Earl Grey Berry Tart
Bright blue, cloudless calm days. Small birds hopping from tree branch to tree branch, singing their songs. Delicate flowers hiding under large broad leaves and barely swaying branches with fluttering leaves. A season matures, the signs outside pointing to fast-approaching hot summer days. Green is everywhere. At least I think; I imagine.
I imagine bright blue, cloudless calm days while I take a moment to distract myself from a mountain of monotonous tasks demanding my immediate attention. I think about small birds hopping from tree branch to tree branch, singing their songs, while I listen to the chatter of a long-trusted advisor explaining the financial report in my hands. I wonder about delicate flowers hiding under large, broad leaves and barely swaying branches with fluttering leaves when I finally take a moment to stop and look through a window, only to find dark clouds plummeting to the ground in a cold, wet fury.
There is nothing in life – in the twenty-six years before now and in the moments which make up the present – that brings me more joy than the handwork, determination, and imagination that goes into starting a company. I find myself facing the most thrilling moments in my life as I stare straight into the biggest unknown I’ve seen yet. I trade sleep for planning. I trade meals with friends for meetings. I trade frivolous nights out for work and I love every second of it. But there are moments I find myself wanting to surround myself with green – calm, worry-free, taskless green.
I scoop a small spoonful of earl grey tea into a small square of cheesecloth, carefully folding up the corners and tying the extra bits into a knot. The clank of a heavy tea kettle rings from the stovetop; I wait for the familiar whistle. Somehow I inevitably find myself back at my computer, staring at more analyses in a business plan. A screech calls out and takes me by surprise. Why did I put that on? Oh yes. Tea. Sweet, calming tea.
Near-boiling water pours over the cheesecloth into my favorite tea cup. I watch as the pristine liquid slowly melds into a beautiful rich, auburn. I rummage through the pantry looking for that nearly empty jar of gulf coast wild flower honey I know I left there. There it is. I struggle to coerce the last remaining drops into my cup. A silver spoon my grandmother’s grandmother once used finds its way into my hand; I stir the hot liquid and watch the swirling honey disappear. I slurp a sip, eager to taste the liquid without letting it sit on my tongue too long to burn it.
Suddenly I find myself outside, grasping the fresh earl grey with both hands as I lose myself in the green everywhere. It never really mattered what kind of tea I made – whether caffeine laden or caffeine free – it always calmed my mind and body. I wander around the garden admiring new and old flowers, listening to scurrying creatures and picking a fresh strawberry. Wait. When did this happen? Somehow in the blur that has been the past few weeks, I’ve neglected my fruiting strawberry plants. As I finish the last drops of my tea, I dust off a few dark red strawberries and bite in to the sweet, tart treats – holy shit these guys are so much better than what I find in the store. Then I make what could be the day’s most important decision.
I walk inside, clear my schedule, shut my computer, and begin collecting ingredients.
Earl Grey Berry Tart: The combination of flavors in this tart tops my list of new favorites. Never could I imagine steeping tea into custard could be so good – without a doubt my most favorite custard recipe yet. The sweet and tart berries add a pleasant freshness to the tart. Holding it all together is a wonderfully nutty whole wheat brown sugar crust. As far as tarts go, this is a fairly easy one. There are quite a few steps – as there are numerous elements to making any tart (crust, filling, topping) – so I suggest taking your time with this recipe.
Tarts that aren’t baked once the filling and topping are added require baking beforehand. To do this you must blind bake the crust. I’ve explain a bit more about blind baking below but I suggest being patient with this process, especially if this is your first time trying – my first two attempts at blind baking were big flops.
- 1 pound Whole Wheat Brown Sugar Crust (recipe below)
- 1 quart Earl Grey Custard
- 1 pint strawberries
- 1 cup blueberries
- Honey (optional)
- Prepare the Whole Wheat Brown Sugar Crust and Earl Grey Custard and set aside in the refrigerator to chill. The dough needs to rest long enough until it is firm enough to roll out.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Roll the Whole Wheat Brown Sugar Crust dough out to a ⅛" thick square about 11" x 11", using as little flour as possible (short dough is a fragile dough; it is best to work quickly as the dough will become too soft to work with once it has warmed up. Place the rolled out dough gently in the pie pan, tucking (taking care not to let the dough stretch) dough into the corners. Remove any excess dough that is left above the edge of the pie pan.
- Line the dough with parchment paper. Place pie weights or dry beans on the parchment paper, enough to fill the tart pan all the way to the top. This is called blind baking - because you cannot see the dough as it bakes - and is done to allow the dough to retain its shape.
- Bake the tart dough in the preheated oven for 14 to 16 minutes until the visible edges begin to brown and they feel firm.
- Remove the tart from the oven and carefully remove the pie weights or dry beans, including the parchment paper separating the beans and the dough. Place a few slits in the bottom of the dough. Place the dough back in the oven and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes until the bottom of the crust begins to brown and feels firm.
- Set the baked tart crust aside to cool. In the meantime prep the strawberries by cutting the tops off of each - your goal here is to make each strawberry the same height with a base that has the same diameter.
- Once the crust is cool, pour the custard into the tart. Evenly spread it out so it is level with the top of the crust.
- Arrange the berries on top in any fashion you wish. To duplicate my tart, first arrange the cut strawberries on the custard forming a grid that is 7 strawberries by 7 strawberries (each strawberry's base will need to be about 1" to 1¼" long to achieve this). I suggest starting from the corner farthest from you, creating a L (two perpendicular rows) before moving onto the next row - this will help keep the grid straight and will also prevent you from accidentally dragging your hand or arm on already placed strawberries. After all the strawberries are arranged, carefully place a blueberry in between each strawberry.
- Serve immediately. You can also drizzle a little honey on top for added sweetness if you'd like
Short Dough: Most tarts use a form of short dough to create the base. Short dough is essentially a cookie dough (butter, sugar, eggs & flour). Unlike pie dough that is flaky, short dough becomes firm and rigid allowing the tart to stand on its own. Because short doughs often contain a lot of butter and sugar in relation to flour, they are a very wet/soft dough. Short doughs must be refrigerated for an hour or more before rolling out. The brown sugar in this recipe gives this dough a tangy sweetness while the whole wheat pastry flour gives it a wonderfully earthy, nutty flavor.
- 5 ounces unsalted butter, at room temp.
- 4 ounces brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 7½ ounces whole wheat pasty flour
- Mix the sugar, butter and egg together until combined.
- Add the flour and mix until a dough forms.
- Form the dough into a disk and wrap in parchment paper.
- Place in the refrigerator and chill for a couple hours.
- 1 quart milk
- ½ vanilla bean
- 1¼ ounces earl grey tea
- 2 ounces cornstarch
- 8 ounces sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 3 ounces unsalted butter
- Place the earl grey tea in cheesecloth and tie it shut tightly to ensure no tea leaves can escape.
- Place the milk in a heavy bottomed pot. Cut into the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the innards from the vanilla bean into the milk. Place the bean pod in the milk too and bring the milk to a boil.
- Once the milk has reached a boil, remove the pot from the heat. Place the cheesecloth bag filled with tea into the milk and allow it to steep for 15 minutes.
- In the mean time, mix the cornstarch, sugar, salt and eggs together in a bowl. Set aside.
- After the tea is finished steeping, remove the cheesecloth bag and vanilla bean from the milk. Slowly pour some of the milk into the sugar mixture to temper the eggs. Return the tempered egg mixture to the pot with the remaining milk.
- Heat the mixture over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil, stirring/whisking constantly. Once at a boil, continue cooking for another 30 seconds to ensure the cornstarch taste is cooked out.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Allow the custard to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to chill.