Gooseberry Tart

For me, gooseberries are one of those quintessentially British fruits, like damson plums or sloes, that I nonetheless never managed to try while I lived in London.Gooseberry Tart

To rectify this, I’ve been on the lookout for them  for the past several years, only to be disappointed.  But this year’s fruit crop in Massachusetts is proving to be amazing–tons of sour cherries have now given way to red, black, and even golden raspberries, along with red and black currants and yes, gooseberries.

Gooseberry Tart

The price, unfortunately, reflects the fact that these gooseberries are so hard to come by.  So even though I splurged on two generously filled half pints at the farmer’s market, I came home to find I didn’t even have the four to five cups required for a pie.  Fortunately, I had enough for pie’s rustic French cousin, a galette.

Gooseberry Tart

While you thankfully don’t have to chop gooseberries (which must be as tedious as cutting up grapes or cherry tomatoes for toddlers) they do require a bit of prep work–they need to be topped and tailed, which is really just removing the stem from one end and the blossom from the other.  It’s easy enough to do, but given how these tiny bits tend to stick to your fingers, and then rub off on the next gooseberry you reach for, you’ll want to wash your berries after this process.  Once done, the gooseberries look much like grapes, albeit rather veiny ones.

Then it’s just a matter of assembly.  It’s easy to find helpers who will enjoy sprinkling the cinnamon sugar over the berries and the crust.

Gooseberry Tart

Gooseberries are surprisingly tart, and are said to taste a bit like strawberries–which is true, but not something I would have noticed had I not already been aware of the comparison.  They cook down into a juicy filling, and have a surprising richness–making it easy to see why gooseberries complement savory dishes so nicely.  For dessert, however, a tart yogurt ice cream or dollop of creme fraiche would nicely accompany this galette, with the fruit’s juices swirling together with the melting cream.

Gooseberry Tart

Gooseberry Tart
Author: Adapted from Lindsey Shere, via [url href=”http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/gooseberry-tart”%5DFood and Wine[/url]
Ingredients
  • Pastry
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 -inch dice
  • About 3 tablespoons ice water
  • Filling
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 pint gooseberries (about 3 cups), stems and tails removed
Instructions
Make the crust.
  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender (or two knives or forks) or your fingers, cut or rub in the butter until the mixture resembles a mix of coarse cornmeal with larger particles the size of peas. (I.e. you’ll still have a fair amount of larger chunks of butter). Stir in the ice water with a fork. When the dough holds together, knead it a few times against the side of the bowl to smooth it out. (If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a few more drops of ice water.) Pat the dough into a disk, and wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400F. Flour a surface and roll out the dough into a round about 14 inches in diameter. (You may have to wait a few moments for the dough to soften). It need not be perfect around the edges as this gives it its rustic look. Lay it on a large baking sheet or pizza pan lined with parchment paper and refrigerate briefly while you prepare the filling (but no longer as the crust will get to hard to fold over the filling later).
Make the filling and assemble the tart
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Mix 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar with the flour and sprinkle this mixture over a 9-inch area of the pastry. Spread the prepared gooseberries on top. (I rolled out the dough before prepping the gooseberries; the dough chilled while I topped and tailed the berries). Reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons of the cinnamon-sugar and sprinkle the remainder over the gooseberries. Fold the edges of the pastry up over the berries to form a 9-inch free-form tart, making pleats and pressing them together lightly. Brush the pastry with water and sprinkle with the reserved cinnamon-sugar.
  2. Bake the tart in the center of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the gooseberries are bubbling and lightly browned and the pastry has caramelized in spots and is well browned on the bottom. Cut the tart into wedges with a sharp knife and serve.

Gooseberry Tart

Cherry Frangipane Tart

Much as I want to try and alternate the sweet stuff around here with the savory, I’m also well aware that cherry season is in its full glorious swing.  And after cutting it so close with the strawberries, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and will delay no longer.  Consider this your extra helping of dessert.

Cherry Frangipane Tart (7 of 8)

I love the combination of almonds with almost any fruit, but cherries (and other stone fruits) are complemented particularly well by these nuts–almonds are closely related to cherries (and peaches, plums, and apricots), so it’s perhaps just a matter of a family reunion.  And when your long lost relatives are sweet but red-blooded cherries, the get-together is bound to be a happy one (though maybe still a bit dramatic!)

Cherry Frangipane Tart (4 of 8)

I can’t think of red cherries without remember the year I lived in my small Czech village, where cherry trees lined the winding country roads and all at once come June blazed burgundy, fruits generously on offer for anyone to pick and enjoy.  (Well, or so I assumed).  In the Czech Republic I also used to buy what were called “marzipan potatoes“–an unglamorous name, maybe, for little spheres of soft marzipan you could squish between your fingers before popping into your mouth.  But I didn’t need my candy carved into intricate sculptures or painstakingly painted with a delicate hand.  The flavor of marzipan is enough for me.  Elegance that is easy to come by, though, is perfectly fine with me, which brings me to frangipane:  that fancy sounding, moist but cake-like filling rich with almond paste, butter and sugar.

Cherries and almonds together is nice.  In a tart, irresistible.

Cherry Frangipane Tart (1 of 8)

Cherry Frangipane Tart (2 of 8)

Cherry Frangipane Tart (3 of 8)

Usually I manage to exercise a bit of self control with my baked goods.  But not universally.  It turns out the combination of a buttery crust with a fragrant, tender filling, studded with ruby fruits of summer proved too much for me.  And thus my husband was rather surprised to realize I was handing him (shoving at him) half of a 10-inch tart to take into work.  Because, aside of a few slivers for my sons, I had basically eaten the other half on my own. (So much for the mother who puts her children first).  Rather quickly.  You have been warned.  Perhaps cherry season is blessedly brief.

Cherry Frangipane Tart (5 of 8)

Cherry Frangipane Tart

Notes:  If you have a stand mixer, I suggest using this to combine the almond paste and butter.  It can take a while to incorporate, and even using a hand mixer you can get tired. Try to have the two ingredients at the same temperature to aid this process as well.  

I adapted the crust from a fantastic press-in crust recipe I saw at Bojon Gourmet.  I used a larger tart pan, so I attempted some math to make sure I had enough tart dough.  This is the reason for the somewhat odd ingredients measurements.  You can find the recipe for an 8 or 9 inch pan over at her site.   The frangipane filling is from a version I found on epicurious, available here.

For an absolutely wonderful video showing how to “rub in” butter, check out this great video from Poires au Chocolat–I had always suspected I wasn’t doing it quite right, and I’m thrilled to finally have it right!

Crust

  • 1c + 2T all purpose flour (5 1/3 ounces)
  • 1/4c + 1T  (1.25 ounces) powdered sugar (this is the same as 5T)
  • scant 1/4 t salt
  • 9 T cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2″ dice (4.5 ounces)

Filling

  • 12 ounces of cherries.
  • 7 ounces almond paste (not marzipan; about 1 cup; this is a standard size log, I used Odense which I found at the grocery store)
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Make the crust:  Stir together the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter cubes and rub with your fingertips until no large butter chunks remain and the mixture begins to clump together. Dump into a 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom and press as evenly as possible up the sides and into the bottom of the pan. Use the sides of your palm to help press up the sides.  Freeze the crust until firm while you preheat the oven, at least 15 minutes.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350F. Bake the frozen crust until it is just beginning to turn golden around the edges, about 20 minutes.  Let the shell cool off a bit before filling.

Make the filling

Pit the cherries and set aside.

Beat almond paste, butter, sugar, extract, and salt in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed 3 minutes.   Make sure there are no lumps.  Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in flour.

Spread the frangipane filling in the partially baked shell. Arrange the pitted cherries over the filling.  Bake until puffed and golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool for at least 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired, cut into wedges, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Cherry Frangipane Tart (8 of 8)

Modern Baker Challenge: Raspberry Almond Tartlets

What is it about diminutive little desserts that are so irresistible?  I don’t know if it’s because you know that you can have several without a second’s consideration, or that they are the cute baby kittens of the dessert world.  Or that since you know they are gone after two bites, you enjoy them all the more?  In any case, these were probably one of my most successful exploits in the Modern Baker Challenge, and even though I’m a bit late completing this assignment, here is definitely a case of better late than never.

Actually, I knew these were going to be delicious, and probably a top five.    Raspberries are probably my favorite berry (not unlike Karen), and my love of marzipan is well enough known that my Christmas stocking is always bursting with the stuff each year.  (Santa is on the ball!)  Why the delay then?  Making 24 tartlets seemed a bit daunting.  Plus I wasn’t sure about how excited I was to work with the sweet nut dough again–I’d had issues the last time around with stickiness and generalized uncooperativeness.

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Step by step then:  the dough was easier to work with this time.  I gave it time to properly chill and probably am just a bit more experienced with working with dough in general.  (As I knew that I could always resort to pressing in the dough, I was a bit more relaxed about the whole adventure).  Not having a set of biscuit cutters, I started using a baby bottle rim to cut out the dough, which turned out to be a bit too small.  Using a larger lid ended up working, but re-rolling the dough ended up warming it so much that it was unworkably sticky.  Back to the fridge to cool off.  So in short I made it a bit more difficult than it needed to be, but it got done.  All 24 pieces.  Ugh.

This was sort of the story of these tarts–no particular step was hard, but there were a lot of them, and each step was repeated 24 times.  24 tart shells, 24 dollops of jam in the base, 24 times nestling in raspberries, 24 generous spoonfuls of almond filling, 24 sprinkles of sliced almonds. 

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But then I could bake them off.  I wasn’t able to perfectly cover the  berries with the filling and sliced almonds as directed, but it didn’t seem to matter.  And while it will seem ridiculous to admit that I used frozen berries in August (when I live 10 minutes from an organic raspberry pick-your-own operation), I did.  It added about 10-15 minutes to the baking time, but worked out perfectly.

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I took these into work as I couldn’t trust myself around them.  What was the reaction?  The day after I brought them in people were still dropping by my office to tell me how wonderful they were, and others who heard about it and missed out demanded to know why I hadn’t informed them.  I then got some gentle inquiries as to whether I would be planning to do any baking over the three-day weekend. 

Lesson is that raspberry almond tartlets can make you very popular in the office.  But office politics may be complicated if you don’t have enough for all, and you may end up getting some extra “assignments.”   With these delicate considerations, you may just opt to hoard them for yourself.

Modern Baker: Roman Almond and Pine Nut Tart

I thought I would be a much more active participant in this chapter of the Modern Baker Challenge:  Sweet Tarts and Pies.  Certainly more than the prior chapter, Savory Tarts and Pies.  Sugar!  Yet, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, it’s not come to pass.  I like to offload much of my baking at work (sort of as a self-preservation strategy–I don’t trust myself with all those calories around) and considering I walk to the commuter rail and then have to switch to the T (Boston’s name for the subway), taking in pie is a bit of a pain.  And probably would turn to a crumble by the time I get there.   I should just take a cue from Abby and Renee–they’ve been making mini-versions of all the recipes in this chapter (and it’s not like I haven’t done the relatively easy math to figure out how to downsize myself either).  Who knows.

It might seem odd that one of the few tarts I’ve made, then, is the Roman Almond and Pine Nut Tart.  As opposed to say, a rich chocolate tart or a classic and homey apple pie.  But we know I’ll always go for something with an international pedigree.  Especially if it’s Italian.  The combination of Roman and pine nuts brings up memories:  my friend Raffaella, who lives in Rome and whose family has a small vacation home south of the city.  I was lucky enough to be invited to spend a few days there with her and her father one summer when I was visiting, and we sat on the steps of the rear patio in the waning evening snacking on pine nuts we plucked out of cones from the pine trees growing in the backyard.

I still hadn’t really appreciated don’t think most of us usually think of pine nuts as a dessert ingredient–it’s more associated with savory dishes, and in particular pesto.  But if you google a bit, it turns out they have their “sweet side” so to speak–make a cookie rolled it in pine nuts; make a cake or two or three; use it to enhance a crumble, or if you’re still sceptical, try a dessert with chocolate (on the undisputable theory that it’s got to be good if it has chocolate).   Have I, uh, made my point?

But enough about other desserts, and back to the task at hand!   Verdict is I loved this tart as much as I expected to.  The toasted nutty flavors, the sweet crust, the satisfying bite.  While the almond filling is the star player in this tart, the pine nuts play an important role–they provide a nice contrasting texture, as well as dressing it up a little.  (Frankly, this pie is a bit monotone, and a monotone tan at that.  I know looks aren’t everything, but tan isn’t exactly the most exciting of hues).

Probably because the filling is egg and nut based, this bakes up quite firmly, almost like a very moist cake (and very easy to transport to work, where it was well received despite a few questions as to exactly what it was.  Probably those pine nuts, and the fact that I forgot to sprinkle with powdered sugar).  I used canned almond paste (Solo brand, which was on special at Christmas, though you can make your own too) which is an attractive off-white gel with little brown specks in it.  Yes, lovely.  It’s almost pourable, so I didn’t know how it would turn out given that the recipe directs you to “chop” your almond paste.  Fortunately, it turned out perfectly.  As a bonus, I had 4 ounces left over, which is exactly what is needed for the raspberry almond mini-tarts later in this chapter.  That leftover waits to be used in the freezer.  And waits…

One final note–you may have been with me the whole time on this pine-nut-in-sweets concept, but were thinking to yourself, “has she seen how much pine nuts cost lately?”  I know:  $21.00 a pound is the most recent price I saw in the bulk bin.  But despite appearances, the amount of nuts you need isn’t all that much.  But if you’d prefer a substitute, I’d suggest slivered almonds.  They are similar in size to pine nuts (perhaps about twice as long), will clearly harmonize with the almond filling, and still provide the tender, toasty, contrasting bite on top.

Simple Asparagus Tart with Tarragon

I have been (mostly) patiently waiting for asparagus season to begin.  Mainly because it means that spring is here, and after this New England winter it couldn’t come soon enough.  But also because, even though I love asparagus, I don’t like buying it off-season because of the price tag.  (Yes, my pocketbook is my main motivator, even though I try to be “virtuous” about eating what’s in season.  But, well, it gets us to the same place). 

Someday I’d love to have asparagus growing in the backyard:  I’m fascinated by the fact that it can grow up to 4 inches in a day, which is possibly as close to instant gratification as you can get in vegetable gardening.  However, as this would mean my two boys would have severely curtailed room to run around, it’s an ambition unlikely to materialize.  “Sorry kids!  no place to play, but more vegetables!”  I don’t think I could sell that.

And so, even though I am a planner and like to have some endpoint in mind when I buy fresh produce (for fear of it otherwise malingering unused), this weekend the price was right and I nabbed my first bunch of asparagus of 2011.  I was keenly aware that I needed to figure out what to do with it as quickly as possible:  asparagus are a bit like flowers–the stems should be plunged in a glass of water as if they were a bouquet, then kept cold in the fridge.  (The setup gets tall so it can be a little tricky to find room in the fridge; and at least in my case comes perilously close to tipping and flooding the trays, which is all the more reason to use it up ASAP!) 

We celebrated Easter dinner with relatives (we basically tumbled in off the plane back from our trip to Seattle), so the asparagus was scheduled for Monday night dinner.  I ruminated on several classic preparations.  Steamed and served with a sauce, roasted, maybe with a sprinkling of parmesan?  Great side dishes, but not substantial enough for a satisfying dinner.  The daintily named asparagus mimosa?  More of a brunch choice than Monday night dinner (not that I’m above breakfast food for dinner, not me).  Then, in an a-ha moment on the train home, I realized that a spring tart with a simple olive-oil crust would transform my asparagus stalks into a light, but filling, meal.  (Maybe my long commute isn’t time sucked into a void, after all).

Now, I realize that whipping up a tart on the spur of the moment after work doesn’t sound like the brightest idea if you want to eat anytime before 10pm, but by using an olive oil crust I avoided the need for first chilling the dough and then chilling the rolled out crust (one hour minimum).  Mixing whole wheat and white flour together with olive oil added even more flavor and a rustic touch; adding tarragon to the dough celebrated the return of spring by imparting grassy, fresh notes.  And I added Gruyère because, at least for me, everything is better with Gruyère.  (I know this cheese is a bit of an indulgence:  as it’s not a dominant flavor you could swap in other types of Swiss or white cheese).

While there are a few separate steps to this recipe, each is quick and manageable and they coordinate efficiently.  Make the dough and the filling while the asparagus blanches and the oven preheats.  (And by blanche, I don’t really mean you have to bring a huge pot of water to boil.  I add a layer of water to the bottom of a large skillet and then gently simmer the asparagus.  Have no fear of waterlogged asparagus, as any excess moisture will bake out in the dry heat of your oven).  By the time your stalks have just started becoming tender and turned bright green, you’re ready to bring it all together.  Assembly is fun: lining up the prepared stalks up and down across the egg and cream mixture seems too easy to produce such an elegant result.  The savory filling puffs up as it bakes, while the stems nestle deeper into the pillow of custard.

Remember that asparagus can be a little resistant to a regular butter knife, so use a serrated knife and slice in gently when serving to preserve the good looks of your tart from pan to plate.

 You might remember seeing this crust in our “Spanikopitart” here, (inspired by Clotilde’s recipe here).

Asparagus Tart with Tarragon

Crust

  • Generous 2 cups (8.8 ounces or 250 g) flour (use a mixture of whole wheat and white)
  • 1t salt
  • 1t tarragon
  • 1/4c (60mL) olive oil
  • 1/2c (120mL) water

Filling

  • one bunch asparagus
  • 2.5 oz (70g) Gruyère
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c (180mL) half and half, or a mixture of cream and milk (I used a 1/2 c of milk and 1/4c cream)
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Pour about 1/4 of an inch (2.5cm) of water into a skillet and heat over medium high.  Snap the ends off the asparagus (bend the cut ends and there will be a natural point where they break off the main stalk).  Place in the water and bring to a simmer, then adjust the heat to maintain gentle bubbling just below a boil.  When the asparagus starts to get tender (but is not fully cooked) remove from heat and drain.

While the asparagus cooks, stir together the dry ingredients of the crust (including the tarragon), then add the oil and water.  Dump onto a floured work surface, and knead for a moment to bring the dough together.  Form into a disc and then roll it out.  Place the rolled out crust into a 10 or 11 inch (40-45 cm) tart mold.  Set the mold over a baking sheet (this will catch any spills and keep your oven, floor, and workspace cleaner).

Shred the cheese and sprinkle half over the crust.  Stir the milk, eggs, salt, and pepper together, then pour over the cheese, then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.  Arrange the asparagus over the filling.  It will not look completely full but remember it will puff up in the oven.

Bake the tart on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes (but check at 30 minutes).  The filling does not need to be browned to be done; rather remove it when it has set and puffed and it is not jiggling in the middle.  If you test it with a toothpick, it will come out clean, but still oily (from the cheese) and wet.  Again, this does not mean it is underdone (in contrast to a cake).

Enjoy warm, as the custard will deflate as it cools.

Downsized Recipe for Mini-Tarts

I hate throwing food out.  Every week before our trash comes, I go through the fridge figuring out what’s gone bad, and guiltily throw it away. (How much food do most Americans throw away each year?  How many resources were used to grow that food, transport it, package it?  How much money am I wasting?  How many starving children are out there?  etc etc).  I love to stick things in the freezer sure that I’ll get to it later.  (My worst incarnation of this was when we lived in London and I was saving bones for soup stock–my friend Liz referred to our freezer compartment as “the morgue”).  But my good intentions are often no more than that–periodically I have to go through the freezer and toss frosty blocks of things that are, by that point, really old.

Nevertheless, whenever I make pie dough, I always save the scraps.  If I were a more expert roller of pie crust, I’d probably hardly have any trimmings, but I always have some rough-edged, slightly uneven, Pangaea-shaped mass that I’m putting into the pie pan.  I have this hope that I”ll later use the scraps to make a cute little mini-pie or tartlette.  But, I never do, because I’ve never taken the time to figure out the ratios; i.e. how much to reduce the quantity of filling.

Perhaps in a burst of New Years inspiration, I finally did something with the two tartlettes in my freezer.  The dough was six months old.  I know this precisely because it was leftover nut dough from making this (mmmmm).  I decided to keep things simple and make a chocolate ganache filling.  Easy-peasy, (despite the French name) especially since I already had the crust!  I poured my pie weights into the two tart tins, and calculated the volume (two cups, if you are wondering).  I roughly compared this to the volume of filling for a regular-sized pie or tart, and decided that 1/3 a recipe would give me enough for two tarts.  I melted dark chocolate from Santa (or, my father in law) in sweet cream, butter, and sugar, and added a splash of espresso brewed coffee to round out and intensify the chocolate flavor.  I pre-baked the pie crust, poured in the ganache, and allowed it to set until it was soft yet still solid.  And, voila, my husband and I had individual chocolate tarts for our New Year’s Eve meal.  And our New Year’s meal.  Glossy, smooth, rich, elegant–they may be small but they are more than enough for one sitting.  I’m not sure an over-the-top chocolate dessert is the expected conclusion of a post on kitchen thrift, but, then again, why not?  (Don’t mention anything about New Year’s Resolutions to me, on the other hand).

Chocolate Ganache filling (for two 4-inch tartlettes; triple this for a regular-sized tart)

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (about one bar)
  • 1 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • Pre-bake your pie crust.  While it cools, prepare your ganache:  Place chocolate and butter in a medium bowl; set aside.  Combine cream, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves and liquid is just at a simmer, about 4 minutes.   Pour cream mixture over chocolate and butter and let sit until melted, about 4 minutes. Gently stir until smooth.  (If you still have some lumps, you can microwave briefly on very low power.  I’m sure there’s a reason this is verboten, but I had no problems).  Pour ganache into the cooled tart shell and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill until set, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  I think this is best served at room temperature, so that the filling is lighter-tasting and the chocolate flavor more intense.