These delicate fruit tarts, filled with glossy pastry cream and adorned with fresh fruit, are a constant in every pastry shop in Italy. They come in different sizes, from the miniature crostatine you could devour in a single bite, to the larger crostate di frutta you might bring when visiting your future in-laws for the first time, to make a good impression.
The fruit on top changes according to the season. For spring and early summer, that means fresh, ripe strawberries. The tiny, intoxicatingly aromatic wild strawberries, which come earlier in the season, are my favorites. Pair them with fresh herbs for an interesting botanical note.
Makes 6 (4-inch) tartlets
- 1 batch pasta frolla, rested for at least a few hours, or overnight
For the pastry cream:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
- 4 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
For the fruit topping:
- 1/2 pound strawberries
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 sprig fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1 sprig fresh lemon thyme, finely chopped
Start by making the pastry cream (this can even be done a day in advance). Prepare an ice bath by filling a bowl with water and ice cubes.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk and vanilla seeds to a simmer. Once it starts to simmer, remove from the heat.
In another saucepan, whisk together the sugar, egg yolks, and cornstarch until light and creamy. Gradually pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly.
Cook over low heat, whisking continuously, until the pastry cream bubbles and thickens, and the whisk leaves visible traces in the cream. It will take just a few minutes.
Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and set the bowl into the prepared ice water bath, so as to cool it down quickly. Once cold, cover with a plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until you need it.
Remove the pasta frolla from the fridge and leave it at room temperature for about 20 minutes. This will make it easier to work with.
Preheat the oven to 340 degrees F. Butter 6 (4-inch) round fluted tart pans.
On a floured surface, roll out the pasta frolla with a rolling pin into a 1/4-inch-thick round. Cut out discs slightly bigger than the tart pans and lay them into the pans. Use your fingers to press the dough into the pans and about 1/2 inch up the edges. Trim the excess dough with a sharp knife, saving the scraps.
Knead any leftover dough scraps together, roll it out again, and cut out more discs. You should be able to line 6 tart pans.
Cover the tartlet shells with pieces of parchment paper and pour in some baking weights, such as dried beans, or a smaller mold, to blind bake them.
Bake the tartlet shells for about 15 minutes, then remove the weights and the parchment paper and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, until golden. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then gently unmold the shells. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Now prepare the strawberries. Wash them, remove the leaves, and chop them. Transfer to a bowl and toss them with the sugar and finely chopped mint and lemon thyme. Let macerate for about 10 minutes.
When the tartlet shells are completely cooled, fill them with the pastry cream, smooth the surfaces, then arrange the strawberries on top. Drizzle with juices from the strawberries to finish. Let the tartlets rest in the fridge for one hour, then serve immediately.