June is here at last and in Northern California that means cherry season is in full swing. I live for this time of year, when I can eat my fill of the sweet, juicy fruit that defines spring in my mind.
Already I’ve seen Brooks, Burlats and the occasional Royal Ann at the farmers market. The glorious, winey Bings that I cherish are ripening in the orchards that still line the rural roads of Brentwood in Contra Costa County. We’ll be heading that way later this week to pick our own, which always taste so much better.
The Bings will be terrific in this new tart recipe I’ve developed. But the Brooks and Burlats have been exceptionally good, too. And sour cherries should work well if you boost the sugar in the custard a bit.
The tart’s crust is essentially a big almond cookie, the filling a clafouti-style custard studded with plump jewels of cherries. It comes together fairly quickly. You pulse raw almonds in a food processor until fairly fine, then whirl together the remaining ingredients for the crust before patting it into a tart tin and prebaking. Dot the shell with cherries, stir together a simple custard to pour among the fruit, and bake.
Pitting the cherries is the biggest issue for many cooks. Unlike the French, Americans aren’t prepared for pits in their desserts. That’s a shame, at least from the cook’s point of view, but removing the pits was a snap after I found this video at gourmet.com. The web site thankfully lives on even though the magazine died last fall.
The secret tool is a large paperclip, unbent to produce two U-shaped ends. You remove the stem, poke one of the ends of the paperclip in the hole and rotate it to find the pit and remove it. After a few tries, it became second nature and I quickly had the couple dozen cherries or so that I needed for the tart.
Anybody can eat cherries out of hand and I do love to devour them that way with the sweet juice dribbling down my chin. But this little trick makes it easier than ever to turn a bowlful of cherries into a memorable dessert, too.
Makes one 9-inch tart
½ cup raw almonds
3 tablespoons brown sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, divided use
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
2 eggs, divided use
24-30 sweet cherries, pitted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
To make the crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Pulse almonds in a food processor just until finally ground. Add brown sugar, ¾ cup of the flour and salt to the work bowl and whirl a couple of seconds, until well blended. Cut butter into about 12 pieces, add to work bowl and pulse until mixture begins to look like coarse meal. Do not over-process. Beat 1 egg well in a small bowl. With motor running, pour egg down the feed tube and process until mixture begins to come together in a ball. Turn the dough into a fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and pat it evenly into the bottom and up the sides, using floured fingers if necessary. You may also chill the dough in the refrigerator for a few minutes if it’s too sticky to handle easily.
Place tart pan on a baking sheet, line loosely with parchment paper, and fill with dried beans or rice to weight it down. (I use a pound of dried beans that I reuse over and over.) Blind bake for 20 minutes, then remove paper and weights and bake for 15 minutes more, until it begins to turn a light golden brown. Remove baking sheet and pan from oven and let cool. This can be done up to a day in advance.
To make the filling: Raise oven temperature to 350 degrees while you arrange the cherries on the bottom of the crust. In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour. Add egg and whisk until the custard batter is shiny and all the flour has been incorporated. Stir in cream and whisk again until batter is smooth.
Carefully pour filling among cherries, trying not to cover the fruit. Depending on the size of the cherries, you may not be able to use all of the filling. If the filling threatens to overflow the pan, pull lower rack about halfway out of oven and place baking sheet and tart pan rack before pouring in the last possible drops of batter. Push in rack, close oven door, and bake for about 45 minutes, until the top turns a light golden brown. (Any leftover batter can be baked off in a custard cup at the same time.)
Remove tart and let cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature. Although the tart will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, it’s best on the day it’s baked.