I am an unabashed Anglophile. This will come as no surprise to many, I'm sure, as I don't even pretend to hide it. I have to confess to loving England, London especially, British literature and history, TV shows and humor, cozy mysteries set in small English villages, all the lads on the Liverpool football team, and I even have a soft spot for London fog and rain because I once saw it from a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Hyde Park, and it was an unforgettable experience. I love that one Londoner, in an irreverent and yet sweetly possessive manner, once described the Queen Mother to me as "an old biddy" who "likes her gin." I also love the fact that you can now get from London to Paris in under three hours, but that's a whole other story.
Most of all, I love afternoon tea. There is something magical about taking a break around 4 or 5 in the afternoon to drink fragrant tea and eat little bits of delicious things. It's fortifying, for the body as well as for the soul. Of course, working full time puts somewhat of a damper on the regular exercise of this charming habit, but when I do get to have afternoon tea, I like to make it a little special. Like, special with Mimosas. I'm pretty sure Mimosas are not authentic to afternoon tea, but ... what can I say? I had lemon bars, and oranges were feeling under-represented, so I had to allow them in, and then vodka just naturally followed. But, I digress. The star(s) of the show (besides the Mimosas) were these little tiny tartlets, inspired by tartlet molds I couldn't stop myself from buying at Sur La Table. So simple to make, and yet so delicious, their colorful presence at the table was much appreciated by everyone. If I hadn't hidden one or two for A. in advance, he wouldn't have gotten any. Speaking of A., an hour before the tea party, I overheard him on the phone with his friend: "My wife is having EIGHT WOMEN over for lunch and I HAVE TO GET OUT." He's lucky I'm the kind of wife who saves him food. Anyway! My point was that these babies are awesome and you will not regret making them for your next party, or just for yourself to enjoy on a quiet afternoon with a cup of tea.
The different components of these tarts can be made a day in advance and kept in an airtight container, to be put together at your leisure. I used raspberries, strawberries and blueberries, but pretty much any fruit will do. I also did not glaze them, but you can by melting a little apricot jelly in the microwave and brushing over the top of the fruit.
Sweet Tart Dough
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up. (Alternatively, put the ingredients into a large bowl and cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter and then mix in the egg with a fork). Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
2. To roll or press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
* If you want to roll the dough, chill it for about 2 hours before rolling (unless you've used frozen butter and the dough comes out of the processor firm and cold, in which case you can roll it immediately). I find it easiest to roll this dough out between two sheets of plastic film – make sure to peel away the film frequently, so it doesn't get rolled into the dough.
* If you want to use the press-in method, you can work with the dough as soon as it's processed. Just press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don't be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but don't press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.
3. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
4. To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
5. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon (or prick it with the tip of a small knife). Bake the crust for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn't have a lot of flavor. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature.
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 3 pats
1. Bring the milk a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Whisk the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Whisking constantly, drizzle one-quarter of the hot milk over the yolks. When the yolks are warm, whisk the remainder of the milk into the yolks in a steadier stream.
3. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, bring the mixture to the boil. Keep at the boil—still whisking energetically—for 1 to 2 minutes before pulling the pan from the heat and pressing the cream through a sieve into the small bowl. Stir in vanilla extract. Let the cream sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the butter. Cover the cream with a piece of plastic wrap—press the wrap against the cream—and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. You can speed up the chill by putting the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water. (Keeping: Covered tightly with plastic wrap, pastry cream can be refrigerated for 2 days. To smooth the chilled cream, whisk it for a few seconds.)