Monday, September 20, 2010

sweet corn & blueberry tartlets

This tart is the result of a bad decision. For me, there's always this moment at the end of summer, when summer has actually become fall but I don't want to admit it yet, when I know that winter is lurking but I'm not ready to face cold reality, this moment when I want to buy every last fruit and vegetable at the farmer's market for fear that I may never taste anything fresh and bright ever again. There's this moment when I want to linger with the stickiness of peaches on my fingertips, the crunch of carrots between my teeth, bits of sweet corn on my chin. Wouldn't it be wonderful, I think, if I could taste these flavors all winter long? What if I bought a lot of sweet corn, yeah, a really big bag, a bag you sort of need two people to carry, and shuck it and blanch it and pack all of the kernels into freezer bags and then I could eat it all winter? That would be perfection.

Let me just say, winter is long in Canada. And it is not made any shorter by apparently endless bags of sweet corn in your freezer. Look, there are only so many ways you can saute corn or make a corn soup. And then it's summer again and there are new, fresh, sweet ears of corn so you're clearly going to eat that instead of the corn that is still in your freezer. And you're left with a lot of corn, and a little bit of guilt over the impending waste, and a sense of self-loathing at your failure to plan realistically. But still, there are only so many ways you can saute corn or make a corn soup. This has led me to explore new uses for corn, namely desserts. Earlier this summer, I played around with corn and blueberry popsicles, which were pretty tasty. And now, these corn and blueberry tartlets. (obviously, I need to work harder at this get-rid-of-the-corn project because I'm stuck on the corn/ blueberry combo). To be honest, I thought these tartlets would be at best fine, a fun experiment for a Saturday afternoon; I reasoned that even if they were disgusting I would be able to move some corn from the freezer to the bin in a guilt-free way. But, much to my surprise, these tartlets were seriously delicious--"thank god I froze so much corn last summer so I can make some more" delicious. The combination of sweet corn pastry cream and fresh blueberries is far more than the sum of the parts. It really is end of summer perfection.

Sweet Corn Pastry Cream*
500 grams whole milk
500 grams sweet corn kernels (fresh or frozen & thawed/drained)
6 large egg yolks
100 grams sugar
45 grams cornstarch, sifted
50 grams unsalted butter, room temp

Put milk and corn in a medium saucepan and bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let steep for an hour. Puree milk/corn mixture until very smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Get an ice bath ready (fill a large bowl with ice and water). Return corn milk to the medium saucepan and reheat just to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Once the milk is warmed, slowly pour a small amount into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the remaining milk into the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour the milk mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, back into the saucepan. Cook the mix over medium heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. Cook for another minute or so, still whisking, until it thickens. Pour into a clean bowl, set into an ice bath and let cool to 140 F, whisking occasionally. Remove the bowl from the ice bath and whisk in butter a bit at a time, making sure each piece melts thoroughly. Return to ice bath to cool completely. When cooled, cover with plastic wrap and let set in the fridge.

Sweet Cornmeal Crust
80 grams butter, room temperature
100 grams confectioner's sugar
2 large egg yolks
140 grams all-purpose flour
80 grams cornmeal
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. heavy cream
(sorry for the mix of measurement styles here; I always weigh big amounts and measure small bits)

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing completely. Stir in flour, cornmeal, salt, and heavy cream. Gather dough into a ball, and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for two hours.

To Assemble:
This recipe makes one 9-inch tart or 6 3-inch tartlets. For the tartlets, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out 4 inch circles and press into 3-inch tart rings. Trim off any overhang. Gather up the dough scraps and re-roll for remaining tartlets. Put a small piece of parchment paper or foil in each tart shell and fill with dry beans. Bake tart shells at 350 F for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool. Fill tart shells with pastry cream. Top with fresh blueberries (a pint should suffice). You can serve the tarts as-is, or you can finish them with a jam glaze. Heat apricot or red currant jelly over med-high heat until boiling. Brush the jelly over the fruit and allow to set.

*My recipe is adapted from the Pierre Herme/ Dorie Greenspan vanilla pastry cream which I always find gives me the best results.