June is the perfect month for ‘National Cherry Tart Day’. Cherries are ripe and ready for picking, at least in California! Cherries are delicious to eat out of hand and are also delicious in whatever dish you decide to incorporate them into. The three main varieties of Cherries available in Southern California are Bing (the sweetest), Mt. Rainer (also sweet) and Queen Anne (in recent years not so easy to find) which are a tart cherry that is perfect for making pies or jams and jellies.
To make a Cherry Tart you will need several components, namely a base for your tart, a custard filling and your cherries. Let’s start with the base. You can use a standard pie crust or a sweet tart crust which is perfect for tarts, large and small. The tart crust will consist of flour, sugar, salt butter, eggs and water and vanilla.
The next component would be the custard filling which consists of eggs, milk, sugar, butter and again vanilla or better yet, almond extract which will enhance the flavor of the cherries. Almonds, Cherries, Peaches and Nectarines all have similar enzymes which contribute to the flavor of the fruit. Adding Almond Extract to Cherry, Peach or Nectarine pastries will enhance the flavor of those fruits.
Lastly, you will need the Cherries. For my Cherry Tart, I used sweet Bing Cherries. First place the Cherries in a colander and rinse the under cold water. Shake out as much of the water as possible and then put them in a bowl that has been lined with paper towels or a clean dish towel. Set the Cherries aside while you prepare the other components.
The first component that you want to prepare would be the Tart Crust as it is easier to roll when it is chilled. For the complete recipe please see the recipe section of this blog. sweet-tart-and-pie-pastry/ Once your tart crust has been prepared, flatten it to disc about 1” thick, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the Custard for the filling.
For the Custard filling, please see the recipe section of this blog. pastry-cream/ When you have finished cooking the Custard, place it in a bowl; let stand until it stops steaming and then cover with plastic wrap, being sure to place the plastic wrap directly on top of the Custard. This will insure that a skin does not form on top of the Custard. Refrigerate the Custard until you are ready to prepare the tarts.
The next step would be to roll out and bake the Tart Shell. If you are making a large tart (8 or 9”) you can roll out the dough in one piece. Be sure and lightly dust your rolling surface with flour. Flatten the Dough into a round disc and roll out to approximately ¼”, using a stockinette covered rolling pin. You can rub flour into the stockinette which will prevent the rolling pin from sticking to the dough, without adding additional flour to your dough which would toughen it.
If you are going to make individual tarts, divide the dough into several sections, depending on the size of your tart pans. In the photo below, the pan I am using has 12 tiny tart indentations. The dough should have been divided into 12 pieces. In the case of the tiny tarts, you can just flatten the dough and then minimally roll it out to fit the pan. Once you have fitted the dough into the pan, take your rolling pin and run it around the rim of the pan to cut off the excess dough. Many tart pans come with removable bottoms which makes it easier to remove the tart from the pan, especially in the case of the larger tart. With the smaller tart, you can easily lift the baked crust right out of the pan.
To bake the crusts, first poke holes in the bottom with the tines of a fork and then place a piece of foil into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place some pie weights on top of the foil. Pie weights can be aluminum weights that you buy in your local culinary shop or dried beans that you keep just for this purpose. Once the beans are used for weights they can no longer be cooked.
Bake the Crust at 325 F. with the weights for about 15 minutes. Then remove the weights (you can easily lift out the foil as it doesn’t get too hot – and then just dump the weight back into their container.
Brush the Crusts with an Egg Yolk beaten with a little cream of milk and then return to the oven until they are a light golden brown – about 10 more minutes.
Remove the baked crusts from the oven and once they are cool enough to handle place them on a serving plate. This would be for the individual ones. If you are making a large tart, remove the sides of the pan but leave the crust on the bottom or if you can easily remove it without breaking it, place it on a serving plate.
While the crusts are baking, you can finish preparing the Cherries. You can use the Cherries uncooked, but cooking them slightly, brings out the flavor and add a natural syrup to them which coats them and preserves them. The first thing you have to do though is to remove the pits. There are several ways to do this. The easiest is to use a Cherry Pitter that will remove the pits from multiple Cherries for you. If you don’t have this type of Cherry Pitter, then you can use one that remove the pits, one Cherry at a time. Barring that, you can do what we used to do when I was small and that was to use a large tapestry needle to remove the pits individually from each Cherry. That was always my job after we had gone Cherry Picking and my Mother made Jams, Jellies and Pies. Today, though if you have the proper tools, it is much easier to do.
Heat a sauté pan and add about half cup of wine (I used Marsala but you can also use Madeira, Burgundy or even Kirsch, which is a Cherry Liquer. Bring the liquid to a simmer and then add the Cherries. Cook until the Cherries release their liquid and continue cooking until the liquid becomes syrupy. This will take from 5 – 10 minutes but no longer. Transfer the Cherries to a shallow bowl and allow to cool.
Place the Custard in the bottom of the Tart(s) and then add the Cherries to the top. Refrigerate until ready to serve. In the case of small tarts, one per person (depending on the size) should be sufficient for each person. The Tiny Tarts pictured would be perfect for a Dessert Buffet which would allow each person to sample several desserts without becoming too overloaded with sugar.
Try this version of Cherry Tarts or try creating your own. Whichever you do, you should enjoy making them and your family and/or friends will enjoy eating them!
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