Épices de cru, in Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market, occupies a brightly painted narrow stall, shelves stacked with tins of different spices, as well as ingredients that aren’t spices in the most traditional sense, like local Quebec dried spruce tips or clover flowers. My aunt/uncle/cousin had gotten me the most lovely assortment of spices for baking one year and I’ve been excited to try using them in a dessert. These tarts are based around dried yellow birch flowers – minute, pale flowers which come with an aroma of oolong tea, grass, sandalwood incense and tonka bean.
The starting point for these tarts were the dried yellow birch flowers, but even after getting multiple people to smell the dried flowers and tell me what they thought they smelled like (you can thank them for the bougie aroma profile in the previous paragraph), I still had no idea what to pair it with. So I went with all the fruits I had on hand: plumcots, cherries and strawberries. Given the woodiness of the yellow birch flower, I thought nuts could also be a nice accompaniment; in the bottom of each tart I layered a thin slick of hazelnut praline paste. It worked out very well actually – the praline paste anchors the pastry cream, with a rounded dessert-y caramel nuttiness that brings out the more amicable flavours of the yellow birch flower.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up loving these tarts!
birch flower & hazelnut summer fruit tarts
- 115g butter
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 200g flour, half whole wheat and half all-purpose
hazelnut praline paste
- 100g hazelnuts
- 100g sugar
yellow birch flower pastry cream
- 240g whole milk
- 2 1/2 tbsp very lightly packed dried yellow birch flower (approx 1-2g)
- 2 egg yolks
- 10g cornstarch
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp sugar (or more to taste – typically recipes classically use 3-4 tbsp)
- 1 tbsp butter
- fruit! I used 1 plumcot, and about 8 cherries and 8 strawberries, but use whatever you have on hand
This makes about twice the amount of pastry you’ll actually need to line the tart shells, but having this much pastry makes it easier – and then you can use the rest for another project.
Cream the butter with the sugar and salt. Beat the egg in a small bowl and add to the butter in four additions, thoroughly mixing in each addition. Add the flours and stir until a dough is formed. Knead a couple times to bring it together.
Divide the dough in half and roll out each between parchment to about 2-3mm thick. Chill completely.
Set four 3″ tart rings on a parchment lined tray and line with pastry – for details of methods, you can look at this page.
Trim one half of the dough into a rectangle and slice into long strips – they should be longer than the circumference of the rings and wider than the height of the tart rings. Take a strip and use it to line the sides of a tart ring, cutting the excess length and pressing the two edges together to seal (have a bit of overlap to help seal).
Cut circles 0.5cm smaller than the diametre of the tart ring from the other half of the dough. Fit these circles of pastry into the bottom of rings and press along the seam between the side and base to seal. If there is a bit of a gap, press along the edges of the base to make it slightly wider until it meets the pastry lining the walls. Trim the excess pastry height with a sharp knife to bring it level with the side of the tart rings. Cover and chill completely.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Dock the bases of the chilled tart shells with a fork. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely.
hazelnut praline paste
This makes quite a bit more than you’ll need, but if you’re going to the trouble of making it, you may as well make more as it keeps very well.
Spread the hazelnuts out over a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Place the sugar in a small saucepan along with a splash of water. Heat the mixture until it boils and the sugar is dissolved. Allow to continue cooking over medium to medium-high heat until the sugar caramelizes, swirling occasionally. Cook to the desired degree of caramelization – I went for a darker amber. Pour over the hazelnuts. Allow to cool.
Chop the praline into pieces. Place in the bowl of a food processor along with 1/4 tsp kosher salt and pulse until a paste is formed. Place in the fridge.
yellow birch flower pastry cream
Begin by infusing the milk. Bring the milk to a simmer and stir in the yellow birch flowers. Cover and set aside to cool, then transfer to the fridge to finish steeping overnight.
The next day whisk the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch together in a bowl. Set aside.
Pass the infused milk through a sieve to remove the flowers. Place the milk in a saucepan and heat until it simmers. Slowly pour the milk into the egg yolks, while whisking constantly to temper the eggs.
Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium to medium-high while whisking constantly. Look for the pastry cream to begin to bubble and to thicken considerably. To ensure the starch is cooked, let the pastry cream cook at a bubble for at least 1 minute (all the while whisking very vigorously!).
Whisk in the butter and then immediately transfer to a bowl (at this point you can taste for sweetness and add more sugar as per your preference). Cover and chill.
Spread 1-2 tsp of hazelnut praline paste on the bottom of each baked tart shell. Whisk the pastry cream to loosen and smooth it, then dollop into the tart shells and spread smooth with an offset spatula. Arrange fruit on top.