It was born from a backup plan; a plan B that was never needed. Planning for a photo shoot means preparing for the worst, and in this case, the “worst” translated to a late shipment of candied rose petals. Though only a small element of a demanding, detailed set, it was no small source of stress for the perfectionist in me. Destined for the cover of an ebook, the weight of its prominent placement and supreme visibility raised the stakes to dizzying heights. With all the hero dishes and supporting characters prepped to go, there was no stopping this shoot from barreling forward as planning, with or without those tiny crystalline flowers. Facing intense pressure not only to get it right, but to nail it on the first take, nothing else motives quite like the fear of failure. What else could have explained my mad dash to find unsprayed, organic roses at such a late hour, to paint them gingerly, one by one, with extra-fine granulated sugar? That dedication, bordering on obsession, has come to define my days of back-to-back photo shoots.
Of course, as luck would have it, the plan A roses arrived at the very last moment, just in time for their closeup. Crisis averted, the shoot went off without a hitch, leaving behind a wealth of sugared pink petals in its wake.
Incorporating my other ingredient excesses- namely, fresh strawberries as sweet as jam and the ever-present chocolate sandwich cookies that seem to have taken up permanent residence in my cupboard- that additional effort definitely didn’t go to waste. Fruity and floral, the resulting strawberry and rose tartlettes are personal portions of show-stopping desserts. Layered with a crimson strawberry curd at the bottom and a rich rose-scented pastry cream on top, each bite is accented by a crunchy chocolate crust containing the harmonious duo. Delicate, fragrant candied rose petals are truly the icing on the cake, or tartlette, as it were. Though technically an optional garnish, I wouldn’t dream if making these blushing beauties without them. They provided m initial inspiration, after all.
Strawberry and Rose Tartlettes
1 1/2 Cups Vegan Chocolate Cookie Crumbs (15 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies)
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Agar Powder
1 1/4 Cups Seedless Strawberry Puree*
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Arrowroot Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Agar Powder
1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Rosewater
Candied Rose Petals (Optional)
*To make strawberry puree, start with about 1 1/2 pounds of fresh strawberries and thoroughly puree them in your blender or food processor, until completely smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, discard the seeds, and measure out the amount called for in the recipe before proceeding.
Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees and placing four 4-inch springform pans on a baking sheet. Once finely ground, combine the cookie crumbs with the melted margarine in a large bowl, and stir well until there are no dry patches. Divide the mixture evenly between your ready and waiting tins, using lightly moistened fingers to press it evenly across the bottoms and up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes, turn off the oven, and set aside to let cool.
Meanwhile, to make the strawberry curd filling, whisk together the sugar and agar powder to combine. Place the two into a medium saucepan along with the strawberry puree and lemon juice, turning on the stove to medium heat. Whisk to break up any lumps of sugar, and continue whisking occasionally as it comes up to temperature. Once the mixture reaches a boil, turn off the stove and transfer the hot, liquid curd your baked tartlette shells. Fill each one halfway to the top with the mixture. Don’t worry that if it seems very loose and watery at this point; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow the curd to come down to room temperature before refrigerating the half-filled tartlettes. This step is very important, because tossing it in the fridge too early will weaken the gel, and you will end up with a runny filling.
Finally, for the pastry cream, toss the non-dairy milk, cashews, sugar, arrowroot, agar, and salt into your blender and let it rip. Blitz until completely silky-smooth, pausing periodically to scrape down the sides of the canister if necessary. Pour the resulting mixture into a medium saucepan over medium heat, and whisk frequently as it cooks. Be sure to continuously scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to prevent anything from sticking and burning. When bubbles begin to break on the surface, whisk in the rosewater and vanilla, and turn off the heat. Distribute the pastry cream evenly over the tartlettes, filling them all the way to the top. Smooth out the surface and let cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving. Top with candied rose petals at the last moment to prevent them from getting soft, if desired.
Makes 4 Tartlettes