Monday, July 28, 2008

Cherry tarts

I bought an enormous container of cherries from Whole Foods because they looked so beautiful. I have never seen a box of cherries for sale with the leaves still attached to the stems and it totally worked on me as a marketing ploy. I brought them to my friend Rachel's house and we quickly discovered that they were sour cherries (turns out they were clearly labeled as such right there on the box but I was so taken by the pretty factor that I overlooked it). So here I am with an enormous quantity of sour cherries. The only sensible thing to do is to make tarts. Last year I had a lot of success with various savory tarts made with puff pastry so I decided to experiment with my cherries in a dessert direction.

First off, I did a lot of pitting. I got sort of bored with it, actually. I ended up pitting about 3/4 of my enormous quantity of cherries and then simply de-stemmed the remainder and froze them in a ziploc for when I could further handle the pressure of all cherries, all the time. The process of pitting did nothing to remedy the sourness however, so I macerated them in 4 tablespoons of sugar and just a teeny dash of almond extract.
As anyone will tell you, I don't really care for super-sweet desserts, so maybe you will find your sour cherries need more sweetening to suit your taste. For puff pastry I just used the Pepperidge Farm kind--it comes frozen in the grocery store and has two sheets. I also got a small container of mascarpone cheese for the base of the tart; unlike the savory versions I have made in the past, this was sweetened by mixing it with 2 tablespoons sugar and a dash of vanilla extract. To actually make the tart, I cut one sheet of pastry into a wonky looking circle. Next I mixed half my container of mascarpone cheese with the sugar and vanilla and spread it all over the middle of my pastry circle. Then I topped the cheese base with about half of my macerated cherries and proceeded to pinch the sides up and around to form an open-faced tart. I transferred it to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet (very important for cleanup as the cherries will ooze sugary goo while they bake which will never ever come off a pan) and baked at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until nicely browned on top. This was greeted as a success by Jeremy and Melanie, but they might have been lightly tipsy. The next day, I still had a lot of cherries leftover, not to mention half a container of mascarpone cheese and one more sheet of puff pastry, so it only made sense to make the same thing for dessert with Ryan and Betsy. Except it wasn't exactly the same thing; this time I made 4 little individual tarts out of the sheet of pastry. I sweetened the leftover half of my container of mascarpone with honey instead of sugar for a change as well. From here it was sort of the same thing--I cut out 4 wonky little circles and topped them with the cheese base. Then the cherries, which were even more delicious as they had enjoyed an extra day of maceration in the sugar. I pinched the tarts up, took a look at them and decided they should now be cherry-almond tarts, so I chopped a handful of almonds to top them with. By the way, when you are trying to chop something like nuts or olives or anything that requires an even distribution among separate entities (like tarts!), a good strategy to ensure equal quantities is to first chop, then divide into little piles with your knife. These little tarts looked beautifully rustic and were perfectly delicious.

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