Something I love about the French are their constant vacations. Not one month into teaching English abroad, I already had a school break. I had two weeks off to do whatever I wanted, go whatever I wanted, and most importantly, eat whatever I wanted. So, I planned a trip to the south of France with four other English Teachers. Our first stop was Aix en Provence.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Aix en Provence because of Paul Cezanne, the famous artist who lived in the city’s foothills. Or maybe you know about Aix because it’s one of the biggest cities in the Provence/ Cote d’Azur region. I’ll always remember Aix en Provence for its beauty (it’s right by the mountains, but also close to the Mediterranean) but also, for its food. There are vibrant outdoor markets, even towards the end of October. Everything I ate was fresh, including a Tarte aux Fraises- a small, individually-sized tart that had a light dollop of cream, and delicately placed strawberries that formed a little pyramid over the shell. I wish I had a picture…But would you believe, I didn’t even own a camera?
I’ve found some good Tarte aux Fraises in America, but realistically speaking, nothing can top the Strawberry Tart I had in Provence. And secretly, I’m glad- it was all part of the experience, and it’s nice to know that one day (hopefully soon), I’ll get to go back and re-experience France, and all of the country’s delicious pastries.
However, when I found a recipe for a Strawberry Cream Pie in Southern Living Magazine, I had to try it. It wasn’t a small, delicate tart, nor was it in Provence. But the recipe called for a chocolate cookie crust, and the picture in the magazine was enough to make me grab a bowl and whisk.
The crust called for chopped semi-sweet chocolate baking bars and chocolate wafer cookies. A quick look in my pantry confirmed that I didn’t have any semi-sweet chocolate…But I did have semi-sweet chocolate chips. So, I decided to improvise.
The finished product was, as the French would say, delicieux. The cream was eggy and sweet, the crust tasted like one, large Oreo cookie, and the strawberries were juicy and fresh. All in all, I would call it a successful baking experience.
The only thing I didn’t add to the Pie (which the recipe called for) was Orange Liquer. I was supposed to add it to the jelly that I melted and brushed over the strawberries (now I understand why the fruit on tarts always looks so shiny in bakery cases…), but I thought the jelly would suffice. Anyway, it saved me a trip to the store…
And because I had leftover berries, I decided to get creative, and made Strawberry Bruschetta for dinner the next night.
I used a large French baguette, and sprinkled goat cheese on the surface. The recipe also called for nectarines, but they’re not in season yet…So I used no-sugar-added peaches from a jar. Even though fresh fruit might have been better, there wasn’t a noticeable difference. Plus, the fresh basil, strawberries and balsamic vinegar complimented the peaches’ sweet flavor.
While I miss Tarte aux Fraises, traveling France and a vacation every four weeks, it’s good to know that I can re-create some of the sweetness in America…Especially in pie form.
Strawberry Cream Pie (adapted from Southern Living– March 2012 issue)
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 3 cups half-and-half
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 (9-oz.) package chocolate wafer cookies
- 1/2 cup (4-oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1 qt. fresh strawberries
- 1/4 cup red currant jelly
1. Whisk together first 3 ingredients and 2/3 cup sugar in a medium-size heavy saucepan. Whisk together half-and-half and next 2 ingredients in a small bowl; gradually add to cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Remove from heat, and transfer to a bowl; cover and chill 4 to 24 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 350°. Pulse wafer cookies and chocolate chips in a food processor 8 to 10 times or until finely crushed. Stir together cookie crumb mixture, melted butter, and remaining 1/3 cup sugar; firmly press mixture on bottom, up sides, and onto lip of a lightly greased 9-inch pie plate.
4. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and cool completely (about 30 minutes).
5. Spoon chilled half-and-half mixture into prepared crust. Cut 8 to 10 strawberries in half, and arrange around outer edge of pie (leaving tops on, if desired); hull and slice remaining strawberries, and arrange in center of pie
6. Cook jelly in a small saucepan over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes or until melted. Remove from heat. Brush jelly mixture gently over strawberries. Chill, uncovered, 30 minutes.
Strawberry Bruschetta (adapted from Southern Living– March 2012 issue)
- 1 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
- 1 cup diced no-sugar-added jarred peaches
- 1 cup quartered grape tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 (12-oz.) French bread baguette
- 1 package of Goat cheese crumbles
- Preheat oven to 375°. Stir together strawberries, peaches, grape tomatoes, basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, freshly ground pepper, and salt.
- Split baguette in half horizontally (like you would for a sandwich), then in half vertically; then, cut each half vertically into 4 equal pieces. Open up the bread slices and separate them so the inside of the baguette faces up. Sprinkle goat cheese on the open faces of bread. Place bread pieces on a baking sheet, and bake 13 to 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from oven, and top with strawberry-peach mixture.