Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Queen of Hearts Strawberry Tarts

When Alice followed a little white rabbit into a hole under a hedge, she began falling down what seemed to be a very deep well and suddenly found herself in a strange new place inhabited by many curious people and creatures.

After drinking a potion that made her shrink, she was greeted by the Cheshire Cat who had the habit of slowly disappearing and leaving behind only his grin. She also attended a most unusual tea party with the Mad Hatter and then witnessed the trial of the Knaves of Hearts who had been accused of stealing tarts from the Queen of Hearts. This is how Lewis Carroll described how that very strange trial began:

The King and Queen of Hearts were seated on their throne when they arrived, with a great crowd assembled about them—all sorts of little birds and beasts, as well as the whole pack of cards: the Knave was standing before them, in chains, with a soldier on each side to guard him; and near the King was the White Rabbit, with a trumpet in one hand, and a scroll of parchment in the other.

In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of tarts upon it: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them—'I wish they'd get the trial done,' she thought, 'and hand round the refreshments!' But there seemed to be no chance of this, so she began looking at everything about her, to pass away the time...

Suddenly, the King shouted, "Herald, read the accusation!" Upon this, the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll, and read as follows: The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts/All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts/And took them quite away!

Although no one knows if the Queen of Hearts ever found her tarts, you can probably find some fresh summer strawberries at your local market and make some of these tasty tarts from Martha Stewart. But be careful to store them in a safe place, lest someone tries to steal them away!

For the Crust

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for handling dough
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Filling

1 bar (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 to 2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved
1/4 cup seedless red currant jelly

Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, blend flour, butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt until moist crumbs form (this may take up to 1 minute). Transfer dough to a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom.

With floured fingers, press dough evenly into pan and up sides. Dip a dry-measuring cup in flour, and use it to press dough firmly into bottom and against sides of pan. Freeze crust until firm, 10 to 15 minutes. Using a fork, prick crust all over. Bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes, pressing down gently once or twice with a spoon during baking if crust puffs up. Cool completely in pan.

Make the filling: In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until smooth; spread mixture evenly in bottom of baked crust (still in tart pan).
Starting from outside edge, arrange strawberry halves, stemmed side down, in tight concentric circles on cream cheese. In a small saucepan, heat jelly on medium-low until liquefied. Gently brush strawberries with jelly; let set at least 20 minutes. Chill in pan at least 1 hour (and up to 6 hours); remove from pan just before serving.

FAST FACT: Alice's Adventures Under Ground was originally published in 1865, three years after the Reverend Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and his colleague Robinson Duckworth had taken three young girls on a leisurely boat ride up the River Thames on a hot summer day. The girls’ names were Lorina, Alice, and Edith, and they were the daughters of Reverend Henry Liddell, who served as the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University where Dodgson was a professor of mathematics.

To pass the time, Dodgson told the girls a story about a bored little girl named Alice who went off looking for an adventure. The girls loved it and Alice late asked Dodgson to write it down for her. He eventually did, and, on November 26, 1864, Dodgson presented Alice with the handwritten manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, with illustrations by Dodgson himself. He later showed the tale to his friend George Macdonald, who urged him to publish it. Dodgson then revised and expanded it to nearly twice its original length, adding the episodes about the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea-Party.

In 1865, the story was published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by “Lewis Carroll” with illustrations by John Tenniel. The first print of 2,000 copies was withdrawn because Tenniel was not pleased with the quality of print. A new edition was published later that year, but with a print date of 1866. All 2,000 copies quickly sold out, and Alice was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike. The book has never been out of print and has been translated into more than 125 languages.

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