In my latest novel, Domestic Affairs, Abigail is a self-made domestic diva who’s made her fortune showing her legions of adoring fans how they, too, can enjoy the finer things in life. The irony is that Abigail grew up poor, the daughter of a maid. She learned from closely observing the wealthy family for whom her mother worked and by watching her mother prepare the meals and delicacies they enjoyed. I did the same thing growing up: I learned to cook and bake by hanging out with my mom in the kitchen. With six kids to feed, every recipe was tripled or quadrupled. The bread she baked weekly came out of the oven six to eight loaves at a time. The apples for an apple crisp were many small hands in the peeling. With the pots of chile con carne she used to make, she could have opened a soup kitchen. To this day I have trouble scaling recipes to feed just my husband and me (now that my kids are grown). Let’s just say our friends and neighbors and my husband’s co-workers are the happy beneficiaries of that bounty!
At one point in the novel, Abigail prepares miniature cranberry mascarpone tarts for an appearance on a morning TV show, for a segment on holiday entertaining. Since Domestic Affairs debuts in summer, I’m giving you a variation of that recipe, using strawberries instead, for just one large tart. The result is spectacular – gorgeous to look at and equally delicious. It’s also easy to transport, if you’re making it for a picnic. And the Oreo crust, combined with the strawberries, is a taste treat you won’t soon forget. I make it every year around this time when strawberries are in peak season. I try to get local strawberries, which are sweeter, having been allowed to ripen on the stem. The quality of the strawberries makes all the difference, though good strawberries in season from the supermarket will work fine as well. Make this for company and your guests will be raving about it for years to come!
Mascarpone is a soft, creamy cheese that comes in a small tub. It can be purchased in gourmet stores or the gourmet section of your supermarket. If you can’t find it, feel free to substitute softened cream cheese. Make sure to bring cheese fully to room temperature before using. or easy hulling of strawberries, try this trick: Push a plastic straw through the tip of each strawberry and up through the stem end. The core and leafy top are removed in one quick thrust.
For the crust:
27 chocolate sandwich cookies, such as Oreos
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
1 pound mascarpone cheese, at room temperature (see note)
3 ounces honey (slightly over 1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
For the topping:
About 2 cups hulled and sliced strawberries, the freshest and sweetest available (see note)
1 ten-ounce jar strawberry preserves
1 teaspoon red food coloring
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place an ungreased baking sheet on the lowest rack in the oven.
- To make the crust: In a food processor, process the cookies to a fine crumb (the consistency of sand). In a small bowl, combine the finely ground cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press over the bottom and sides of an ungreased 11-inch tart pan with a removable base. Chill.
- To make the filling: Place the softened mascarpone, honey and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the flour and salt. Pour into the chilled crust. Place on the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until just set. The center should jiggle slightly when pan is gently shaken. (Be careful not to overbake!)
- Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes. Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 1 hour.
- Shortly before serving: Lift base with tart out of the rim. To make the topping: Arrange sliced strawberries over the top in a pinwheel pattern, slightly overlapping the slices. In a small, microwavable bowl, combine the strawberry preserves with 3 tablespoons of water. Cover and heat in the microwave for 1 to 1½ minutes. (Alternate method: Place preserves and water in a small pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until softened.) Strain through a wire mesh sieve, pushing with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the pulp. Stir in the food coloring. Gently dab mixture over the strawberries with a pastry brush. Chill until ready to serve.
Yield: 1 11-inch tart, 12-15 servings