the little details // strawberry cheese caramelised almond tart

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I never knew that exploring the fruit section of a supermarket could be such fun until I came to Tokyo, and so full of surprises too. Sometimes you’ll find row upon row of apples sectioned by variety, which amounts to no less than five, and sometimes you’ll find these – baby strawberries of a vibrant red packed to the brim in their little plastic cases.

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The uniformity of the baby strawberries initially inspired me to make a tart decorated with neatly arranged rows of strawberries, but one thing led to another as usual – another strawberry here to fill in the gap, perhaps one sliced in half and rotated for visual interest. I would like to consider the end result as contained deliberate chaos.

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I piped blobs of whipped cream and a cheese cream of sorts – the baked cheese filling lightened with whipped cream – underneath and in and around the strawberries, followed by a haphazard arrangement of shards of caramelised almonds, and a dusting of icing sugar that together with the red and green and star shaped pipings of cream, evoked the image of a Christmas in summer.

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The cheese filling is fluffy although certainly not the density of cotton candy, creamy but not so much that you can’t handle a second slice. The tart crust is made of one part almond flour and has more of those delicious caramelised almonds folded in lest that you think that the almond component starts and ends with a parenthetical garnish.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve referred back to original version of this recipe for the crust and cheese filling (like here, for instance). It is so simple and so, so versatile. You just can’t go wrong with these basics.

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Strawberry Cheese Caramelised Almond Tart

makes a 10 x 25 cm (4 x 10 inches) rectangular tart

For the caramelised almonds:

2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 tablespoons water

1/2 cup diced almonds

For the crust:

75 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature

50 grams sugar

1/2 egg yolk

120 grams cake flour

20 grams almond flour

pinch of salt

For the cheese cream:

150 grams cream cheese, at room temperature

50 grams sugar

100 grams yoghurt

1 egg

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon cornstarch

For assembly:

mini or regular sized strawberries, sliced into half as needed

150 ml heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks with a teaspoon or two of icing sugar

Make the caramelised almonds: Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Swirl the ingredients around to dissolve the sugar and allow mixture to boil, without stirring, until it reaches 248F. Add the diced almonds and stir them into the sugar. Remove from heat and continue to stir until the almonds are coated with the sugar. As you continue stirring, the residual heat will slowly turn the sugar into caramel. Turn the almonds out onto a silicone mat or a tray lined with parchment paper. When completely cooled, crush about a third into small chunks to be mixed in with the tart dough. Reserve the rest for decoration.

Make the crust: Cream the butter until smooth. Add in the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add in the egg yolk and mix until incorporated. Stir in the cake flour and almond flour in 2 additions. Stop once no traces of flour remain. Stir in the portion of crushed caramelised almonds until evenly distributed. Gather the dough up into a ball, loosely wrap in plastic wrap and flatten it into a disc. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Roll dough out to a thickness of roughly 5mm and and fit it into a 10 x 25 cm tart pan. There will be more than enough, save the scraps to be baked separately as cookies if you like. Chill the dough again for about 3 hours but preferably overnight.

Make the cheese filling: Whisk the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and mix until smooth and combined. Whisk in the yoghurt, egg, lemon juice and cornstarch in this order until smooth.

Pour the filling into the unbaked crust. You will have at 1/4 cup or so leftover, pour that into a cupcake liner placed in a cavity of a muffin pan. Bake both in an oven preheated at 160C for about 20 minutes, retrieve the muffin pan, then bake for another 20 minutes or until the filling is set. Refrigerate both the tart and the extra baked filling until completely cool.

Assemble the tart: Take the cooled baked cheese filling and, for the lack of a gentler word, mash it until it’s completely smooth. Take half of the whipped cream and fold it into the cheese filling to lighten. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip and set aside in the fridge.

Pipe the remaining whipped cream onto the surface of the tart, arrange a layer of strawberries on top, starting with the bigger ones. Fill in the gaps with the remaining smaller and/or halved strawberries and piped cheese cream. Top with the reserved caramelised almonds, broken into medium-sized shards or whatever size you prefer. Refrigerate tart until the cream has firmed up before serving with a dusting of icing sugar.

Note: recipe adapted from 福田淳子のタルトとケーキ

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