My lovely daughter had her 19th birthday this week. It’s quite astonishing when I consider that we arrived in France when she was just twelve. Then she didn’t have two words of french to her repertoire, now she dances rings around me with perfect conjugaison, ado-speak and a measure of verlan thrown in! What, may you ask, is verlan? It’s an argot of the french language with inversed syllables and is largely meaningless to hapless adults, especially the linguistically challenged like me who often cannot get the syllables in the right order, let alone inverse them!
One thing that we are both capable of doing in equal measure however is eating french patisserie and so it came as no suprise at all when, on the subject of birthday cakes, my daughter opted for a french Tarte aux Fruits from Yvonne instead of a typically english cake. Yvonne is our old favorite boulangerie/patisserie in Rouen Gare where we used to live. It is still no more than 10 minutes walk away, but a combination of home improvements, tax bills and all our electrical kitchen appliances breaking down in the same month made me baulk a bit, as Yvonne’s tarts are sublimely tasty, stunningly beautiful and extravagently expensive but more importantly a little on the small side!
So on wednesday I got down to what I had been putting off for months. Making my own Tarte aux Fruits, Yvonne style. What I discovered in the course of the day was that they are supremely easy, and moreover, by the end of the evening – equally delicious.
There are two important facets to the Tarte aux Fruits. Firstly a rich sweet pastry which holds it’s shape and which doesn’t succumb to the moistness of the Crème Patissière. Then the smooth sweetness of the crème to contrast with the slight acidity of the fruit.
In my humble opinion pastry making is something of an art form. Throughout last summer I had the pleasure of standing in the kitchen with a professional patisserie chef and watching him effortlessly making perfect crisp pastry cases. I learnt several things.
-Firstly it is very important to keep the pastry cool and work the flour and butter mixture to the minimum, stopping mixing when the dough can just hold itself together.
-Secondly that the least amount of water or egg possible should be used to bind the ingredients together as during the baking process the evaporation of the liquid causes shrinkage.
-Thirdly the pastry should always be chilled for at least an hour before baking to prevent slippage in the mould during cooking.
-And finally the dough should never be stretched when fitting it to the mould as this also encourages slippage of the sides of the pastry case during the baking.
I asked the chef how to stop air bubbles appearing in the base of the pastry case, and he recommended using a pastry ring as opposed to a tin, and a perforated silicone baking sheet placed directly on the oven wire rack. In this way, no air is trapped between the pastry and a pastry tin.
Having prepared the pastry case I began to cook the crème patissière.
I added the milk to the pan and incorporated a small proportion of sugar. By adding sugar to the milk, the milk is prevented from sticking or burning to the bottom of the pan as I bring it to the boil. The milk boils at 100°, the sugar at 170°, the higher boiling point of the sugar protects the milk.
It is essential to boil the milk if using fresh, unpasturised or raw milk.
By adding the egg yolks to the poudre à flan and the sugar, the egg ‘cooks’ in the mixture. It will not curdle when added to the boiling milk.
I switch off the flame on the hob. Half of the boiling milk is added to the egg mixture which is then stirred and poured back into the remaining milk. The flame is once more ignited and the mixture simultaneously cooked and beaten until it begins to boil. Once boiling, it is beaten for a further 30 seconds until thick and smooth before the butter is added.
When the butter is incorporated I remove the pan from the flame and pour the Crème Pâtissière thinly over a wire rack covered with cling-film, and cover with another layer of cling-film to prevent from forming a skin and leave to cool. At this point it is possible to freeze the crème for another day or use straight away for a gorgeous tart.
Once cooled I put the crème patissière in my Kitchen Aid and beat until smooth before filling a piping bag with the crème.
The piping bag is partially stuffed into its nozzle to form a “bouchon” (cork) to prevent the creme from passing through the nozzle when I fill the bag. When I have transferred all the creme into the bag, I untwist the “bouchon” and push the creme down to the nozzle opening with the help of a spatula.
Starting from the centre of the pastry case I squeeze the crème patissière through a 8mm round nozzle spiralling outwards until I reach the rim of the pastry case. This prevents the need to spread the crème with a spatula and the danger of damaging or”dirtying” the pastry case itself.
Once done it is just a simple matter of positioning the fruit. I chose raspberries with a strawberry edge, and every so often upturned a raspberry and filled it like a mini “cup”with a raspberry coulis.
Afterwards you can dust softly with icing sugar, or lay a sprig of black currents or redcurrents and a sliced strawberry or two as decoration.
I was worried that my daughter would be disappointed that she didn’t have a real Yvonne tart for her birthday. But when she came in from work she opened the fridge and uttered a “ooooh”.
After dinner, when we were sitting replete from second helpings, my pudding monsters declared it was a huge success, especially as they didn’t have to forgo being greedy as they would have done with Yvonne’s little masterpiece, and moments later it was “snap-chatted” to celebrity and my daughter declared that judging by the responses of her friends – I better get making another one!