I have been living in England for many years now, and I have enthusiastically adapted to most aspects of life here. I now queue diligently, I drink tea like it’s going out of fashion, I have learnt to bake scones and I even pop into Marks & Spencer every now and then. But try as I might, I still cannot get used to the English Summer.
It seems that for every glorious day where you can eat outdoors, wear a sundress and do other lovely, summery things, you have to endure weeks of barely mild temperatures, wind and rain.
Warm, sunny days, when they do happen, seem to arrive out of nowhere and there is this sense of urgency about them because you know that if you don’t cancel whatever your plans were for that day, and quickly adapt to the unexpected appearance of the sun, your barbecue may just remain in the garage for another year and your sundress will languish in the wardrobe until the next foreign holiday.
There is one pretty marvellous thing about English Summers though : berries. The mild, wet weather makes for juicy, sweet , delicious strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and all their berry cousins.
My local fruit and veg shop stocks local berries during the season and they are a real joy. Recently, I bought some delicious, plump strawberries. Not the shiny, identically shaped, designer strawberries you find in supermarkets; no, these were the real thing, all different shapes and sizes and some of them oddly misshapen, just like the ones I used to pick in my grandmother’s garden.
Inspired by this bounty, I suddenly fancied a strawberry tart. A simple one, with just a buttery, sweet pastry (or pâte sablée in French) and strawberries on top. No crème pâtissière needed with strawberries this good. The only thing I added were some roughly chopped pistachios because I think they look nice and add a bit of crunch, but really you can leave them out and your tart would still be delicious.
The proportions for the pastry come from Michel Roux’s Pastry , which I highly recommend (and unfortunately no one pays me to say this).
You will need :
For a 26 cm Ø tart tin:
250 g plain flour
200 g butter, cut into small pieces and slightly softened
100 g icing sugar, sifted
A pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
600 g strawberries
20 g chopped pistachios (optional)
2 tbsp strawberry jam, to glaze
For the pastry, put the flour in a mound in a wide, shallow dish or directly on your worktop. Make a well in the middle and add in it the butter, sugar and salt.
Rub the butter and sugar together between your fingertips until combined. Add the egg yolks and combine, still with your fingertips. Gradually start drawing in the flour from the sides until it has all been added. Knead the dough 2 or 3 times then pat it into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Flour the tart tin. Roll out the pastry carefully on a well-floured surface into a round 3 to 4 mm thick. Use the rolling pin to help you lift the pastry into the tin. This pastry is very fragile and will probably tear when you try and lift it. The trick is to start lining the tin with as large a piece of pastry as you can manage, then fill the gaps with offcuts and gently press the edges down with your fingers to get a smooth pastry case.
Refrigerate the lined tin while you preheat the oven to 180ºC / Fan 160ºC /Gas 4.
Cover the pastry with foil, add baking beans and bake blind for about 20 min (check your pastry frequently towards the end) then remove the foil and beans and bake for a further 5 min if necessary. You want a fully cooked pastry case with just a slight golden tinge.
Prepare the strawberries: wash them gently in cold water then leave to drain. Hull the strawberries, then either cut them in half and arrange them on the cooled pastry case in overlapping circles, or if you don’t have a lot of time, just use them whole (warning: this is much quicker but the strawberries will be rolling about when you slice the tart later).
Warm the jam in a small pan set over a low heat until it is liquid, then brush all over the strawberries. Scatter the chopped pistachios. Now expect some ooohs and aaahs when you bring this to the table.