Easter is such a beautiful holiday, one that brings out all of the best things in life: pastel color palettes, spring blooms, an abundance of chocolate, and excuses to gather around a table.
But as “adults,” Easter has come to mean something else entirely… something that has morphed as our understanding of Lent and the Easter season has deepened.
This particular Lent was essentially 40 days of pure agony. [Melodramatic, we know, but we really struggled with our Lenten practices, as any of our close friends and family can attest]. And yet for some strange reason, we have come to love Lent and its role in our lives. Now, if you had told our twelve-year-old selves that this might one day be the case, we probably would have stomped on your toe, spit in your face, and screamed. Because the Lent we have always known—at least up until the last couple of years—has always been about “can’t”. It’s been about restrictions and sacrifices and “no more chocolate” and basically all the things that make life suck.
But for us today, Lent is more about making room, kind of like a private and personal version of “Spring Cleaning”. Here’s how we see it: we spend our entire lives consuming… consuming television, consuming the Internet, consuming food, consuming drink, consuming clothes, consuming everything around us. It’s non-stop, and God knows that we [meaning Jason and I] are some of the worst consumers of all. [I mean, if you haven’t noticed, all we talk about is food…]
So Lent has become our time to step back from all of the instantly gratifying consuming of self and make room for more important things, whether it’s God, charity, relationships, or what have you. It’s about saying, “Okay, for 40 days, life is going to be less about ME.”
That’s why Lent is so damn hard. Because it’s not about us. It’s not about our desires and our plans and our personal gain. It sounds counterintuitive, but actually letting go of that sense of self for 40 days of the year has become a cherished time in our lives, because it prepares our hearts to really receive and fully embrace the joy of Easter. It allows us to appreciate the things we sacrificed even more fully and to revel in the fact that “yesterday’s sorrows are this day’s delight.” It encourages us to savor every day as its own little Easter.
So obviously, we had to throw an Easter party in celebration of its arrival—to not only cheers to the splendidness of Easter but also say a much-needed farewell to Lent.
It was a casual and last-minute affair: a potluck brunch that checked all of the Easter necessity boxes: a perfectly baked ham, a traditional Chicagoan lamb cake, a variety of casseroles, salads, and funfetti cookies, a bottomless mimosa bar [HALLELUJAH!], an Easter egg hunt [featuring only Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, thank you very much], a heavy dose of sunshine and tulips despite the fact that there was still snow on the ground, and a gathering of wonderful friends who we have come to regard as our Denver family.
All that we did was provide the venue for congregation and a few of our seasonal favorites, namely a homemade veggie quiche, freshly baked sourdough bread, and this loverly Fruit Tart—an annual springtime tradition of ours that has begun to make an appearance at almost every Easter due to its showstopper presentation AND make-ahead ease. If there’s anything that the timestamps on our previous tart iterations tell us, it’s that there’s something about Fruit Tart that has the ability to officially “usher in Spring”:
March 2016 – I think we’re getting better at this, don’t you?
Here’s how you make it and marshal in your Spring and Easter in true celebratory fashion:
Part 1: Pâte Sucrée
Pâte Sucrée [“sweet dough”] is a French sweet dough and the dough of choice for fresh fruit tarts. It’s essentially a shortbread dough and a perfect go-to anytime you need a sweet, tender dough. This recipe makes enough for two tarts, so I always keep one in the freezer in case I get the hankering to make a pie or tart. Pâte Sucrée dough can be refrigerated up to one week or frozen for one month. Just defrost in refrigerator overnight before using.
- 1 c. [8 oz] very soft butter
- ½ c. [4 oz] sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla
- ½ tsp lemon zest [optional]
- 1 egg
- 2 ¾ c. [12 oz] all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- Cream butter and sugar. Scrape sides of bowl as necessary.
- Add vanilla extract, lemon zest, and egg and incorporate.
- Sift and add flour.
- Work dough on the counter until it is well mixed [it will feel almost like cookie dough] Divide into two equal portions and shape into ½ inch thick rounds. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. [It can be refrigerated up to one week or frozen for up to one month. Just defrost in the refrigerator overnight before rolling out. The dough must be chilled thoroughly before rolling, otherwise it will stick to the counter and rolling pin.]
- To roll the sucrée, lightly flour the work surface and roll over the dough with a heavy rolling pin, lifting and turning the dough 90-degrees with each roll. For a large tart, roll the dough between 1/8 and ¼ inch thick.
- Line a lightly greased tart pan or pie pan with the sucrée, being sure to push the dough into the corners of the pan. [The dough might splinter a bit but it is very forgiving. Patch holes with extra dough as necessary.]
- Chill dough for 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking. [A cold dough + hot oven = a successful sucrée.]
- Line the tart pan with a piece of parchment paper and fill it with beans, rice, or pie weights. [We use things we intend to roast anyway… like green coffee beans or pecans.] Bake at 375-degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and paper and return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes until tart is a light golden brown color.
Part 2: Vanilla Bean Pastry Creme
This is essentially the same crème pâtissière we use for éclairs, just with the added indulgence of vanilla bean.
- 2 c. half-and-half or whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean pod
- 5 egg yolks
- ½ c. plus 2 Tbs. (5 oz.) sugar
- 2-½ Tbs. flour
- Heat half-and-half to a simmer. Once simmering, remove from the heat. Split vanilla pod in half and scrape out the beans, placing the beans and pod in the half-and-half. Stir and let half-and-half sit for 30 minutes to absorb the flavor.
- Return liquid to heat and bring to a boil. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and flour. [The sugar helps protect the eggs from scrambling when heated!]
- Temper the egg-sugar mixture with the hot half-and-half and return the fully combined mixture to the pot to heat. Stir constantly in a figure 8 pattern and bring to a boil for about 5 to 7 minutes. The pastry cream will become very smooth and shiny. You can’t overcook it.
- Drain custard through a sieve into a clean bowl. Set over ice immediately and chill until it’s ice cold. It can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for about a week.
Now it’s time to assemble your tart, which is best done a day in advance or day-of. Simply fill the tart shell with the pastry shell and strategically arrange your favorite fruits [we used strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries] for your desired presentation. I love patterns, but have been known to simply throw them all in there with reckless abandon to great reward. Refrigerate until ready to serve.