[Photograph: Lauren Weisenthal]

The idea of combining strawberries and balsamic vinegar is nothing new in the restaurant community where I've long encountered this combination in appetizers as well as plated desserts. The two work really well together, each playing off the others' sweetness and acidity, and they are especially enjoyable when paired with dairy; ice cream or custard on the sweet side, or a mild cheese for those who prefer dessert to be more savory.

Like so many sweets that we create for ourselves, this tart was born of a craving. Initially, it was the pastry cream I was after, smoothed over a crumbly chocolate sable crust. The kid in me would totally dig a sugar-bomb tart like that as is, but my adult alter ego, the one who strives for balance, knew that the whole affair would be much more palatable and refreshing with a little fresh fruit to add brightness and acidity. The strawberries and balsamic provide just enough of both to keep you wanting more than just one bite.

If you're new to buying balsamic vinegar, the price ranges (from $2 to $200) and the different brands can be dizzying. If you're not into dropping the cash for the boutique stuff from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, Cook's Illustrated advises (and I agree) that Lucini Gran Riserva is the best affordable option found in supermarkets. If that's not available, I've found that reducing cheap balsamic over low heat vastly improves its flavor by concentrating the sweetness and acidity.

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Strawberry Balsamic Custard Tart ยป

About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute and holds a CS Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.

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