Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

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One of my goals for this summer was to be able to comfortably run five miles. (Or rather, slow jog five miles.) Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons:

1. Running on the treadmill has made me actually start hating some of my favorite songs. There’s something torturous about running in place for forty minutes, and after a while, my favorite singers seem to be mocking me.

2. It’s been raining basically every day, and if it’s not raining, then it’s ridiculously scorching hot. Like, I step outside and feel my arm hairs burning off, it’s that hot.

3. So I heard running early in the morning is a thing. But so is sleeping in as late as possible during the summer. So I do a kind of combination, where I wake up early, then lay in bed for an hour, patting myself on the back for waking up early, but too lazy to get up actively choosing to just lay there.

4. I have to walk through the kitchen to get outside, and then I see my Kitchen Aid, and then I get…distracted. For example, I’m heading out for a run, and two hours later, I end up with a lemon yogurt cake, or a strawberry almond cream tart. Oh sweet, delicious calories.

5. This one’s a little ridiculous…but I hate to sweat. (Clearly, I was born to be an athlete.)

So before you write me off as a lazy indulgent wimp, I promise you, I do go running. I have, against all odds, made it to three miles of varied terrain, which I’d say is pretty good for someone who hasn’t exercised seriously for at least seven years. I recently read it’s not about distance covered, but rather about time spent exercising, so I’ve worked up to about an hour of constant motion.

But I’m not above a little reward for my efforts. Enter the strawberry almond cream tart, the perfect dessert after a sweaty jog under the hot sun. Sweet, unadorned berries atop cool, creamy pastry cream, encased in an almond crust.

So let’s be real. The goal of my summer was basically to exercise more so I could eat more. Mission (partially) accomplished.

Strawberry Almond Cream Tart (inspired by the New York Times) – makes one 9-inch tart

For the crust:

1 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup butter, cubed
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cold water

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Using hands, mix butter into flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine vanilla and almond extracts with water, then quickly stir mixture into flour. Gather dough into ball and flatten into a disc. Refrigerate for an hour.

Remove dough from fridge and allow it to stand until malleable. Press dough evenly over bottom and sides of 9-in tart pan, extending dough about 1/8 in beyond the edge of the pan. Set aside a little of the dough. Prick shell lightly and refrigerate for another hour.

Cover the shell with parchment paper, then weigh down with baking beans. Bake shell until shell begins to set and brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the beans, then bake for another 5 minutes. Set crust aside to cool.

For the filling:

2 large eggs
3 tbsp cornstarch
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
Salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp almond extract
1 pint hulled strawberries

Have a strainer set over a small bowl near the stove. (It’s important to strain the mixture, or else the cream will turn out lumpy.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and cornstarch. Gradually add 1/4 cup of half-and-half, whisking until the mixture is smooth and cornstarch is dissolved.

In a medium heavy nonreactive saucepan, combine sugar, a pinch of salt, and remaining 1 3/4 cups of half-and half. Over medium heat, bring mixture to a full boil, stirring occasionally. Whisk 2 tbsp of hot mixture into egg mixture, then pass egg mixture through strainer into a small bowl.

Bring half-and-half mixture back to a boil over medium heat, then quickly add all the egg mixture, whisking rapidly. Continue whisking rapidly for about 20-30 seconds, being sure to go into the bottom edge of the pan. The mixture should become very thick.

Remove mixture from heat and whisk in butter and almond extract. Immediately pour the mixture into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold.

To assemble: Pour the pastry cream into the cooled crust. Place hulled strawberries on top. Serve immediately.

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