Saturday, February 11, 2012
I remember going to a pastry shop with my mom near where my grandmother lived when I was little. The shop was filled with intricate confections, pastries and various torts and cakes. I remember always running to the glass counter to look at a tort called "plolyanka," which means a meadow. It had tiny buttercream flowers and leaflets and mushrooms made of marzipan and raisin paste. As a child I was enamored with these handmade representations, which were also miniature, edible, and sweet. The pastry shop also had beautiful tartlets with custard filling and fresh berries on top, called korzynochki which translates roughly to diminutive handbaskets (as in, a handbasket you would carry to go berry picking). These were my favorite.
This experience repeated itself when I was an adult on a trip to Paris, where everywhere I turned there was a small pastry shop with outside tables and rows of beautiful berry tartelettes peeking behind the glass window display.
Despite of what a reader might think, I don’t actually like to eat sweets often. In fact, most of the time I prefer pickles to things like chocolate (maybe it’s the Ukrainian in me). When I do have desserts, I don’t like them overly sweet. This is one of the reasons why I also love sour cherries. I will eat them fresh with no sugar as if they were candy. Nevertheless, I remain captivated by beautiful desserts. I enjoy making them, and let others eat them, and I also love capturing them in a photograph.
For this recipe, I decided to combine two of my favorite dessert items: tartlets with a sour cherry filling, low on sugar.
The pastry is a regular short crust pastry with just a hint of sweetness. The trick is not to overdo the dough, as it can easily become too tough to work with. It also helps to have the butter and water be quite chilled. The dough itself is quick to make, as you combine flour, sugar and salt and then rub small pieces of butter into it to form a crumbly texture, then adding a few tablespoons of ice water to form the dough. I usually slice the butter into small pieces and then put it into the freezer for a few minutes to firm before working it into the flour.
To blend the butter completely into the flour, take a piece of the dough, form it into a ball and smear it in a quick motion across a cutting board or a piece of wax paper with the heel of your hand, repeating with the remaining pieces.
For this recipe I use whole wheat pastry flour. If unavailable, you can use all-purpose flour, but use 8 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp shortening instead of all butter like this recipe calls for, otherwise the crust may come out too brittle. I also partially pre-bake the shells before filling them and baking them again with the filling, so that the shells do not get soggy from the filling.
For these tartlets I use molds with removable bottoms, as i find them easiest to work with when separating the molds from the shells. To remove the molds, place the bottom of the tartlet inside the mold on top of a shot glass.
Then very gently press down around the sides of the mold. It should drop down easily.
Then slide the tartlet from the mold bottom to cool on a wire rack.
I used agave syrup to sweeten the filling instead of sugar. It cuts down on the tartness of the cherries, while still preserving their flavor without being overpowered by too much sweetness. The filling does not come out sour, mind you, just sweet enough. If you prefer yours sweeter, you can always use dark, sweet cherries rather than sour cherries. As always, feel free to adjust to your own taste.
Sour Cherry Tartles
(Makes 8 tartlets)
You will need:
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for dusting
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
10 tbsp butter
3-5 tbsp ice-cold water, plus more if needed
8 tartlet molds with removable bottoms (about 2 1/2 inch diameter)
2 lb pitted sour cherries, or two 14.5 oz cans of same (no sugar or other additives), drained
1/2 cup agave syrup
3 tbsp corn starch
Make the dough:
1. Whisk flour, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Slice butter into 1/4 inch cubes and add to the flour mixture. Working quickly with your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture, breaking the butter into smaller pieces until the entire mixture has a sandy, crumbling texture (similar to granola). Add 3 tbsp of water to the mixture and mix swiftly with your fingers. The dough will begin to stick together. Add 1-2 tbsp more water, until you can form the dough into a ball (if the dough is too sticky, add a sprinkle of flour; if it flakes, add a few more drops of water).
2. Separate the dough into 3-4 pieces and form each into a ball. Taking each in turn, place on dusted wax paper and, with the heel of your hand, press down and smear the dough across the wax paper. This process blends the butter into the flour. Repeat with remaining dough, then form it back into one piece. Place in a bowl, dust with flour, cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
Pre-bake the shells:
3. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Butter each tartlet mold. On a dusted counter or wax paper, with a dusted rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 13 inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. With a cookie cutter slightly larger than the diameter of the molds, cut out the dough into about 8 rounds (you can also use an inverted glass). Place each round inside the mold, pressing it to conform to its shape. Fold in any dough remaining over the top and press it into the sides. Roll the rolling pin over each mold to flatten the tops.
4. Place the shells on a baking sheet, and in order to prevent the sides from shrinking and the bottom from bulging, line each shell with foil (additionally, you can weigh them down with baking beans). Bake the shells for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the foil, and prick the bottom of each shell with a fork to prevent it from rising. Replace the foil and bake 2-3 minutes more, until the sides start to separate from the mold slightly and the shells begin to change color. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Make the filling and bake the tartlets:
5. To make the filling, whisk together agave syrup and corn starch in a bowl, add the cherries and toss until combined. Spoon the filling evenly into the pre-baked tartlet shells. Bake at 375ºF for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then remove the molds. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.