Summer has arrived & although the sunshine has been a bit shy just lately, there are some fabulous fruits in the shops right now, ripe for the picking. Summer for me has always meant strawberries & as a child, I would love to both pick & eat them. We grew them in pots in the garden & sometimes would go strawberry picking at a local farm, but they were always lusciously lovely & the mere scent of strawberries brings back those memories instantly! Sunny Summer afternoons spent sitting on the grass, sipping a glass of my Mum’s homemade elderflower fizz (now there’s a recipe!) & pretending it was the finest Champagne, the hum of bumble bees buzzing around & warm sunshine on my face, whilst indulging in a beautiful blanket banquet. This would obviously include a bowl of freshly picked strawberries, washed & dunked in a little sugar before being devoured. This is why I always smell strawberries before buying them (& probably why I get such funny looks from other shoppers!). The sweeter the scent, the sweeter the berry! Sometimes the simplest of treats is the most delicious & satisfying to all the senses – we don’t just eat food with our mouths, all the other senses chip in too!
One of my all time favourite treats is a petite pretty pastry, filled to the brim & adorned with ripe, ruby red strawberries. To call it a jam tart would not do justice to them, as the jam is simply the sweet glue that bonds these beautiful berries together within the pastry cup. These delicate delicacies are another of my childhood favourites & tremendously easy to make, all it takes is a little preparation & of course a little patience too. They also work well with a variety of berries or fruit – try cherries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries, or why not pineapple, apricots or apples! Ready to bake it happen? Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!
What you need:
For the pastry:
6oz Plain Flour
2oz Salted Butter, room temperature (slightly softened)
2oz Sugar (I use my homemade vanilla sugar – pop a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar overnight & that’s it!)
1 large Egg
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
Zest of half a Lemon & half an Orange, mixed
A little extra Butter & Flour for preparing your baking tin
A little Milk (approx. 2 tablespoons will do)
For the filling:
Half a jar of good quality Strawberry Conserve or Jam
1 punnet fresh ripe Strawberries
300ml fresh Double Cream
1 teaspoon Icing Sugar
1 plastic or metal Drinking Straw (this is an important piece of kitchen equipment!)
What to do:
Firstly, pre-heat the oven to 200*C. While that’s warming up, prepare your baking tin. You’ll need a 12 cup patty tin for this recipe. Simply wipe a little butter around the inside of each cup & sprinkle in some flour on top. Shake out the excess onto a clean worktop (where you’ll be preparing your pastry later). This makes your patty tin non-stick & the pastries will be easier to remove after baking.
Now to prepare your strawberries – give them a wash in cold water & drain well (I usually tip them onto a clean tea towel). This is where your drinking straw comes in! Push the straw up from the bottom to the top of the berry, all the way through & then pull the tiny strawberry tree from the straw. Pop those tiny trees in the composter, ready to turn into lovely rich soil for the next plants! The riper the strawberries are, the easier it is & this will take moments, leaving you with a bowlful of beautiful hulled berries & not a squishy one in sight!
Stand the strawberries on their plumper end & slice the edges off, then set aside for later (pop them in the fridge on a plate covered up, especially if it’s a warm day). Keep the ends to make dinky decorations for your baked tarts. Slice up the rest of the strawberries into thin slices. Again, set aside in a dish for later, but separately from your strawberry hearts (in case they give out any juice).
There are a couple of ways to make the pretty heart-shaped strawberry slices like I have. Either use a small heart-shaped cutter or plunger if you have one or, as the strawberry is naturally shaped that way, simply cut a little V out of the top of the slice & trim the edges to a point at the bottom of the berry. Make sure you wash your hands after this stage & dry well.
Time to make the pastry cups. Tip all the pastry ingredients into large mixing bowl. Using a knife, mix everything together loosely & break up the eggs, then get your hands in & squish the ingredients together to form a firm ball of dough.
Lightly dust your work surface with a little flour & place your ball of pastry on top. Roll it out until about 3-4mm thick. If it sticks to your worktop, slide a pallet knife underneath it & add a little more flour to your worktop. It is a sticky pastry, so don’t worry if it does this (the taste is worth the effort).
Once rolled, take a circle cookie cutter slightly larger than your patty tin & cut out twelve circles. Place each circle in the prepared tin & using the end of your rolling pin, gently dab each one into place.
Pop half a teaspoon of jam into the centre of each pastry cup & top with some strawberry slices. As jam grows, please do not be tempted to fill up the pastry cup with huge dollops of it – it will expand & spread all over like molten lava & it will burn. Leave the spoon in the jam for later, we’re going to use it again after baking.
Place the tarts in the centre of the oven & bake for 8-10 minutes, until the jam is bubbling around the berries & the pastry has turned a golden hue.
Once baked, remove the tin & place on a cooling rack. Gently slide your pallet knife under each tart & carefully lift out onto your cooling rack.
While your tarts are still warm, scoop another half teaspoon of jam onto the filling of each. Don’t worry about spreading it over the fruit, it will be fine. Allow them to cool completely before the next stage.
To get the strawberry pastry decorations I made, you’re going to need a small calyx cutter (or small star) & a small heart cutter. You can buy these online or at any good baking retailer.
Roll out your pastry as before & cut out a dozen of each shapes, along with a few spares too (just in case!).
Place the hearts on a sheet of greaseproof baking paper on a flat baking tray. Using your little finger or a small brush, dab a drip of milk on the top centre of the strawberry shape, then pop your star on top & leave a couple of the points hanging over the top. Press lightly to attach & there you go – one strawberry pastry shape! Repeat with the rest & brush them all with a little milk (or use your finger to wipe the milk on), then bake for 8-10 minutes in the centre of the oven.
When cooked, use a pallet knife to carefully lift the pastry strawberries onto a cooling rack. They should lift easily off the greaseproof paper, plus you have a clean baking tray – no washing up! Leave to rest until completely cooled. You can make these the day before & pop them in an airtight container until you’re ready to use them.
Once your tarts are cooled, whip your double cream with the icing sugar until thickened & you can make firm swirls with your beaters (the icing sugar helps the cream hold it’s shape when piped). Scoop into a piping bag with your preferred nozzle (or just a bag with the tip cut off if you like).
Pipe swirls of cream, starting at the outer edge & working your way towards the centre, getting the cream taller as you pipe.
Place the pastry strawberry on top, tilting it at a slight angle & a strawberry heart on either side of the cream. Repeat until you have decorated them all & set them onto a pretty plate. If you’re serving them later, cover them & keep in the fridge until then. They will keep overnight (as long as nobody eats them!).
That’s it! Perfect served as part of an elegant afternoon tea, a special soiree, or simply as a sumptuous strawberry treat with a chilled glass of fizz, these plump little pastries will certainly bring some sunshine to your day! Stay hungry! A 😉 x