November 30, 2008

Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart

I spent this Thanksgiving in Washington D.C. with my boyfriend and his family.  They asked me what I'd like to cook and since I'm much more confident in my baking skills, I decided I wanted to make a dessert.  I also think I just like baking better because the finished product is always so much prettier if things go as planned... 

Anyway, for days (literally) I was trying to decide what I should make.  I wanted to try something new but I didn't want to go out on a limb and try something that might be horrible. Also, I really didn't want it to go wrong and look like a bad cook, so needless to say it was difficult to choose.  I had been thinking about the Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart listed on smittenkitchen because it looked so festive and had gotten such great reviews by both Deb and The Wednesday Chef, two people I trust for cooking reviews.  But I was worried about the shrinking crust (something they both also mentioned).  I didn't really want to risk it coming out terribly (although even with the shrunken crust Deb's looked pretty delicious) so I looked and looked for other possible recipes.  

Truthfully though nothing else seemed as fitting and someone was already bringing apple pie and my boyfriend's sister was making pumpkin, so that left two major Thanksgiving food groups off limits for me.  But then- then I saw this post and was a little bit too excited because it seemed to be the answer to and end of my Thanksgiving dessert pondering.  

So I made the crust a day ahead and it was SO crumbly.  I did everything the recipe said and even used frozen butter to make sure it was cold enough, but I didn't get any oatmeal or pea sized flakes before the egg was added, or clumps and curds after.  When I turned the dough out on the counter to ball it together before I stuck it in the fridge it would hardly hold its shape.  It just crumbled everywhere and would not stick together.  So I was nervous and confused about what had gone wrong but was hoping overnight in the fridge might solve the problem. Unfortunately it didn't really. 

I took the dough out and attempted to work with it right out of the fridge but it was a rock.  I tried to warm it some in my hands and mash it a little but it just crumbled and crumbled.  I let it get warm for a while, attempted to work with it again and was slightly more successful.  I ended up doing a combination of smushing it with my hands and rolling it out between wax paper and eventually it started working.  But then it was a mess flipping it into the tart pan and I was pushing parts that fell off into the pan with my fingers.  Finally after all that it ended up working but not looking too pretty.  Then when I pre-baked it, some of the dough stuck to the buttery foil (which I had made sure to extra buttery in order to avoid such a situation) it cooked under but the uneven parts were covered with filling later so it didn't really matter.

The filling was pretty easy, except I tried to stir the sugar too early and it ended up forming some hard clumps, luckily they melted once the caramel heated through.  Also pouring the butter and cream mixture into the caramel was a bit messy and the caramel ended up hardening some because the butter and cream had cooled.  I put it back on the heat and after some careful stirring with my caramelized utensils things turned out alright.

                 Un-baked Tart

It ended up looking beautiful out of the oven (see first picture) and while I wasn't blown away by the taste the first time I tried it (thought it was too nutty) other people at Thanksgiving seemed to really enjoy it.  I had another piece a couple days later and definitely appreciated it more.  The caramel was really tasty, sweet, and sticky.  The almonds were slightly crunchy, the crust was buttery and the cranberries burst in your mouth.  All in all I think it turned out to be a pretty successful endeavor. 

Sweet Tart Shell
Dorie Greenspan via smittenkitchen

Makes enough for one 9-inch tart crust*  I used a 10 inch pan and it worked fine too

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk


1. Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. (You’re looking for some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.) Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change–heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic, for about 2 hours before rolling.

2. To roll the dough: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. (Alternately, you can roll this out between two pieces of plastic, though flour the dough a bit anyway.) Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork.

Alternately, you can press the dough in as soon as it is processed: Press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the tart shell. You want to press hard enough that the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that it loses its crumbly texture.

3. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

4. To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. And here is the very best part: Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes.

5. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust about 10 minutes longer, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature, and proceed with the rest of your recipe.

Do ahead: The dough can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, the flavor will be fresher bake it directly from the freezer, already rolled out.

Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart
Maury Rubin, chef and owner of City Bakery via smittenkitchen

Filling and assembly

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cup frozen cranberries
2 cups unblanched sliced almonds (I used blanched by mistake)


1. Measure the cream and butter into a saucepan and heat it over low heat. When the butter has melted completely, remove from heat.

2. To make the caramel, spread the sugar evenly in a perfectly dry, deep 10-inch skillet and place it over medium-low heat.

3. The sugar should turn straw-colored, then gold and then a nutty-brown caramel after about 10 minutes. If the sugar cooks unevenly, gently tilt or swirl the pan to evenly distribute the sugar. Remove from heat and slowly whisk the cream and butter into the sugar, which can splatter as the cream is added (long sleeves are a good precaution). If the caramel seizes, return it to the heat and continue to stir until it is smooth and creamy. Strain the caramel into a bowl and cool it for 30 minutes.

4. Stir the frozen cranberries and the almonds into the caramel and mix until all the fruit and nuts are coated. Spoon the filling into the partially baked tart dough mounding toward the center.

5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the juices and the caramel are bubbling slowly around the edges. Remove from the oven and let stand for 1 hour, then gently lift the tart ring off the pastry.

6. Carefully transfer the tart to a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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