I didn't plan on doing it. (I actually talked about it for weeks. I'm pretty sure that all of my Facebook friends were tired of hearing about it and were like, "Dear god, just do it already.") The cookbooks have been ignoring my desire for vanilla for so long that I had to look outside our holy union to have my unholy needs met.
I wanted vanilla custard tarts, so I used a recipe that I found online. May the gods of tarts and of the Great British Bake Off forgive me. The temptation was just too strong. Mama saw the tarts, and Mama wanted the tarts (and, by "mama," I mean me). The website/blog is Sweet Hersey Living, and these are the tarts:
I don't think I have to explain the attraction, right? Who doesn't like creamy vanilla pudding made even fancier by being a homemade vanilla custard? What kind of a monster doesn't enjoy a vanilla custard tart?
To be clear, there is at least one custard recipe in Paul Hollywood's How to Bake, but it wasn't as vanilla-y as I wanted, although I will be making it eventually as per my baking challenge. So I did a fairly thorough Internet search and decided upon these, not a little bit because the tart pastry looked delicious (and tart pastry is often a little bland or at least not sweet).
I was correct; the tart pastry was delicious. I'm not saying that I ate significant amount of it while rolling it out and cutting it for the tartlet pans, but . . . actually, I AM saying that. I ate a lot of it. Like, a lot. I'm not sorry. It was basically a cookie dough. Speaking of, here is the recipe:
FOR THE SHELLS
1¼ c. flour
½ c. butter, chilled and cubed
½ c. powdered sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp. cream
FOR THE CUSTARD
¾ c. sugar
¼ c. corn starch
3 c. whole milk
¼ tsp. salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 egg yolks
3 Tbsp. butter
Fresh fruit for decorating
FOR THE SHELLS
Place flour, butter, sugar, and salt into food processor.
Pulse until resembles course corn meal.
Beat together egg yolks and cream.
While pulsing slowly pour egg mixture into butter mixture.
Once dough comes together wrap in parchment paper.
Chill 2 hours.
Cut dough into 8 even pieces and roll 6 into balls.
Roll out balls on lightly floured surface.
Gently press rolled out dough into prepared tart shells.
Freeze 30 minutes.
Press aluminum foil tightly to the inside of frozen tart shells.
Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Let cool 4 minutes before removing from pans.
FOR THE CUSTARD
Bring milk, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and vanilla bean to a gentle boil over medium low heat, stirring constantly.
Once boiling cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
In separate bowl whisk together egg yolks and 1 cup of hot milk mixture.
Pour egg yolk mixture back into the pot and return to a gently boil.
Cook additional 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Pour the custard through a sieve placed over a bowl, straining out lumps.
Stir butter into the strained custard.
Pour the warm custard into each cooled tart shell.
Decorate with fresh fruit.
This recipe calls for individual, medium-sized tart pans, but I used, instead, a Wilton tartlet pan.
I like tartlet pans because people generally like a small tart they can eat in 3-4 bites. However, large tarts can be very impressive-looking, and I plan to make a couple in the next week or two just for practice. But the problem with these tartlet pans is that it's hard to know what to do with the top edges because they can't really be trimmed like a normal tart in an individual tart pan can be. So, for now, I've semi-solved the problem by using the fluted edge of my biscuit cutters to cut out the tart shells.
I found the pastry dough a little soft to work with, even after chilling, but, because I'm a brave baking soldier with very serious sweets cravings/rages, I persevered. I cut the shells out, placed them in the pans, and weighted them down with parchment paper and steel ball bearings (a very clever idea, not mine, but I need a lot more of them and in a much bigger size) to blind bake.
I made two pans of them, but the pictures aren't riveting enough to post both of them. The most colorful part of making this recipe was the language I used while chasing the hot ball bearings I dropped around the edges of the pans. It was foul.
The completed tart shells:
I'm sure you can see that the pastry was way too thick, but I forgive myself.
Then it was time to make the custard. It's honestly the most boring baking-related task I've ever completed, and it took FOREVER for the custard to get up to temperature in order to start boiling. And then, once it was up to temperature, it almost got too warm, even after I had reduced the burner temperature again, and almost curdled. I saved it in the nick of time. Here is the most interesting picture of the custard-making process:
I kept checking Facebook on my phone just to have something to do, which is not necessarily the best decision when "stirring constantly." But dear god. It was boring.
When the custard is done cooking, you're supposed to pour it through a large sieve into a bowl in order to remove any lumps or pieces of egg, etc., from the final product, which I did. Alas, I could not take a picture of the process at the same time. I have not yet trained my cats to take pictures with my phone. But here is the finished product, strained and smooth as silk:
Pro tip: custard is delicious when warm. It's also delicious when it's ice-cold from the fridge in the tart shells. It's not delicious when lukewarm.
And that's it! There's nothing left but to pour it into the shells. I actually ended up using a cookie dough scoop because it was setting alarmingly quickly and not pouring correctly.
Aren't they delightful? A little rustic because of the tartlet pan, but I don't mind a little (or a lot) rusticity in baked goods. My husband wanted blueberries on his tarts, so I put blueberries on a few of them. I ate mine plain.
And, because I wanted you to see how nicely the custard turned out, I took a picture of a half-eaten tart. Behold the glory! Look at that creaminess!
So, to sum up, the pastry was too thick, and our oven baked unevenly, which is annoying. However, the tarts did turn out to be delicious although they were maybe a little too sweet. They needed the zing of a fruit on top and probably a less sweet pastry--but I'm not sorry that I tried this pastry because eating it as a dough was, frankly, amazing. Now I'm actually looking forward to making the custard tarts in How to Bake because it calls for a traditional short crust with almond flour. I think they'll be better with less sweet shells.
I ended up eating three or four tarts in total, and we sent a few down to the neighbors. Then my husband ate the rest of them in less than 24 hours becausehe is a damn champion. Thus, I CAN and DO recommend this recipe with the caveat that fruit should definitely be used on top. Or, for your moderately trashy friends, you can just use Starburst.