I think it’s safe to say that my enthusiasm for The Professional Pastry Chef has been, uhm, lacking for the last couple chapters.  I kept that in mind while perusing this month’s chapter, individual pastries, in search of a recipe that would give me something good for last weekend’s giant “Everybody is born in June” birthday party.  There are a ton of recipes in this chapter.  Enough, in fact, to be rather daunting.  But a surprising number of them call for almond paste, or other things that require almond paste to make, and one thing I have learned while cooking out of this book is that I don’t particularly like working with almond paste.  Being prejudiced against a common ingredient makes selection much, much easier.

Combining that with fond memories of how much I enjoyed March’s tarts, I went ahead and opted for the fruit tartlets recipe.  I already had short dough in the freezer leftover from the apple wine cake, so I even had a head start.  My biggest concern, actually, was that I doing yet another recipe where I wasn’t going to learn anything.  Being snide and pedantic when writing up these experiments can only stay amusing for so long, right?

That’s what the requisite amount of short dough, fresh from the freezer, looks like when you put it in a bowl on a cute little kitchen scale.

You may recall my triumph from my last tart experience where my secret pie crust skills trumped the technique advice from the pros.  Thus, I did not expect the learning challenge from this to come from the tart shell making process.  But oh, it did.  There’s a huge difference between rolling out the dough for one big tart, and rolling it out for thirty little ones.

For one, my usual, “only roll out the dough once,” policy did not hold, at all.  This wound up being okay, short dough is very forgiving of such things, but I found it a little frustrating.  For another, keeping the dough cool enough to work with was more challenging than I’m used to.

I could drop about 2000 words on the different techniques I went through to find a speedy, workable solution for getting the dough rolled out and in the tart pans, but I’ll skip to my final solution.

I wound up splitting the dough into two bowls.  One of them hung out in the fridge while I rolled out the other between two sheets of wax paper.  Then I peeled off one of the sheets, flipped the dough over a third bowl, and peeled off the second sheet.  From there, I tore off pieces to press into the tart pans.  This makes the process sound easy and straight forward.  Let’s all pretend that’s how it was.  I did discover that rolling out the dough, then putting it in the fridge to firm up so more does not work at all.  Sure, the dough stops tearing on you, but that’s because it cracks instead.  No good.

Despite lots of experimenting with techniques for getting the dough into the shells, I’m pretty pleased with how the shells turned out.  Some of them were prettier than others, but none of them were embarrassing.

I urge you if you try this to remember to prick the dough before putting it in the oven.  The puffiness only shows up on the inside of the shells, which gets hidden, but that also eats up some of the volume for holding tasty cream and whatnot.  I never did get a batch of shells that didn’t puff at all, but I got better across the batches.

The best part of this was that the shells can be made ahead of time.  So I did those on Saturday for the Sunday party.  Then, day of, I only had about an hour and a half of work to do.  The first bit was making apricot glaze for the shells.  This is a step I’ve been skipping in a lot of prior recipes, opting where necessary to just slather on unmodified apricot jam.  The glaze is just apricot jam with extra sugar and some water, cooked down to a near-candy stage.  Then you slather that into your shells, so the cream won’t make them soggy.

Then it was time to make the cream.  This time around it was Bavarian cream, which turned out to be super easy.  Whip egg yolks and sugar together, scald some milk, throw it all together and let it cool off.  I took this opportunity to turn the leftover egg whites into meringues, because that seemed easier than freezing them for later.  It’s possible I have a weird sense of how to be lazy.

Once the milk and yolk mixture is cool, you mix it into some whipped cream and viola!  Bavarian cream.

I took my cream, my shells, and some raspberries over to the party and then, at the appointed hour, slapped them together into confections of tastiness.  Look at the tasty.

These were nice.  I think that pastry cream is tastier than Bavarian cream, so I’ll probably go with that in the future.  Also, this recipe kicked my ass in a “making me a better cook,” as opposed to a “because the cookbook sucked” sort of way.  Win!

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