Pie of the Week: Strawberry Thyme Tart with Mint Glaze
While most folks tend to make their (perhaps champagne-fueled) resolutions for self-improvement at the first of the year, it's the springtime, when the crocus pop up their heads and the cherry trees shake out frothy pink blossoms, when I tend to make mine. This year, I've resolved to make better use of my sunny kitchen window space and start a small potted herb garden. (I'll never again have to shell out exorbitant amounts of cash for a lackluster hunk of wilting cilantro at the grocery store—victory!) My daydreaming about this undertaking has quickly escalated into some pretty serious visions of grandeur: a small jungle of exotic basils, a tiny rosemary topiary, and enough lavender bursting forth that I can make small scented wreaths out of braided sprigs. Whether or not my over-the-top herb dreams will be realized remains to be seen, but so far I'm doing super well keeping my one terracotta pot of dill from turning brown.
The ability of herbs to open up fruit desserts cannot be overstated: a touch of sage, tarragon, or rosemary will allow even the simplest of fruit pies to bloom. While thyme is more commonly associated with creamy béchamel sauces and rich risotto, it is the ultimate supporting cast member for fruits and spices. Thyme adds a natural warmth to any dish, enhancing the flavors already present without overpowering. This is especially true of its complimentary nature with mint, and the interplay between the mint glaze and thyme crust becomes a dynamic back-and-forth of subtle and powerful notes. If you're not a fan of thyme, I recommend replacing the thyme with basil in the crust and filling, and skipping the mint glaze altogether.
The key to success is twofold for ensuring that thyme gets its proper day in the sun. When mincing the thyme for the pie crust, work diligently to ensure it is as fine as possible: this allows the oils from the herb to be absorbed into the dough, while also ensuring no one gets a giant mouthful of green. Also, using fresh herbs is a necessity. If you have an advanced herb garden (I'm jealous!) or live somewhere with many thyme options, go with a lemon thyme.
The foundation of this tart is a play on the traditional pâte sucrée dough. Pâte sucrée has a crumbly, shortbread-like texture that makes the perfect foil to juicy, fruit-heavy fillings. After removing the dough from the food processor, it is important not to over knead it: it makes the dough difficult to work with and ultimately produces a tougher crust. What's more, the chilling step needs to be given due reverence. I would suggest, if possible, making the dough a day ahead and refrigerating overnight. However, if you're in a pinch for time, an hour of chilling will do.
Oh, and about those strawberries: don't go with the plump, juicy ones you just want to pop in your mouth. Instead, find strawberries that are still a bit firm. These will emit less water when baked, ensuring that your crust bottom doesn't become a soggy mess.
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About the author: Sarah Baird is a writer, editor, and petit four aficionado living in New Orleans, Louisiana. She likes planning elaborate dinner parties surrounded by her collection of dwarf citrus trees. You can read her latest musings and about her various misadventures on her website: hellosarahbaird.com or follow her on Twitter: @scbaird.