Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cherry Tarts

Yesterday was a sunny, perfect, spring day.  I dried some washing on the clothes line for the first time, and put my little tomatoes and eggplants outside in the sun.  They'll now be going outside everyday.  I also put a large forcing pot over one of my rhubarb plants - more on that later.

Last night was a going away party for a friend and we had a potluck dinner.  Predictably, I usually bring dessert.  It was nice to have an excuse to make some fancy tarts.

Pie crust recipe written in the back of an old edition of the joy of cooking in my mother's handwriting.

Sometimes I use other pastry recipes - like pâte sucrée, pâte brisée or sourcream pastry, but usually I use Grandma Blanche's 'No Fail' pastry recipe.  I think it is pretty common pastry recipe, so perhaps it's your grandmother's recipe too.  Her recipe calls for 1 lb. of lard, but I use butter instead.  I have made the recipe successfully with lard as well, which makes for a much flakier pastry, or half lard and half butter.  I like butter pastry best.

This recipe makes enough for 2 generous two-crust pies. Start with your dry ingredients in a large bowl:
5 cups of all purpose flour
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of salt (or use salted butter)
Mix with a fork.

Then add 1 lb. of  cold butter. You need to cut the butter into small (1cm) pieces with a sharp knife, and then cut it into the flour with a pastry blender. If you don't have a pastry blender, or if you want to save time, grate the butter into the flour with a cheese grater using the large holes.  This is a trick I picked up when I was working at a tea room where I had to make large quantities of pastry everyday.

If you grate the butter, you do not need to cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender.  The pieces of butter are already small enough - just mix to incorporate with your hands.  You might want to break apart any large chunks, but leave the butter in pea-sized pieces.  The pieces of butter will melt when your pastry is baking, creating airholes and a flaky pastry.

It should look chunky like this.

Next, add your wet ingredients.  In a measuring cup, place:
1 beaten egg
1 tablespoon vinegar (or just a splodge, don't ask why, but the acidity helps balance the pastry)
1 cup cold water (if the weather is hot, you can add ice cubes to make it very cold)

Add the wet ingredients to the flour, but do not add it all at once.  Depending on the humidity of the air, you will need more or less liquid.  Use your hands to incorporate, adding just enough liquid to moisten the flour, but not as much liquid as to make the pastry sticky. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour. When it starts to come together, knead the pastry in the bowl to create a smooth dough.  The key is not to handle it too much, making the pastry tough.

Divide dough in half, or quarters with a knife and flatten into discs.  Wrap in wax paper and put it in the refrigerator to rest, and chill about 1 hour.

For these cherry tarts, I used 2 quart jars of the cherries I canned last summer.  To use fresh cherries, I would have to wait until July!  To use canned cherries, I strained off all the liquid (I'll save this an make jello - yum). To use frozen cherries, allow to thaw completely, and strain off liquid.

Since the canned cherries were already sweetened, I did not add sugar, but I added 6 tablespoons of flour per quart of fruit, and 1 teaspoon of almond extract. Mix well to coat fruit with flour.  The flour will help thicken the fruit juice. If the cherries were fresh or frozen, I would add approximately the same quantity of sugar as flour.

Next, I rolled out the dough and cut it into 4-inch rounds.  Then I fitted the rounds into 3-inch fluted tart tins and filled each tart shell with the cherry mixture. Since the tart tins I have are various sizes, some shallow, some deep, I eyeball the amount.  Some of the tins are really quite old - they belonged to my great grandmother - but they're excellent tins.  Better than new.

Then I cut out oak leaves to place on the top of each tart.  Any shaped pastry will do, or you could choose to put on a full top, like miniature pies, but that is much more fiddly.  I scored each leaf with a knife, to make them look pretty. 

Ready to go into the oven.  The cherries will plump up as they bake.  Canned cherries always look a little deflated.

Bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes (this will crisp the pastry, allowing it to hold its shape).  Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown, and fruit is beginning to bubble.

Once done, remove from oven.  Allow to cool slightly.  If you want to remove the tarts from their tins, it is easiest done while they are hot, but be careful not to burn yourself! (I have given myself severe fingertip burns from molten butter tart filling).  With the help of a butter knife, gently and ginerly, lift tarts from tins.  Cool on a rack.

I like to sprinkle them with a bit of white sugar. 

Share with friends, or eat every single tart yourself.  If you don't tell anyone, no one will know.


  1. these look incedibly tasty thea, i'm going to give it a go in the summer me thinks :)

  2. These were so very tasty, Thea! Thank you for sharing the recipe.

  3. Thanks Francie and Liz!

    We should try a Beehive pastry 101 workshop perhaps.

  4. So pretty! I appreciate the tip about grating the butter! I don't have a pastry blender, so cutting butter into flour is always a major pain in the derriere for me (I use a knife, it's a drag).

  5. I have a book JUST LIKE THAT from my mother! Aren't those recipes just the greatest?