A holiday devoted to being kind and loving to others? Sounds like exactly what we all need right about now. Seriously, Valentine’s Day couldn’t have come at a better time.
Though some people get pretty cynical about this “Hallmark holiday,” I welcome the excuse to step out of my busy routine and show my family and friends how much they mean to me. Romance aside, this is a day meant to make people feel loved, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Usually Valentine’s Day is synonymous with chocolate (and if you want a killer — and easy — chocolate caramel tart, click here). But this year we decided to change things up a bit. This year, we’re letting vanilla take the spotlight.
Chocolate may make my knees weak, but vanilla comforts my soul. And I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely in the mood for some comfort these days.
I’m also in the mood for easy, and this beautiful dessert satisfies on both fronts. If you can make cookie dough and whip some cream, you can make this. Seriously, even the kids can do it, which is such a fun way to get them involved with a home-cooked Valentine’s Day dinner.
It starts with a toasted oat shortbread crust made by simply whizzing up butter, brown sugar, flour and oats in a food processor. The oats add a nice rustic texture and flavor that goes so deliciously with the brown sugar. I like to toast them in the oven for a few minutes first, to make them taste even nuttier.
Then you just pat the dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom (or individual tart pans), and bake. No need to add dried beans or pie weights. No need to chill beforehand. Just pop them in the oven, they’ll be fine.
They bake up golden and crisp, and the perfect backdrop for a rich yet light filling of vanilla-spiked cream, whipped until fluffy.
In addition to both vanilla extract and the seeds from an entire vanilla bean, I add some sour cream to the mix, to play off the sweetness of the cookie crust and the juicy sugared strawberries. I also love adding a tiny bit of rose water to the cream, or rose syrup to the berries, to give it a fragrant floral touch.
Spoon the cream into the cooled tart shells, top with berries, and serve to someone you love.
Toasted Oat Tarts with Vanilla Cream, Strawberries and Rose
Makes one 9-inch tart or five 4-inch tarts
This elegant dessert is a riff off a trio of recipes I developed while on staff at The Oregonian. It comes together in no time. You can even make the tart shells and the cream the day before.
Toasted Oat Shortbread:
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or more to taste
1/2 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
1 teaspoon rose water (optional; or add to the berries)
2 pints strawberries, stem and hulls removed, sliced
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon rose water or rose syrup (optional)
To make the shortbread: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the oats on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 to 7 minutes.
In a food processor, pulse together the oats, flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and continue to pulse until the mixture looks crumbly, then allow the machine to run until the mixture clumps together and forms a dough.
Pat the dough into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, or divide among five 4-inch tart pans (about 1/4 cup per pan). Press the dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan (you can use the back of a measuring cup to help spread it evenly). Set tart pan(s) on a baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool before filling.
To make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer), beat the cream, vanilla and vanilla bean seeds on medium-high speed until the cream begins to thicken. While beating, gradually sprinkle in the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Use a spatula to fold in the sour cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (Can be made a day ahead.)
To make the berries: Combine the sliced berries and sugar in a medium bowl. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, until they release some juice. (The longer they sit, the more juice they’ll release. If they’ve gotten too juicy/watery, you can strain and reserve the berries and simmer the juice in a small saucepan until slightly thickened. Combine the cooled juice and berries just before serving.)
To serve: Spread the filling evenly in the tart shell(s). Spoon the sugared berries and some of their juices on top. Divide among plates and serve.