4 or 5 drops of vanilla extract (or seeds of one vanilla pod if you have it.)
A little icing sugar
For the Strawberry Filling
400gr / 14 oz. fresh strawberries, chopped
150gr / 5 oz. almonds chopped roughly and toasted
2 x tbsp of icing sugar
6 Strawberries, quartered.
For the Pastry
Place the flour, butter, salt and icing sugar in a large bowl and rub together through your fingers until the mix becomes like breadcrumbs.
Add the eggs and bring together. I do this at first with a wooden spoon and then move on to using my hands. Work it until it becomes a ball, then remove from your bowl and knead it, just two or three times on a cool surface. By this I mean just 2 or 3 kneading movements, that’s all. This dough is quite sticky and can be a little difficult. If it is just too sticky to get into a ball, add a small amount of flour, but only a tablespoon or maximum two, you don’t want to dilute the sweetness too much. Also, the addition of more flour gives a tougher dough if you over do it.
Wrap your ball of sweet dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least an hour, more is better. Leave it overnight if possible.
To bake the pastry, pre-heat your oven to 180°C / 350°F.
Grease each of your baking cases. The easiest way to do this is to take a piece of greaseproof paper and rub it on your stick or pat of butter, then rub it in each case, being careful to cover all the surface area with which the pastry will come into contact. Alternatively, if you have the paper in which your butter was packaged, use this to rub around the baking area.
On a floured surface, roll out your pastry until it is about 2mm / 0.08in to 3mm / 0.10 in. thick. Using your cutter, cut out the circles. You can bring the pastry scraps together in a ball and keep rolling and cutting as much as you need.
Press the pastry discs carefully but firmly into their metal cases, but with enough firmness that they sit evenly. Make sure that the pastry comes up and slightly over the top of each tartlet case. Try not to press too much as this will make the pastry too thin.
With a fork, prick all over the base of each pastry case. Put them back into the fridge for about 15 minutes.
Then bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until they are a very light brown colour and the pastry is no longer soft. Remove from the oven, cool and then remove from the tartlet cases.
For the Crème Pâtissière
To start the crème pâtissière take an electric whisk and beat the egg yolks in a bowl with about a third of the sugar until the mix becomes pale yellow.
Add the flour and whisk until everything is incorporated evenly, no lumps, and the it has thickened a little.
Heat the milk in a pan (not a non-stick pan) with the rest of the sugar and the vanilla. Just as it comes to the boil, remove your pan from the heat and pour about two thirds of the hot milk into your bowl containing the egg and sugar mix. Stir quickly with a metal hand whisk for a minute then add the rest of the milk and continue stirring quite firmly until everything is smooth and evenly incorporated.
Put the pan back on a medium heat and pour your crème pâtissière into the pan. Stir continuously with your metal whisk. As it thickens you may have to stir quite vigorously. Let it bubble gently for 2 minutes and then remove from the heat.
Sprinkle over a very thin layer of icing sugar and allow your crème pâtissière to cool. The layer of icing sugar prevents the formation of a ‘skin’.
For the Strawberry Filling
Place the chopped strawberries, toasted almonds and icing sugar in a bowl and mix together.
Once the pastry cases and the crème patissiere has cooled, take the case, put about a table spoon of the crème patisiere in the bottom and spread out evenly. You can do this by putting the crème patissiere in a piping bag, but I just spread it with a knife. Then spoon over some of the strawberry filling and top with a quartered strawberry. You can also give the tartlets a dusting of icing sugar if you wish.
These little tartlets are best eaten fresh. The longer you leave them, you run the risk of the pastry being softened by the filling.
Serve with a bit of crème fraiche or mascarpone on the side for some extra indulgence.
If you have pastry left over, you can freeze it until you wish to use.
There are quite a lot of parts to this recipe. I find the best way to organize myself is to make the pastry the day before, then just leave it in the fridge overnight. I then start by rolling it and placing it in the tartlet cases, then it goes back into the fridge. Whilst the pastry is chilling, I get the oven on. When the tartlets are baking, I make the crème patissiere. While the pastry and crème patissiere are cooling I make the strawberry and almond filling and the decorations.