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Mostly in the Moment | Strawberry Tart

Strawberry Tart | Delightful Crumb

Holiday weekend! It’s the “unofficial start to summer”! I’m here, therefore, with strawberries, dessert and a reminder to chill.

I recently listened to this fantastic story on an old episode of The Moth, in which the writer Dan Kennedy recounts his experience going on assignment to Indonesia with scientists on the hunt for a giant snake (I repeat: GIANT SNAKE). Despite his fear of snakes, he says yes to the opportunity in part because of a conversation he’d overheard not long before between two women in a coffee shop, one of them talking about her effort to live in the moment. I won’t give it all away, but the snake-hunting doesn’t go all that well, resulting in no loss of life but new terrifying nightmares, etc., and the story is in part a critique of the pressure we put on ourselves when we idealize the living-in-the-moment concept—or, at least, understand it to mean something beyond the bounds of our everyday lives. I found it quite on point.

It’s not that we shouldn’t do our best to live in the moment, to be present to our lives. We should! In fact, I think it’s tremendously important. We are far too distracted, by far too many unessential things. It’s unconscious; it’s conscious. It’s the reality of our so-called modern lives, and it’s a problem. And yet, these days, the very concept of being fully present—the way we ought to be—seems like one more thing to feel stressed out about, one more thing to feel guilty about if we can’t do it well all of the time. It’s hard enough to be calm and present, to be our most! authentic! selves!, without all the pressure we have added to these lofty goals.

And the truth is, I find that the moments in which I’m truly, deeply present come unexpectedly. Like it or not, there’s no formula. Yesterday, for example, on a blustery spring day in San Francisco, Ben and I were walking on the trail at Lands End, which begins at the Sutro Baths and curves along the coast, flanked by wildflowers and green grasses, emerging in an insanely opulent neighborhood that butts right up against all that nature (classic Bay Area…!). We came around a corner, and suddenly, there was a gorgeous view of the Pacific, extending out from the Bay, over the tops of the trees and bushes that run from the edges of the trail way down to the water. There are plenty of great views on this hike and I’ve walked it enough that they’re all familiar. But the light was hitting the water just so, making the waves sparkle in bright patches. A little bit of sunlight was peeking through the clouds, and we could hear the waves crashing in the distance. I wasn’t trying to be present, but I was, not thinking about the uncertainties of my life or the conversation we’d been having or what would happen if there was an earthquake at that very moment or my obligations in the week ahead. For just that moment, I was.

Like the rest of the natural world, food is a vehicle that often brings us to this place. When something is delicious, it can stop us in our tracks. The seasons, too, encourage it. When berries appear at the market, we must snap them up; their season is fleeting. Sure, you can pick up the imported option any time of the year, but we know the truth: it actually won’t be the same. I am so grateful for this. I don’t slow down easy, but the sudden appearance of my favorite produce does the trick.

And so, in an effort to encourage more calm in all our lives, here’s an extremely simple way with strawberries. It is lovely to close out a dinner party or on a Sunday afternoon. You can prepare most of the tart’s components in advance and assemble it easily before serving. It lets the berries shine, as they should. And while it’s certainly best on the first day, I am perfectly happy to eat it on the second or third. Living in the moment, you know.

The Simplest Strawberry Tart

Adapted from Yossy Arefi’s Sweeter Off the Vine

Makes one 15×6-inch tart, about 8 generous servings

Think about how sweet your strawberries are and the sweetness you’d like in the finished tart when considering whether to use the jam and the quantity of sugar. I forgot the jam the first time I made this, but it was delicious anyway, and simpler and purer in flavor. I also like the jam rendition, however, for something slightly sweeter and less austere. Yossy suggests that this recipe would also work well with blackberries, raspberries, peaches, or nectarines, using apricot rather than strawberry jam. I haven’t tried any of these versions but am sure this is true.

The tart dough makes twice as much as you’ll need, but I’m including the full recipe because who doesn’t want extra pie/cookie/tart dough at the ready?

While you should try to eat this on the first day, leftovers keep well for a day or so in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. I’d recommend leftovers for family consumption, though, and not guests!

Strawberry Tart | Delightful Crumb

1/2 recipe rye pie crust (recipe follows)

1 egg, lightly beaten

About 1 pound (450 g) strawberries

1 cup (225 g) mascarpone

2–3 tablespoons sugar

2–3 tablespoons strawberry jam (optional)

For the crust:

1 1/3 cups (170 g) all-purpose flour

1 1/3 cups (170 g) rye flour (or substitute more all-purpose)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 g) unsalted butter, very cold

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

8 tablespoons (120 ml) ice water

To make the crust:

In a large bowl, whisk the flours and salt together. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the apple cider to the ice water.

Working quickly, add the butter to the flour and toss to coat. Use your fingers or the palms of your hands to press each cube of butter into a flat sheet. Keep tossing the butter in the flour to make sure that each piece is coated. You are aiming to create flat, thin shards of butter from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter. If at any point the butter seems to be getting soft, refrigerate the bowl.

Sprinkle about 6 tablespoons of the cold vinegar-water mixture over the flour mixture. Use a wooden spoon or your hand to stir until just combined. If the dough seems dry, add more cold water a couple of teaspoons at a time. The dough is ready when you can pick up a handful and squeeze it together without it falling apart.

Press the dough together, then split it in half. Form each half into a disk, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight before using. You can keep the dough for up to three months in the freezer, wrapped very tightly in plastic and in a plastic bag or airtight container. Thaw in the refrigerator before using. You need just half of the recipe for the tart that follows.

To make the tart:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll out the pie crust disk into an oval approximately 15 by 6 inches and just under 1/4-inch thick. But note that this is meant to be easy and rustic, so don’t worry too much about the exact dimensions of the tart. I like to leave the edges as they are, but you can trim them with a paring knife or pastry cutter for a neater finish. Move the parchment and crust to a baking sheet.

Dock the crust with a fork to prevent it from puffing up in the oven. Brush the surface of the crust with the egg wash, going all the way to the edges.

Bake the crust until deep golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Check halfway through. If any bubbles have appeared, use a spatula to press them flat, and if your oven bakes at all unevenly, turn the pan 180 degrees. When the crust is finished, cool completely on the pan.

While the crust cools, combine the mascarpone and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Hull the strawberries and slice them into 1/4-inch slices.

Move the cooled pie crust to a serving platter or cutting board. Spread the sweetened mascarpone over the top in an even layer, leaving a bit of the edges exposed. Dot with the jam, if using. Arrange the sliced strawberries in a single, slightly overlapping layer. You can go for a more decorative pattern if you like, but I think a haphazard arrangement looks equally lovely.

Sprinkle the tart with another 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of sugar unless the strawberries are particularly sweet. Slice and serve, preferably within a couple hours of assembling.

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