Just a self-trained home cook in an 8' x 12' kitchen honing his craft…

The title of a classic Beatle’s tune seemed fitting for today’s cooking projects. Strawberries are coming into season. They are bountiful, beautiful and are ‘passing the smell test’. The berries at the market this week were so aromatic you could smell them as you walked anywhere near the display.

Remembering a recent article from Cook’s Illustrated, I procured some pectin(that didn’t need sugar to gel as specified in the recipe) and I was set to go. I chose to formulate the crust of cream cheese and butter but instead of a classic pie would use a tart pan with removable bottom and fluted edges- very French, n’est pas?

Well, as Julia once said in a TV show, “Well, you’re never going to get very far in this cooking business if you can’t handle failure!” How right she was(wasn’t she always?).

While I thought the tart looked beautiful, it was, at best, a moderate success of taste and texture.

Assembled and ready for chilling.

It looked and smelled fantastic.

The tart ready for slicing.

Once cut, however, even with the requisite chilling time given in the recipe, it had not gelled properly and was a bit runny when sliced. While there were no complaints from those served, I was disappointed. I wear my emotions in my every expression, so there was no doubt that I was not happy with the results.

The berry taste was amazing. The recipe began with a purée of pure strawberries and the flavor of that purée permeated the thickening agents(both corn starch and pectin) which coated the whole berries (2 lbs. in all!) and held the whole berries together- or was supposed to.

Secondly, the crust was not the tender, flaky masterpiece I had envisioned. I utilize a technique I first read about (also from Cook’s Illustrated) that replaces 50% of the liquid with vodka. It is tasteless and the alcohol evaporates as the crust cooks. With that evaporation, you are left a tender, flaky crust- in theory. I mistakenly added too much vodka, so the ratio of water and vodka was not correct. Too much liquid evaporated and I was left with a cardboard-like crust that tasted OK, but reminded me of my first pie crust attempt some 39 years ago. It was so rolled, and formed, and rolled and rolled that it was inedibly tough(the lemon chess filling was tasty, though, so all was not lost).

Oh well, lessons learned and filed into the memory bank. These little setbacks won’t keep me from firing up the Cuisinart for another attempt.

Here’s a parting shot for you.

A slice adorned with lightly sweetened whipped cream ready for service.

Remember if it needs dressing up, there’s parsley for savory and whipped cream for dessert!

Toujours, bon appétit!

© Kyle A Nelson


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