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Desserts are the fairy tales of the kitchen—a happily-ever-after to supper.”

― Terri Guillemets

Spring has sprung here in southern California (well, at least some days we can say that!). And to me, it signals the start of outdoor entertaining, where friends and family come over to enjoy long, lazy brunches and candlelit dinners on the patio. It also means the farmer’s market is bursting with an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce. I’ve recently seen English peas, Fava beans and rhubarb; thin, tender spears of asparagus; gorgeous greens like dandelion, kale and Swiss chard, and of course, luscious ruby red strawberries.

Like most people, I love strawberries. And I’m always looking for new flavors to pair them with. Recently, I made Saint Germain cocktails, splashing elderflower liqueur into a glass of champagne, which I garnished with a strawberry. I discovered how simpatico the light floral flavor of elderflower is with sweet, fruity strawberries. Then I thought about how yummy strawberries are with chocolate….

For Valentine's Day I made a special dessert for Stuart: a Chocolate Tart Shell Filled with Elderflower Crème Pâtissière and Topped With Fresh Strawberries. Oh my!! Luscious and beautiful, it would be a perfect finale for a spring dinner on the patio with friends!

To make this I combined parts of two separate recipes: one for the tart shell, the other for the filling.

Recipe for Chocolate Tart Shell

(Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe from Alain Ducasse’s restaurant Benoit)*

All-purpose flour

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

3 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder

3 TBSP almond flour

½ tsp salt

1 large egg

Start by preheating the oven to 325 F. Using a stand mixer on medium speed, combine the flour, butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Next add the egg and mix until you have a soft dough.

Sandwich the dough between two large sheets of plastic wrap; then roll it into a 12” round. Place the dough on a baking sheet and freeze it for about 10 minutes, until it’s firm.

Have a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom ready. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and invert the dough onto the tart pan. Peel off the other piece of plastic wrap. Carefully press the dough into the tart pan. Use a rolling pin to trim the dough even with the top of the tart pan. Freeze the dough in the tart pan for about 10 more minutes.

Place a piece of parchment paper over the dough, then fill the tart pan with beans or pie weights. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the parchment paper and the weights or beans and bake for 20 more minutes.

Remove the tart pan from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Recipe for Elderflower Crème Pâtissière and Topped with Strawberries

(Adapted from a 2014 Country Life magazine recipe)**

250 ml full-fat milk

½ tsp vanilla bean paste

50 grams of caster sugar

40 grams cornflour

3 egg yolks

3 TBSP elderflower cordial (I use Saint Germain liqueur)

1 pint ripe strawberries, washed, hulled, sliced

Sprig of mint, for garnish

First, combine the milk and vanilla paste in a medium saucepan and heat until it simmers. Then use a separate bowl to whisk the sugar, cornflour and egg yolks together.

Next, temper the eggs by slowly adding about 1/3 of the hot milk into the yolks, whisking all the while. (Be sure to whisk continuously to avoid scrambling the eggs.)

Add the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan of hot milk, and cook, stirring continuously. When the mixture becomes very thick, spoon it into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap onto the surface of the mixture. Refrigerate until cool, then stir in the elderflower cordial.

To assemble the tart, remove the chocolate tart shell from the pan and place it on a serving platter or cake stand. Spoon the cooled crème pâtissièrie into the tart shell; gently top with sliced strawberries. Garnish with mint if you like.

A dramatic strawberry dessert makes a lovely ending to a spring dinner!


-Be sure to serve this dessert within a few hours of assembling to avoid the dreaded soggy crust!

This isn’t a hard recipe, but I’d allow about 3 hours to complete it; that includes time for baking and cooling all the components.

-Chocolate Tart Shell recipe*:

-Elderflower Crème Pâtissière** :

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