to either collect wild berries for consumption, or have their own personal patches grown from a wild plant. The strawberry we know today is actually an American creation, developed sometime after its introduction to North America in the 1600's and rising in popularity in the late 1700's.

To start this tart, we had to make the crust. After cutting four tablespoons of butter into three quarters of a cup of flour, you crush six threads of saffron into a tablespoon of water. Saffron is one of the most expensive spices out there even today, mostly because of how labor intensive it is to harvest. One thread of saffron is actually the stamen of a specific kind of crocus, and they need to be dried out before they can be sold and put into food. It definitely would have been pricey in the early 1800's, so six threads makes this a relatively classy treat, even if you're just using strawberries you picked yourself. I added a couple more than six, then added in the required other tablespoon of water and an egg yolk before combining the wet and dry ingredients

Now, we only have a giant tart pan, so I actually used a cake pan to bake it in. I liberally greased it and flattened the dough into the pan as instructed. It didn't really create much of a crust - the rim was very shallow and I was worried the filling wouldn't fit in it. I also wasn't sure how we were going to wrestle this out of the pan when it was done cooking.

The crust needs to prebake in the oven for ten minutes at 375 degrees so that it sets up and doesn't get all weird and soggy and undercooked. Next comes the filling.

Take two cups of clean strawberries and either mash them through a strainer or run through a blender, add four egg yolks, a half cup of unseasoned breadcrubs, a third of a cup of sugar, and four tablespoons of melted butter, and you've got your filling.

I used a blender, so I feel like my tart might have been chunkier than it could have been had I used a strainer. I also had way more filling than I needed, but not as much as I expected in some ways? I was honestly worried this was going to totally swamp the crust as soon as I poured any of it into the pan.

The tart bakes in the same 375 degree oven for twenty minutes, and comes out looking a little bit darker than when it went in:

Fortunately, mine slid right out of the cake pan when we tipped it out! A first! I was pretty pleased, especially after having visions of it needing to be eaten out of the pan or mangled.

This can then be garnished with fresh berries, and you're ready to eat!

So, how did it taste?

Unfortunately, this wasn't really a big winner for me. Or most people who tried it. Admittedly, there was a lot of dessert competition last weekend, so not many people did try it, but something about it just didn't seem super appealing compared to the other offerings, and I do kind of get why. The texture is a little bit odd - I'm not sure if forcing it through a strainer would help or not, and I know manhandling the crust made it kind of tough instead of flaky and tasty - and my mom said the filling tasted a little too eggy to her. I personally didn't think so, but my issues with the taste came from a completely different source.

Honestly, I think the biggest problem for me when it comes to enjoying this recipe has nothing to do with the tart itself. It lies in a traumatic (that's a hyperbole) childhood experience that might not be the sort of story you want to hear about on a food blog, but I think it's worth mentioning at least briefly: my sister got sick in a rental car on the way to the airport after eating strawberry yogurt, and ever since then, I haven't been able to stomach the taste or smell of it. Something about the texture of this tart made my brain go STRAWBERRY YOGURT and it just wasn't much fun for me to eat.

But it did have one taste tester who did enjoy it! My grandma from out of state was visiting and had a slice, and said she enjoyed it. I was very pleased to hear it had at least one fan, even though I'm not sure I'm in a rush to make this again. Still, historical recipes are always my favorite things to try out, so even the ones that I'm not a huge fan of usually wind up being fun to try making. Better luck next time!

Maybe someday I'll get over my strawberry yogurt issues...

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