28 June, 2009

How to knock their socks off.

The window is flung open to the gentle night, and the stones of the house, from the paved courtyard to the bat- and swallow-dwelling eaves, exhale the day's gathered warmth. The cigales, or cicadas, have been quite noisily busy these past few weeks. They are true arbiters of the summer heat, and only now in the deep dark have allowed the crickets to take over the orchestra.

There is such nostalgia tied to this particular little creature that a whole industry has sprung up around it. I am referring to the well-loved cicada of the south of France, one of some 2,500 different types of cicadas found world-wide. In the summer markets, tourist stalls and deco shops, you can find cigale anything--from soap, candles, and sculpture to magnets, lavender-scented drawer sachets, and doorstops. All in the shape of a fairly strident little herald of les grandes vacances and la vie douce.

And the sweet life it certainly is here, as the summer holiday gears up and berrying is still very much on. For the moment the garden raspberries have taken center stage--all four varieties are competing for attention. This dessert certainly shows them off to beautiful effect. It can make you a culinary hero--and without that much fuss.

If you should happen to stain your clothes while picking these or any other berries, remember to rub in fresh (or bottled) lemon juice repeatedly until the stain disappears. With an orgy of berries on hand, one can quickly abandon all caution. Just try to save some of the berries for the tart.

Tarte aux Framboises (Raspberry Tart)
1 puff pastry crust*, baked blind** in a tart pan
400 g, give or take, fresh ripe raspberries
3 tablespoons raspberry/white currant jelly or any other berry jelly

1/2 liter milk
1 tablespoon high-quality, pure vanilla extract (I trust and love this one, which can be shipped)
4 organic egg yolks
100 g sugar, fine if possible
50 g flour
50 g unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Begin preparing the pastry cream, which will make for a luscious pale yellow layer under the gem-like raspberries. The recipe I use is pretty much verbatim from my trusty old Petit Larousse de la Cuisine. Once you have mastered this basic recipe, you will be able to use any number of fruits for the topping, but especially those that don't necessarily handle baking well, such as strawberries and blackberries.

So: heat the milk, adding the vanilla (don't skimp on quality here!) Beat the egg yolks, then add the fine sugar, continuing to beat until the yolk thickens to a cream color, just a bit yellow. Gradually sift the flour into the beaten egg yolks, incorporating thoroughly as you go. Add half of the boiling milk to the egg yolks, combine thoroughly, then add the remaining half. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan, and over medium-low heat stir pretty much continuously for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened and just beginning to bubble. Remove from heat and vigorously, thoroughly beat in the pieces of butter. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate.
As your pastry cream cools, you can unroll and bake your crust. Once it is baked, evenly fill the crust with the pastry cream. Fill the entire, cream-filled crust with a single layer of raspberries. Heat the jelly with a teaspoon or so of water. Gently brush or dab the tops of the raspberries with the melted jelly to give them a glossy glaze.

It is clearly unreasonable to ask you to refrigerate this gorgeous tart overnight before eating, but if you have self-control you will be amply rewarded, as the pastry cream does mellow beautifully. However briefly, you will be a god--or goddess--among men. Smile benevolently as the praise is lavished upon you (and try not to look too startled at how good this tastes).
*In the interest of time, try to find the highest quality commercial puff pastry dough. In France, it is available already rolled out and ready for the tart pan, luckily enough for the lazy among us. It helps to sprinkle additional flour on both sides of the rolled out dough to prevent sticking.

**To bake blind refers to baking the crust without filling, using baking paper filled with pie weights, rice or beans to keep the crust from puffing up while baking.


  1. I noticed that under the ingredients column in this recipe, it lists "50g unsalted butter, cut in pieces." However, as I read the instructions, I was not told what to do with the butter. I did not know how to use this stray ingredient, so I excluded it from the pastry cream.
    This tart is mediocre at best. However, my opinion is of course biased because I am not particularly fond of raspberries. Raspberry is the overwhelming taste of this dessert, even leaking into the crust and making it unpleasantly soft. Also, the gram measurements were extremely hard to convert. My rating of "Tarte aux Framboises" would be two stars out of five.

  2. Hi Emilie,
    What a pity the tart didn't meet your expectations. Please note that (as noted in the instructions) the pieces of butter are "vigorously, throughly" beaten into the thickened sauce after the sauce has been removed from the heat. I'm trying to imagine how the raspberries in your tart could have leaked into the crust; please note the whole, uncooked raspberries are placed on the cooked and cooled pastry cream, which has been spread in the cooked and cooled pastry crust. Thanks for your input, I hope this helps to clarify.


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