I first heard about strawberry basil tart from my wildly romantic French friend who swears this dessert has been proven to woo even the toughest suitor. And she is right, this one’s a heart melter. So if you’ve got your eye on someone special, you may want to make this for them. Or even better, make it just for you. Oui oui oui! Sweep your own self off your feet, you deserve it!
I am a huge fan of the intoxicating fragrance that basil can lend to desserts and this sexy summery tart really shows off the magical pairing of juicy strawberries and fresh basil, brought together in a velvety custard and almond sweet pastry shell.
This recipe may seem complicated at first glance but it’s actually quite simple once you break it down into its four main components. The first is the crust: a light and crispy sweet pastry (pâte sucrée), made with ground almonds that tastes like a buttery cookie. The second part is a pastry cream (crème pâtissière), a type of custard traditionally used in fruit tarts and French pastries such as choux à la crème or éclairs. This version is perfumed with fresh chopped basil. The third element is the easiest: sliced fresh strawberries! And the fourth and final touch is a silky basil syrup to glaze the strawberries before serving.
The basil simple syrup is best made the night recipe before so it can absorb as much of the aroma as possible before straining out the basil leaves. It will yield about a cup of syrup, which is more than you will need for this tart. But not to worry, this syrup is wonderful to have on hand for making summery sodas and cocktails, such as my strawberry basil spritzer.
Now. A word about basil. Basil is a delicate creature. It yearns to be pampered, handled lovingly, and sliced ever so caringly. I used to chop basil as if I was bushwacking my way through the back country and the frightened leaves would quickly turn into a blackened heap, losing their vibrant green and splendid perfume. This hilarious video from Gluten-Free-Girl and The Chef is how I finally learned to properly chop (chiffonade) basil.
In closing, a word about strawberries. Sadly, strawberries are on the “Dirty Dozen” list that the Environmental Working Group publishes each year, identifying the twelve foods containing the highest and most toxic levels of pesticide residues. Over fifty different types of pesticides are routinely found on strawberries which are shown to exceed acceptable residue levels more often than any other fruit or vegetable. So I highly recommend buying certified organically-grown strawberries. Or better yet, find a local organic strawberry “pick-your-own”, bring a picnic, and make a day of it! I can think of no better way to spend a sunny June afternoon.
Strawberry Basil Tart
- Almond Sweet Pastry
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/2 cup icing sugar
- 1/2 cup ground almonds
- 1 cup + 3 tbsp. unbleached white flour
- Pinch of salt
- Basil Custard
- 1 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup cane sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp flour or cornstarch
- 1 cup chopped basil
- Basil Syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 cup cane sugar
- 1 cup chopped basil
- About 1 1/2 pound of fresh sliced organic strawberries
- Fresh basil leaves for garnish
- For the pastry: Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg yolk, ground almonds, and salt. Mix well until fully incorporated.
- Add all the flour and mix the dough until smooth but don't overwork it or you will get a tough crust. Loosely form the dough into a ball, then flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic or wax paper. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Roll out the dough between 2 pieces of floured parchment paper, to 3/16 inch thickness. Remove the top piece of parchment paper and using the bottom piece to assist you, invert the dough into an 8 or 9 inch buttered and floured metal tart pan (ideally one with a removable base).
- Press the dough into the tart plate and patch up any holes if necessary. This pastry is more like cookie dough than pie crust, so if you are struggling to roll it out smoothly, it's perfectly fine to simply use your hands to press the dough into the tart pan instead of rolling it out. If you use this method, try to press it in evenly so the crust isn't too thick in any one spot.
- Trim the dough just slightly above the rim of the tart pan, as the dough may shrink a bit during baking. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes before baking.
- Butter a large sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil and line the pie shell with it, buttered side down. Fill it to the top with dry beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 20 minutes, then remove the parchment and weights. Return the shell to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the crust is a light golden brown. Be sure to check it often and set a timer because the dough is delicate and can burn easily.
- Remove from the oven and if necessary, trim the edge with a sharp knife so it is flush with the rim of the pie plate. Do this while the dough is still warm. Allow the shell to cool fully in its plate before removing.
- For the custard: Heat the milk and chopped basil leaves on medium-low until just before the milk boils. Strain the basil from the milk and discard the leaves.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and flour or cornstarch until smooth and creamy. Very gently and slowly pour the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking continuously while pouring the milk. Mix well for a few moments and then pour the whole mixture back into the same saucepan. Return the saucepan to the stovetop and heat on medium-low heat until the liquid begins to boil.
- Continue cooking for about 5 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. If your custard is lumpy, simply pass it through a mesh strainer. Remove from heat and cool. Refrigerate if not using right away.
- For the syrup: Heat the water and sugar until boiling and all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the chopped basil. Allow this to sit overnight or for about 12 hours. Strain the basil and discard the leaves.
- Assembly: Now you are ready to assemble the pie. Spoon the pastry cream into your fully cooled baked pie shell. Arrange the sliced strawberries in a pleasing arrangement on top of the custard. Generously brush the strawberries with the basil syrup and sprinkle with basil leaves for garnish. Serve cold.
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series was nominated for a 2014 James Beard Award. In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.