The 'raison d'être' is a tumble of strawberries spooned with seasonal abandon on top, hiding the dessert's sweet foundation. A suggestion of sugar has been applied that teases the flow of crimson juices from the fruit, wetting it down in a glistening cloak. The berries have the subtle tropical honey taste of ripe pineapple, occasionally punctuated by small shards of fresh mint.
This simple fruit salad rests on a soft mound of crème pâtissière. The egg yolks and whole milk turn the pudding the colour of butter, flavoured and flecked with black seeds from fresh vanilla. It's thickened just enough to bear the weight of the fruit. Crème pâtissière is a foundation preparation in French pastry — never the star, always the support. It's rarely this well made.
A crust of pâte sucrée, another classic French sweet preparation, supports it. It tastes of good butter and sugar and has a tender sandy crumble like the give of shale underfoot. Salt crystals hurry the flow of saliva and are a reminder of its importance as a counterpoint in great pastry making.
I know its promise even before I take a bite. When I do taste the Tartelette aux Fraises, I'm flush with a feeling of well-being I associate with fine French food. It's like meeting a friend long absent but still dear.
I'm reminded of why I spent years toiling in fine French kitchens. Because I can look upon a simple sweet like this and see straight through its flavour and technique to the innate perfection at the centre.