Berry Beautiful…

What is better than picking your own fruit to cook with? These little custard tarts can be topped with any seasonal fruit. Our favourites are raspberries and blackberries together. In our house I make the pastry, Giancarlo makes the custard and the children decorate. This Italian pastry is more interesting than an English shortcrust because it has flavour from the citrus zest and vanilla.

Crostatine di crema pasticcera

Berry custard tarts
Makes a 25cm tart or 4 x 10cm individual tarts
For the pastry (makes 275g)
100g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing, at room temperature (or use 50g butter and 50g lard)
150g ‘00’ or plain flour, plus extra for dredging
2 teaspoons grated zest from 1 orange and/or 1 lemon
4 drops of vanilla essence, or seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla pod
1 medium egg
50g caster sugar
1 tablespoon milk, if needed
For the custard
300ml milk
1 vanilla pod, slit lengthways and seeds scraped out
2 eggs, separated
40g granulated sugar
20g cornflour
125ml mascarpone or double cream
To decorate
Strawberries or other soft fruits
Apricot glaze or jam (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Grease a 25cm fluted tart tin with a removable base with butter.
Put the butter, flour, zest and vanilla into a large bowl and rub together until you achieve a consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Keep your hands above the bowl, letting the crumbs fall, to aerate the mixture.
Add the egg and sugar, using your hands to mix and form a firm dough – simply squelch the ingredients through your fingers until well blended. If the dough is a little dry, add a tablespoon of milk and blend well. You will only need this if your egg is small or your flour very absorbent. Ideally, chill the pastry for 20 minutes in the fridge but if time is short you can roll out the pastry between two layers of baking parchment or cling film. If it cracks, you can patch up using trimmings from the pastry; the result will be fine.
Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 0.5cm (1/4mm) and line the tart tin. Prick the base with a fork. Transfer the tin to the oven and bake the pastry for 20 minutes or until it is a light golden colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, make the custard. Put the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla seeds and pod and bring to a gentle boil. Mix together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a bowl using an electric mixer, until pale and fluffy. When the milk is boiling, remove from the heat and add a ladleful at a time to the cornflour mixture until half of it is incorporated. Pour the mixture back into the rest of the milk in the saucepan. Return to the heat for just a few minutes to thicken, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and transfer to a cold bowl. Cover the surface of the custard with cling film to prevent a skin forming. Allow to cool without removing the vanilla pod.
Fill the pastry cases with the cooled custard, discarding the pod, and top with fresh fruits to decorate. You can go for a random look and pile the fruits on top or, starting from the outside, push in the individual berries to form concentric circles in alternating colours. For a really professional finish, brush with apricot glaze or jam (after warming it gently, to make it runny).

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