A trip to Mahabaleshwar, a hill station in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, has become an annual tradition of sorts. Of course, it gets cool (cold) in the hills and compared to the negligible winter  of Mumbai, it is a good opportunity to bring out the cardigans and shawls. And socks. Socks are important.

Every year, we go to our designated corn vendors (this one for coal-roasted, spicy corn on the cob, that one for corn pattice, and that one for corn frankie) and eat our hearts out because that’s the only way you can keep your teeth from chattering in the cold. We sit in the boat on Venna lake and never cease to be shocked at how slow time can go in a place like this. We feel the dew on the grass every morning and swear we’ll retire to a place like Mahabaleshwar when we’re 60.

But the reason we really go there, is for the strawberries. Mahabaleshwar has the ideal weather in India for the cultivation of strawberries. Every year, strawberry farmers begin plantation around October and by December, the plants are ready to fruit. All my life, I lived under the impression that the deeper the color of the strawberry and the larger its size, the sweeter the fruit. I remember Dada bringing back humongous strawberries from London–they used to be a deep crimson and bled their color down my arms as I bit into them and tried to prevent, unsuccessfully, even a single droplet from escaping my mouth. I tried to look for similar strawberries in Mumbai and Mahabaleshwar. But, I was proved wrong. Mahabaleshwar’s most popular variety of strawberry is Sweet Charlie–a small, vermillion-colored berry that is intensely sweet and juicy as strawberries should be; but most importantly, it is fragrant. It smells of happiness and flowers and dessert.

This year, we decided we just had to shoot the little strawberry farm and make this simple and easy Strawberry Tart. It’s one of my go-to dessert recipes when I am expecting guests at short notice (or am feeling greedy myself). It’s also a great recipe to gain confidence with making deceptively elaborate show stoppers for a Sunday brunch or such.

Easy Strawberry Tart

Ingredients:

  • 10-12 Digestive/Marie biscuits
  • 2 tbsp.  Butter, melted
  • 1 cup (or 225 grams) cream cheese or mascarpone
  • 1/4 tsp. good quality vanilla extract or paste
  • 1 tbsp. Strawberry or Raspberry Jam
  • 1 tbsp. Icing sugar, sifted + 1/2 tbsp. for decoration
  • 1/4 cup double or whipping cream
  • 12-15 strawberries, hulled (crowns removed)
  • Spring of mint to decorate

Method:

  1. Place the biscuits in a food processor or coffee blender and pulse until you have coarse crumbs.
  2. Add the melted butter and process again until you have a mixture that clumps in your fist like wet sand. Add more butter to achieve this, if required.
  3. Press the biscuit sand into the base and sides of an 8-inch tart tin. Refrigerate until you make the filling.
  4. Soften the cream cheese in a mixing bowl, using a whisk.
  5. Add the vanilla, icing sugar, and jam and mix.
  6. Whip the cream with an electric beater until almost double in size, light and fluffy.
  7. Carefully fold into the cream cheese mixture.
  8. Fill the tart case with the cream cheese filling.
  9. Top with hulled strawberries.
  10. Sift a little icing sugar on top and place a sprig of mint to decorate.
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