Glazed Strawberry Tartlets

THERE is nothing better than picking your own food and turning it into something purely delicious. I think that when you know where your food has come from and how it was grown, you respect and appreciate it more. For me, that means simple cooking that doesn't cover up the fresh, seasonal produce. It means showcasing the ingredient through pure cooking and simple flavour combinations. Strawberries are my all-time favourite fruit so when the farms opened up for picking this year I knew I would be cooking something that uses the fruit for its delicious little self.

The sweet, nutty pastry is the perfect case for the rich mascarpone upon which the crown jewel, a wonderfully fresh strawberry, sits. That golden glaze is the glue that brings each element together; it's a sticky bittersweet toffee that pulls the mascarpone down to earth and ensures the berry glimmers like the seasonal star it is. This little treat has such an exciting simplicity to it and I won't be able to resist making them again (and again) this season.

Makes 24 tartlets

What you'll need:
125g butter, softened and chopped
1 egg
90g icing sugar
30g almond meal
250g plain flour (plus some extra for kneading)

250g mascarpone cheese
1 cup thickened cream
1/3 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or essence)

3/4 cup caster sugar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons redcurrant jelly
125mL boiling water

24 strawberries (plus some extra berries, just in case)

What to do:
In a food processor, whizz up the butter, egg, icing sugar and almond meal. Then add the plain flour and whizz again until the pastry comes together. (If you don't have a processor see note.) Lightly flour a clean work surface and knead the pastry for about two minutes. Roll into a ball, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease your tart tin/s.

Meanwhile, use electric beaters to whip the mascarpone and cream together until stiff peaks form. Stir in the vanilla and icing sugar. Store in the fridge until required.

To make the toffee glaze, put the caster and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves or the syrup comes to a boil. Once it boils, do not stir it! (Now is a good time to pop the boiling jug on for your water) Keep a watchful eye on the syrup and remove it from the heat when it turns a rich, golden colour. Stand back and carefully pour in the boiling water. When the toffee stops hissing, give it a stir and add the redcurrant jelly. Return to medium heat, stirring until the jelly dissolves. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and split it in half. Roll the first half out between two sheets of baking paper. It should be no thicker than 5mm. I used an egg ring to cut pastry rounds out because you'll need something about 2cm bigger than your tart tins. (If you're making one big tart, see note.) Remove the round of pastry you've cut and put it in the first tart tin - ensure the base of the tin is covered with pastry. Then, lift the sides up and push them up against the sides and into the grooves of the tin. Trim any excess pastry. Keep cutting the rounds and lining the tins until you have run out of pastry or tins. Use a fork to make 3 pricks on the base of each tart shell and bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Once cooked, let them cool.

While the shells are cooling, wash the strawberries and cut their tops off. Using a small knife, make vertical cuts on the strawberry as though you are slicing it but leave 5mm at the top of the strawberry uncut. Fan the strawberry slices outwards from each other, taking care to keep the top in tact so that all slices remain attached.  

Spoon a heaped tablespoon of the mascarpone mixture into each tart shell and spread it out. Put one berry on top and press the top of the strawberry deeper into the mixture. Ensure all slices are fanned out nicely. Spoon about two teaspoons of the toffee mixture over the strawberry tartlet. Repeat for all tartlets and then, if you have a sweet tooth like me, you can give each tartlet some more toffee glaze. Enjoy them while they're fresh! 

If you don't have a food processor simply combine all dry ingredients and use your fingertips to rub the butter in so a fine crumb forms. Stir in the egg and then knead and refrigerate.

To make one big tart, roll the pastry out to about 5mm thickness, and make sure it is at least 3cm bigger than your tart tin.  Remove one sheet of baking paper and flip the pastry on top of your greased tin so it is paper-side-up. Lift the pastry from the sides and let them fall into the pan and up against the sides. Carefully remove the baking paper and press the sides into the pan. Cut off any excess and prick the base of the shell with a fork. Bake. When it comes to strawberries, just slice each berry and layer them over the mascarpone nicely. Spoon over the toffee glaze.