Peachy Cranberry Christmas Tart
Remember our tiny cranberry harvest? Back in October, this was the full extent of what we picked:
According to the news, 2013 was an absolute bumper year for the Massachusetts cranberry harvest. While that may be true, our own cranberry plot is only a couple years old, so we don't have much to show for it just yet. Like blueberries, cranberries take several years to get established, so we should be pleased with our small handful (1/3 cup, to be exact) that has come in ahead of schedule.
But what do you do with only 1/3 cup of cranberries? That's definitely a garnish-only amount, but we like to make sure that we celebrate each crop we harvest by making something special out of it (at least with the first picking--7 zillion tomatoes later doesn't feel quite so special by late September).
So after some time spent flipping through cookbooks, I happened upon a Martha Stewart recipe for a peach tart with cranberry glaze. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of cranberries and fresh peaches, so I ended up modifying it quite a bit to suit our particular fruit harvest. Below is my (very different) version, though I definitely need to credit Lady Martha with the original idea for the peach-cranberry flavor combo.
Peachy Cranberry Christmas Tart
For the shell:
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tablespoons shortening
1 stick butter
1/4 cup very cold water (I keep mine in the freezer while I work on the rest of the dough)
For the filling:
1 quart jar canned peach halves (ours were canned at their absolute best, so they pretty much taste like sunshine--can't vouch for how this will turn out with something from the grocery store)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon granulated brown sugar
1/3 cup cranberries
2/3 cup light honey-rose syrup (more on this later, but plain simple syrup would work too)
1 package unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1. Chill your water in the freezer as suggested above while you make the dough. Put the flour and salt in the Cuisinart, then cut up your cold shortening and butter into small pieces and add to the dry ingredients:
(I know I've mentioned before what a major upgrade this has been, but it can't be overstated. Pie and tart crusts take just a few minutes now, so if you're in the market, I high recommend the Cuisinart Pro Custom 11".)
Anyway, pulse the dough 10-20 times until it looks like a coarse meal, and then run it on pulse while you slowly drizzle the cold water into the top of the food processor. It'll start to hold together and make a thumping sound, at which point you turn the dough out onto some wax paper:
Press it into a flat disc, cover it, and chill in the fridge for an hour or so.
2. Once it's good and cold, roll the dough out into circle big enough to line a 10-inch tart pan. This is much easier on a cold surface:
If your grandmother's family owned a Depression-era restaurant in Slatington, PA, you already know that a slate board is the very best for this task, and have already been supplied an heirloom-quality one. If not, maybe try this?
Anyway, I think it's easiest to use a bench scraper to gently lift the dough of of the board, then roll it around your rolling pin to transfer it to the pan:
You can see that I had to make a few patches after I trimmed the extra dough around the edges. You can't see them once it's filled, so no problem. Pinch the edges with your fingers for prettiness.
Put the whole pan back in the fridge while you deal with the peaches.
3. Open the peaches and drain the halves--gently! They are soft and can fall part, which will make your tart look sloppy. Be sure to save the syrup for your cranberry glaze!
(IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: your peach-flavored syrup also makes delicious drinks when mixes with seltzer and maybe some vodka and lime, so it's definitely worth holding on to in the back of the fridge.)
4. Sprinkle the bottom of your tart shell with the white and brown sugar (this will soak up the juices as it bakes). Then fill your tart shell with peaches, cut side down. Make it pretty:
(We found that a quart jar was just right, with a couple left over for hungry children to snack upon.)
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
5. Once the tart is baking, you can work on the glaze.
I used our 1/3 cup cranberries and 2/3 cup syrup from the peach jar. That syrup is already awesome, now that it is flavored with peaches. But what makes it extra special and flavorful is that the simple syrup for canning the peaches was originally made with honey and rosewater. If you have food-grade rosewater or rose tea available, it's totally worth whipping up some of this magic, heavenly-scented syrup to use. Just boil 1/4 cup of honey with 1/2 cup rosewater (or very strong rose tea). Be careful--it heats up fast with all that sugar).
Anyway, cook the cranberries in the syrup at a medium temperature until it starts to boil a bit, or until the cranberries start to burst. Then cover it and turn it way down to low to simmer for 25 minutes.
6. With the glaze underway, toast the almond slivers over medium heat, shaking the pan every few minutes to keep them from burning.
Don't walk away! Once they get started, the toasting goes pretty quick. You'll know they're done when you can smell them, and when you like the color (toasty brown instead of pasty white), like these:
Once they look good, remove from heat and set aside.
7. Back to the glaze. When the cranberries are done cooking, they look like this:
You need to crush them up so the glaze is as smooth as you can make it. I used a pastry cutter, since it's no longer in use for making pie dough now that we use the food processor.
Then stir in the gelatin:
8. Somewhere back in step 5, 6, or 7, the tart was done baking and you set it on a baking rack to cool a bit. Now spoon the glaze over the peaches:
Using a spoon helps you get it evenly distributed over the peaches. Take a moment to admire the lovely color, then sprinkle your toasted almond slivers evenly over the whole tart:
9. Refrigerate until serving time, which is hopefully a few hours away, to give the glaze time to thicken as it cools. Slice and serve, and perhaps enjoy a new holiday tradition!
It's a cool, tasty treat that's sweet and tangy at the same time, and the rosewater gives it a certain flavor boost that's hard to describe. One last bit of advice from Kirk, though: be careful to toast the almonds only very lightly. If they are too dark, the roasted flavor combined with the cranberry might lean a little to the turkey dinner end of the spectrum.