Mini-Strawberry Tarte Tatins

My friend Annie, at work today, whooshed past me as I was waiting to scan and send some recommendation letters.  She turned back and said, “Do you want to do some cooking with strawberries?”  My mind was far away from cooking at that moment and I wasn’t even sure I had heard her correctly, so I weakly smiled and dumbly nodded and she walked away.  But I do,  I do want to do some cooking with strawberries, still.  We have had strawberries for several months, now.  All winter I associated strawberries with the tonic flavors of winter:  fennel, leeks, spinach, and citrus.  By the way, I never get tired of that combination and we still have fat, ox-blood colored berries trying to catch our attention in the entryways of the produce stalls and I still cannot resist them.

Strawberries, however,  are verging on a danger zone for me.  It’s May now and a mythical place called Whatcom County, Washington is beginning to awaken from its dormancy in my brain.  I am pretty effective at cryogenically freezing that attachment when I have to be away all year, but I’m past the winter season here and the next encounter with strawberries will be in Washington and we will be right back into the shortcakes, jam, and I hope this summer, ice cream and then we will be with our sons, and our other side friends and family, worshipping the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the violet, solstice sunsets.

This was a recipe I piloted during the cook-a-thon that was the month of April.  It is from Donna Hay who, God bless her, keeps everything as simple as can be.  Even working with pastry.  I also love her committed use of vanilla beans with strawberries and it is a combination I insist on now, too.  This comes together easily and don’t think twice about buying puff pastry from the store which means, do that.  I am an advocate of making a lot of things at home, but puff pastry is not one of those things.  I’ve tried.  Warning, these boil over so bake them on a lined baking sheet.

Mini-Strawberry Tarte Tatins

Donna Hay, Issue 60

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 2 pints strawberries
  • 1 pkg. frozen puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place the butter, sugar, water, and vanilla in a small nonstick or glazed pan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Bring to the boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, remove from the heat and compost the vanilla bean.

Divide the strawberries between 4 x 3/4 cup capacity, lightly greased muffin tins or mini-cocotte pans and pour over the caramel.

Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut circles 1/4 inch wider than the form you are using and place on top of the strawberries.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.  Invert onto plates and serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Makes 4.

Brown Sugar Pavlova with Strawberries

We have had a dribble of strawberries already, but being a seasoned Tunisian resident, I’ve lived here over a whole year now, I didn’t bite on the first buzz-bomb strawberry that caught my eye.  No, I know we will still have some strawberries in May and I remember making strawberry jam in March last year, so I was waiting.  I come from a strawberry-fulfilled county in Washington State.  I know, however, that the first strawberries you see in June are from California and taste like sheetrock.  You have to wait until the local berries are almost spoiled before you can get the really good ones.  Don’t get me started on the year my county was practically dumping strawberries into dumpsters they had such a bumper crop and our local Trader Joe’s had a pyramid of California strawberries in their store.  I didn’t go in that store for about two years after that.
            We live by local harvests here.  Can you imagine something so pure and wonderful?  When you see strawberries in the market, you can buy them and they will be sweet and full of the tastes of earth and sunshine.  I still can’t believe it.
            I am a big-time strawberry shortcake devotee, but only if every ingredient is homemade and real.  For these gentle, hand-raised strawberries, I made a special, but wholesome, pavlova, bearing the warm flavor of brown sugar.  The pavlova layers were a little crisp and chewy on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside.  Piled with layers of whipped crème fraiche, and strawberries, it was a winter delight, especially as it was pouring rain outside.
 Brown Sugar Pavlova with Strawberries
adapted from Gourmet Grilling, 2011
For Meringue
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. distilled white vinegar
3/4 cup egg whites (5-6 large eggs) at room temperature for 30 minutes

For Berries
2 1/2 lb strawberries, trimmed and quartered
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

For Cream
1 1/3 cup creme fraiche
Make Meringue
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F, rack in middle.  Lightly butter 3 (8-inch) round cake pans and line with rounds of parchment paper.  Dust sides of pans with confectioners’ sugar, knocking out excess.
Pulse superfine sugar, brown sugar, and cornstarch in a food processor until well combined.
Stir together vanilla and vinegar in a small bowl.
Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt , using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks.  Increase speed to medium-high and add sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time.  After all sugar has been added, beat 1 minute more.  Add vinegar mixture, then beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.  Spoon meringue into pans (about 2 1/2 cups per pan) and smooth tops.
Bake until meringues have a crisp crust and feel dry to the touch, about 1 hour (insides will still be moist and marshmallow-like).
Turn oven off and prop door open slightly, using a wooden spoon if necessary.  Cool meringues in oven 1 hour.
Run knife along sides of cake pans and carefully turn meringues out of pans.  Carefully peel off parchment (meringues will be fragile and may crack further).  Carefully turn right side up.
Toss berries with sugar and let stand at room temperature until ready to use (up to 1 hour).
Assemble Dessert
Beat creme fraiche using an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks.  Put 1 meringue on a serving plate and spread 1/3 of whipped cream over it.  Spoon 1/3 of fruit (with juice) over top.  Repeat layering with remaining meringues, cream, and fruit.