Cranberries, those cheery, red harbingers of fall, are a boon to pastry chefs and bakers all across the country this time of year. Their color is a swath of brilliance against the browns and creams of the pastry kitchen, and their tart, vibrant flavor enlivens and contrasts with the sweet fruits, earthy nuts, and silken chocolates of fall.
Cranberries are a perfect partner to apples, pears and quince, and are equally at home with chocolate. And while white chocolate may seem a natural dance partner, soft and sweet against the acidic fruit, dark chocolate may come as a surprise. The first time I heard of bittersweet chocolate and cranberries, I cringed at the combination. How could bitter and tart blend harmoniously? But a taste of them together was all I needed to convince me of their beautiful compatibility. The key to desserts with cranberries is a gentle play of acidic against sweet. Their presence livens up what might be a lovable, yet expected dessert. For instance, apple crisp is a bit more fun with some cranberries thrown in, and apple pie is all the better with a bright bit of red tucked here and there. Chocolate and cranberry mousses layered together are not just visually striking, but also deeply vibrant on the tongue. There’s no better time than now to include cranberries in dessert, for as we enjoy the richer, heartier foods we crave in cold weather, it’s nice to follow them up with a bright punch of flavor. And cranberries give it the old one-two finish.
Cranberries are a new-world fruit, enjoyed by Native Americans long before the pilgrims arrived. They are grown on great bogs in the northeast, floating like giant red rafts, then scooped off the surface for harvest. They are sturdy and keep well in the refrigerator for a month or two (and nearly forever in the freezer), so I always buy an extra bag or two at the market. And while their fresh presence is what I crave right now, the dried version is a wonderful trick to have up the baker’s sleeve, for their clean flavor is a welcome addition to cookie doughs (I love them in oatmeal cookies), sweet yeast breads, muffins and scones, even cake batters. Today, though, I’d like to offer you a tart full of fresh cranberries, topped by a sweet crumble mixture. Served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting alongside, it’s just the ticket for a night by the fire. Don’t you just love fall?
More Cranberries Mean Fall ideas and recipes follow after the jump
Warm Cranberry Crumble Tart
Makes 1 (9- or 9½-inch) tart, serving 8 to 10
When the crisp fall air brings fresh cranberries to market, this tart will celebrate the season. Dressy enough for company, comforting enough for a night in front of the fire, it should be served warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside. The sweet crumble topping is a fine partner to the tart cranberries within. If you’d like to add a little more crunch, stir ¹⁄³ cup coarsely chopped nuts into the crumble topping (walnuts and almonds would be especially good).
Equipment: 9- or 9½-inch Fluted Tart Pan with a Removable Bottom, Kitchen Scissors, Pie Weights, Cooling Rack, Chef’s Knife or Food Processor Fitted with a Metal Blade, Medium Bowl, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Stand Mixer Fitted with a Paddle Attachment or a Pastry Blender, Large Metal Spatula (Optional)
- 1 recipe Flaky Pie or Tart Dough (Please see previous blog posting here), prepared through Step 7
- 1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (5¼ ounces) sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- Vanilla ice cream, for serving
- Trim and finish the tart dough: Use the scissors to trim the dough so it overhangs the edge of the tart pan by 1 inch. Moisten the inside wall of dough with your finger dipped in cool water. Fold the overhanging dough inward to form a sturdy double-layered edge. Press firmly with your thumbs to fuse the two layers of dough, then roll your thumb over the rim of the tart to remove any excess dough there. Chill while the oven preheats.
- Bake the shell: Preheat the oven to 375°F and position an oven rack in the lower third. Line the chilled tart shell with heavy-duty foil, pressing the foil firmly and smoothly into the crevices of the pan. Fill the pan with pie weights. Make sure the weights reach up the sides to the rim of the pan (the center does not need to be filled quite as full). Bake the shell for 20 to 22 minutes, until the foil comes away from the dough easily (if it doesn’t, bake another 5 to 6 minutes and check again). Remove the pan from the oven (hold the pan by the sides and not the bottom), close the oven door, and lift out the foil and weights from the shell; set them aside to cool. Return the pan to the oven to continue baking the shell for about 10 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven, close the oven door, and check to see if any cracks have formed. If you see a crack, very gently smear a tiny bit of reserved dough over the crack to patch it (page 171)—you need only enough to seal the opening. Return the pan to the oven and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the crust is a nice golden brown all over. Transfer to a rack and cool completely.
- Mix the filling: Coarsely chop half of the cranberries by hand with a chef’s knife or with a few pulses in the bowl of the food processor. In the medium bowl, combine the chopped cranberries, whole cranberries, sugar, orange zest, flour, and cinnamon and stir to blend well. Use a silicone or rubber spatula to scrape the filling into the cooled tart shell.
- Mix the topping: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the cold butter and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture begins to form clumps the size of small peas (some will still look a little sandy, which is fine). This step may also be done by hand in the cleaned medium bowl, pinching the butter between your fingers, or cutting it with a pastry blender, until small clumps form. Cover the filling evenly with the topping.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake the tart for 40 minutes, until the fruit is soft and bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack, making sure you hold the pan by the sides and not the bottom (remember, it’s a two-piece pan and can come apart!). Cool for 20 minutes before serving. Or, cool completely, then reheat just before serving.
- Place the tart pan on top of a large can from your pantry (the 28-ounce tomato cans are good) so that the bottom balances midair as the rim falls to the counter. Use the large metal spatula to transfer the tart to a serving plate or simply leave the bottom of the tart pan under the tart for support. Slice the tart with a thin, sharp knife and serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.
Storing: The tart keeps for 1 day at room temperature. For longer storage, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Allow 1 hour for the tart to come to room temperature, or reheat in a 350°F oven for 12 to 15 minutes.
Tools of the Trade:
- Shun Elite Ken Onion 8" Chef’s Knife
- Pastry Blender
- Things Cooks Love Kitchen Shears
- Pie Baking Helpers
- OXO® Pastry Brushes with Natural Boar Bristles
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.