Summer Strawberry Tart with Miso

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The idea for Japanese baking had been floating around in my head since I got back, but only after a peek at David Lebovitz did I actually consider baking with miso paste. You see, in Japan miso is not used in desserts; only in sauces and soups. But in fact, miso can add rich, salty undertones to an otherwise traditional recipe. I don’t always like fruit-based desserts, preferring to get my sweet fix in the form of caramely, chocolaty, or buttery goodness. But summer fruit is just so perfect that it would be a shame to let it go to waste.

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Note that this is not a recipe for my traditional slapdashery. I had to make the dough and pastry cream twice. It was just not my day. So a word to the wise: the pastry should be very cold as you work with it. As for the pastry cream, ensure that it thickens on the stove, because the tart is not going to be baked later. But if your pastry cream looks rather thin, as mine did, you can put it back on the heat for a few minutes until it thickens, adding a slurry of 1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp water.

Strawberry-Miso Tart (adapted from Smitten Kitchen. Ideas from David Lebovitz, and The Wall Street Journal)

The Crust:

  • 150g (1 1/2 cups) flour
  • 128g  (1 stick + 1 tbsp) cold butter
  • 100g (1/2 cup sugar)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, whisked

The Pastry Cream:

  • 300g (1 1/4 cups) milk (not skim)
  • 1 tbsp white miso paste
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 30g (3 tbsp) cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the crust, combine the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl or your food processor. Blend until just mixed. Add in the butter, working it together  with your hands (or the food processor) until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add in the egg a little bit at a time, and mix gently. Turn the mixture out onto a floured work surface and knead until it all comes together. Refrigerate the dough for about two hours or press it into a 9-inch buttered tart tin right away.

Meanwhile, make the pastry cream: In a small saucepan bring the milk to a boil and then turn off the heat. (You do not want the milk too hot or it will scramble your eggs). Then, working in as heavy-bottomed a saucepan as you have, whisk the yolks, sugar, miso and cornstarch together until they form a thick cream. Then slowly whisk about a quarter of the milk into the eggs until combined. Then whisk in the rest of the milk. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and keep stirring until it starts to thicken. Pour it into a bowl. It will thicken a little bit upon cooling, but you want it fairly solid right off the heat–like custard. Actually, for even better instructions you can watch this excellent video. Either way, when your pastry cream is finished, place plastic wrap tightly on the surface and refrigerate.

Now take out your tart dough and roll it out to fit a buttered your tart tin. Push any raggedy edges back into the pie crust and pierce it all over with a fork. Put the shell back in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, but more like an hour. When it’s ready, tightly place a piece of buttered foil onto the top. This should keep it from puffing up without pie weights. Turn the oven on to 375°F/190°C and put your unbaked tart shell in for 20-25 minutes. Then take the foil off and continue to bake until golden. Don’t burn it (as I did the first time!) but do let it get nice and brown.

Now to to assemble: when your tart shell and pastry cream are cool, spoon the pastry cream into the tart shell and artfully arrange your sliced strawberries on top. Serve with heavy cream, custard, or ice cream, if you like.

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For the Love of Scones: Strawberry Cream & Nectarine

I’m still not entirely sure what the difference is between a scone and a biscuit. Maybe it’s that a biscuit is not really sweet (just buttery) and served with savoury food, southern style. Or is it just the American version of a scone, carried over on the Mayflower, adapted through generations of American innovation? Generally speaking, though, both traditionally involve flakiness-producing butter and a similar technique; you just cut the butter in as you would for a pie dough.  I’m not too much for chicken and biscuits, but given my obvious penchant for all things sweet, I love a good scone. I waxed rhapsodic last September over the afternoon tea I had for my birthday, and scones always seem perfect for a special occasion. I don’t add the jam and clotted cream every time (obvs. 1 teaspoon of clotted cream has close to 90 calories) but it is a nice treat. For a summertime “light” version (if the 200g of butter in the nectarine recipe–for 8 scones–can be considered light) fresh fruit scones are the way to go.

Sweet, melting fruit adds just that bit of acidity and tang to something that might be a bit heavy. We can get back to currant, raisin, candied scones in the fall; for now let’s enjoy the fresh fruit and beautiful sunshine. Try to buy the best fruit you can, as this is its chance to shine. Below are my two most recent scone experiments–a creamy strawberry scone that I made in London, and a nectarine fold-over scone I made just days ago here in Moscow. Both are super-simple to make, and either would be good with a bit of warm butter, seasonal jam or, well, some clotted cream.

Strawberry Cream Scones (adapted from a recipe by Deb at Smitten Kitchen, where they are actually referred to as biscuits)

  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 85g cold, unsalted butter, cubed
  • 130g chopped really ripe strawberries
  • 1 cup single (heavy) cream

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Celsius and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the butter and work it in with a pastry blender or your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the strawberries with a light hand, then add the cream. Stir gently until everything is mixed. Don’t, however, overmix; you want these lovelies to be light!

Flour your counter really well and transfer the dough onto it. Press out (or roll) the dough until it is about 2cm thick. Cut into small circles (mine were about 5cm in diameter) with a cutter or a drinking glass, and transfer the scones to your baking sheet, leaving a few inches between each.

Bake the scones for 12-15 minutes until they are lightly golden on top. Let them stand for a minute on the baking tray, then transfer to wire cooling racks. Eat warm and enjoy!

Makes around 8 scones

Nectarine Fold-over Scones (adapted from a recipe by Joy at Joy the Baker)

  • 350g flour
  • 50g coarse cane sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 200g butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 175mL (3/4 cup) milk
  • 1 room-temperature egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tsp vanilla sugar)
  • 1 nectarine, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp milk, for brushing over the surface
  • 2 tbsp coarse cane sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and vanilla sugar, if using). Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and vanilla extract, if using. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir gently until a dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly, about 10 times. If the butter hasn’t become a sticky mess by now, roll it out into a disk until it is a couple of centimetres thick. Brush half of the disk with milk and place the sliced nectarines onto it like so:

Sprinkle 1 tbsp of the coarse sugar on top of the nectarines. Seal up your pastry by folding the clean side over the nectarines. Press down on all sides to seal, and try to form it into some semblance of a rectangle. Cut the dough into 8 even pieces, place them on your baking pans and stick them in the fridge for around 20 minutes. When your 20 minutes are up and the scones are a bit firm, remove them from the fridge and brush with the milk. Sprinkle over the remaining sugar.

Bake the scones for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. (If they’re a little doughy at first, as mine were, they’ll firm up a bit when they cool.) Let them sit on the hot pan for a couple of minutes, then remove and let cool on a wire rack for around 15 minutes. Eat them warm or at room temperature later on. Either way, they’ll hit the spot.

Makes 8 scones.