A Visit to Fauchon in Paris: Strawberry Tarts with Diplomat Cream
Since cooking school, I had always been told that if you ever go to Paris, you have to go to Fauchon. I finally got my chance a few years ago, but I was not prepared for what I would see there. A visit to Fauchon was like heaven on earth for a passionate pastry person like me. It was amazing, with the most beautiful foods you will ever see: from pastries to breads and croissants, to crackers, to smoked salmon and caviar, wines, pâtes, especially the pâte en croute (crust), and terrines. Everything was beautifully decorated and presented, but after one tour around the store, I was drawn back to the pastry area as if it were a magnet.
Strawberry Tarts with Diplomat Cream
The first thing was the cookie case, filled to the brim what the French call petits fours sec, meaning little baked things that are dry. There were all kinds of thick little sablé rounds (meaning sandy-textured cookies) from vanilla to noix (nut), where each little cookie was topped off with a walnut half. Then there were little Biarritz cookies, half-dipped in dark chocolate. Most dramatic was the huge display of macarons: beautiful, tiny Gerbert macarons (known also as Macarons Parisienne or French Macaroons) in all colors and flavors. There wasn’t just one pink color, but a range from pale pink to red, and the same for the yellows, greens, and many other colors. A case of petits fours frais (fresh) was beautiful also, containing glazed individual cakes (gateaux) and tartlets, all in paper cases and lined up in precise rows. Unforgettable. Further focusing in on pastry also revealed an area laden with eclairs, gateaux, entremets (mousse cakes) fruit and berry tarts of all sizes, and more.
Strawberry Tart with Diplomat Cream
It was the tarts that blew me away, especially the glazed strawberry tarts. They sparkled like red jewels, many with a garnish of bright green pistachios. Where did they get pistachios with that intense green color? I later learned that they were Sicilian pistachios with an exorbitant price tag to match their beauty. Each strawberry tart had a different arrangement of strawberries. I was mesmerized and couldn’t take me eyes off of them, trying to figure out how they had cut and arranged the berries for each tart. Observing that the smaller the tart, the smaller the strawberries, it seemed likely that somewhere in the back of the bakery was a chef sorting berries by size. It might seem finicky, but that’s how one achieves perfection.
Strawberry Tart with Diplomat Cream: Tiny strawberries arranged in a small tart shell with sprigs of mint.
Strawberry Tart with Diplomat Cream: Medium-size strawberries cut in quarters and laid on their sides. Mint sprig garnish.
Strawberry Tart with Diplomat Cream: Medium strawberries, cut in half. Pistachio garnish.
Strawberry Tart with Diplomat Cream: Medium strawberries, cut in quarters laid on their sides. Pistachio garnish.
When I left the store, I carefully jotted down everything I could remember about the life-changing experience of Fauchon, in the little notebook I had carried with me everywhere I went in France. I made sure to sketch those gorgeous strawberry tarts.
My Sketches & Scribbles from Fauchon:
Strawberries from a local farm.
Sorting strawberries by size, just like at Fauchon.
Rubbing the skins from blanched pistachios.
Finished Pistachios: ready to garnish the tarts
Finished Diplomat Cream.
Piping the Diplomat Cream into baked tart shells.
Finished Strawberry Tarts sitting in the kitchen window ready to be photographed.
There is no better filling for a strawberry tart than Diplomat Cream, or Crème à Diplomate, as my French pastry chef colleague, Gilles Lavergne, called it. He is the one who first put me on to this combination and I've been using it ever since. The slight tartness of the whipped crème fraîche that is folded into the Diplomat Cream creates the perfect balance—a pair made in heaven—to the sweet strawberries. Diplomat Cream is like a pastry cream with two additions: a little gelatin, which gives enough firmness to the cream to keep the berries from sinking, and the whipped crème fraîche. Almond Sablé is the chosen recipe for the tart shells. Also, to give the strawberries a shine that makes them look like jewels, I devised a Clear Pectin Glaze. For a garnish, I like a touch of green: blanched pistachios or mint sprigs. For how to plan the making of the Strawberry Tarts, I suggest making and pre-baking the tarts shells ahead of time and freezing. Make the Diplomat Cream and refrigerate. Have strawberries and garnishes ready. Assemble the tarts the same day you plan to serve them; that's when they are at their best.
BRING milk to a simmer with vanilla bean (split and seeded) pod and seeds, along with half the sugar, using a small sauce pan, Cover, remove from heat, and let steep 30 minutes.
WHIP yolks on high speed in a Kitchen Aid, with whisk, until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Mix other half of sugar with the flour and beat into yolks for 1 minute. (Note: this is such a small quantity that you may need to push up on the bottom of the mixer bowl.
REMOVE vanilla pod from the milk and whisk the milk vigorously to disperse the vanilla bean seeds. Temper hot milk into the beating egg yolks until combined. .
RETURN to pan and cook until pastry cream comes to a boil, whisking constantly. Continue to boil and whisk, about 3 minutes, to cook the flour. Remove from heat.
SOFTEN gelatin in cold water. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Melt in microwave 30 seconds at full power and whisk into the hot pastry cream.
PASS through a tamis (or fine mesh strainer) into a bowl large enough to hold both the pastry cream and the whipped crème fraîche.
COOL to room temperature over an ice bath, stirring often. Keep plastic wrap pressed on surface of pastry cream to prevent skin from forming when not stirring. The pastry cream will be very stiff at this stage, until the whipped crème fraîche is folded in; then the consistency will be just about right.
WHIP crème fraîche, heavy cream, and vanilla to soft peaks while pastry cream is cooling, Refrigerate until needed.
WHISK the pastry cream vigorously, making sure it is completely smooth and lump-free, before folding in the whipped crème fraîche.
WHISK ⅓ of the crème fraîche into the cool pastry cream, then fold in the balance.
REFRIGERATE DIPLOMAT CREAM FILLING - use within one week, or freeze for longer storage.
TO ASSEMBLE THE TARTS: 1) Fill the tart shells with Diplomat Cream to within ¼" (6 mm) of the top. You can spoon in the filling or pipe the filling with a pastry bag fitted with a ⅜" (10 mm). Smooth the top with a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon. 2) Cut and arrange strawberries, as desired, on top of the filling. Be sure to use the same size strawberries on each tart. 3) Brush the strawberries gently and lightly with Clear Pectin Glaze. 4) Garnish with blanched pistachios or mint sprigs.
SERVE fresh the same day they are made.
Recipe Ancestry Notes:
The Diplomat Cream and the Almond Sablé Tart Shells are both adapted from original recipes given to me by a former pastry chef colleague: Gilles Lavergne. Everything else in this recipe was created by Shirl Gard.
Over 15 years of professional baking and dessert making experience. Former Executive Pastry Chef at The Old Inn On The Green in New Marlborough, MA. Graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. Lives in Wellington, FL.