Sunday, July 10, 2011
Sour Cherry Tart
When I see a fruit pie, even a home-made one, I must shamefully admit that my first reaction isn't generally excitement or anticipation. It's a small twinge of disappointment -- Why did you do that to perfectly good fruit? I feel like the old woman, looking at her granddaughter's new eyebrow ring, who wistfully tells her that you had such a pretty face. I know, I'm so much fun, right? But summer fruit, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, is so lovely. And most pies just don't do it justice.
Pies faults are usually small, but they do add up. Crusts are tough, cardboardy, a vehicle that's often pushed aside (especially after a stint in the refrigerator). Fillings are over-set into a sludgy gel, where the starch overwhelms the fruit. And the fruit itself can be over- or under-cooked, with dull, un-summery flavors. It's no wonder that I used the think I didn't like pie.
But as it turns out, I do like pie. I like it a whole lot. It just has to be made well. Which, thankfully, isn't all that hard. Make your own crust, and make it with butter and a light hand (or, instead go with a nice pre-made all-butter puff pastry). Give your fruit just a little bit of sweetness and thickener, and let the flavor shine through. The fruit isn't the same as fresh -- cooked fruit is sort of a different animal -- but if done well, it can be something better.
Yesterday I picked a whole mess of sour cherries from a neighbor's tree (with a good amount of help), in exchange for a jar of the jam I was making. We ended up with 5 lbs or so, which would make a whole lot of preserves. So I jammed up half of them, and reserved the other half for this tart. I mixed up a batch of my favorite fail-safe crust recipe (swapping in a little whole wheat flour, as is my wont), and layered it with just a bit of ground almonds and sugar to add a subtle nutty, goo-absorbing layer to the bottom. Then I tossed the cherries with nothing more than sugar and tapioca starch (my favorite pie thickener) and a few dots of butter to keep things lovely, then topped the whole affair with a bit of lattice and an overly-generous sanding of coarse sugar. The result is amazing. The cherries aren't so much sour as just flavorful, more punchy than puckery. They soften in the oven, their juices mixing with the starch to become a syrupy filling. The crust isn't an afterthought at all, but a flaky, delicate pastry that complements the soft fruit, with the coarse sugar as a delightfully crunchy counterpoint. I realize that my description is a bit over-the-top and swoony, but really, it's totally warranted. This is pie as it's meant to be.
Sour Cherry Tart
filling adapted from several sources, including The New York Times, though I recommend this crust instead
1 double crust, unbaked (I made a 3/4 batch of this excellent recipe, then used 2/3 for the bottom crust and 1/3 for the lattice, which worked perfectly for a loose lattice)
1/2 +2 Tbsp sugar, divided
1/4 cup ground almonds
2 lbs pitted sour cherries (~5 cups)
3 Tbsp tapioca starch
1 Tbsp butter, cut into bits
1 egg, beaten with a bit of water or cream
coarse sugar for sprinkling
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the 2 Tbsp of sugar with the ground almonds, and set aside. Toss together the cherries. remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and tapioca starch, and set aside.
Roll out the bottom crust and place it in the tart pan, crimping the edges. Roll out and cut strips for the lattice. Sprinkle the almond-sugar mixture evenly over the bottom, then give the cherries a stir and pour them on top, dotting with the butter. Weave your lattice strips gently over the cherries, tucking the ends in against the crust wall. Brush the lattice strips and crust with the egg wash, and sprinkle generously with the coarse sugar (this is a fairly tart pie, so be ridiculously generous to have lots of crunchy sugar to offset). Place in the oven, and bake until the crust is well browned and the juices are bubbling and thickening, ~1 hour (start checking before that). Allow to cool for 2 hours before cutting and devouring. If there are any leftovers, leave them, covered, at room temperature for up to a day or so.