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At Miette, owner Meg Ray (featured in our Best of the City 2011: Eat+Drink) creates variations of pastry cream and fresh fruit tarts, beginning with blueberries, in season at the start of summer. Recipe printed with permission from Miette by Meg Ray and Leslie Jonath (Chronicle Books, in stores July 2011).
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
7 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1. Pour the milk into a medium pot. Use a sharp knife to slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Put the pod in the milk as well. Heat the milk until almost boiling (bubbles will begin to form at the edges). Cover and let steep for 1 hour.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until smooth. Set the bowl on a kitchen towel or nonskid surface and whisk the egg mixture while pouring about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the mixture to temper. Gradually pour in the rest of the milk, whisking constantly. Pour the contents of the bowl into the pan and set over medium-low heat.
3. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a slow boil, about 2 minutes. Immediately strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container. Discard the vanilla bean or wash and reuse it. Let the pastry cream cool to room temperature, 10 minutes, and then whisk in the butter. You want the butter to be incorporated without being melted.
4. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until well chilled, or at least 1 hour and up to 3 days, and you're ready to assemble the tart.
Pate Sucree Tart Shell
1 2/3 cups (8 ounces) all-purposed flour
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk
2 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 pints seasonal fruit, such as blueberries
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and beat until the mixture is the consistency of cornmeal, about 5 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 1 tablespoon of the cream. Add to the flour mixture and mix until just combined. If the dough does not come together into large chunks, slowly add the remaining cream, a little bit at a time, until it does. Gather the dough into a ball, pat it into a disk, and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough disk into a round about 1/3 inch thick and about 8 inches in diameter. Drape the rolled-out dough into a 7-inch tart pan, gently pushing it into the bottom edges and against the pan sides to make a strong and straight shell. Trim the edges flush with the rim of the pan using a sharp knife, or roll the rolling pin over the edges to cut off the excess dough. Prick all over the bottom with the tines of a fork and place in the freezer to firm up for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
5. Fully pre-bake the tart shell until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
6. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
7. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the cold pastry cream (save the rest for another time or use) evenly into the cooled tart shell. Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 7 hours. Just before serving, top attractively with fruit.