Stemming the tide

July 26, 1995|By Jimmy Schmidt | Jimmy Schmidt,Knight-Ridder News Service

July is cherry month, bringing both the tart and sweet varieties that satisfy our tastes. Combine the best of both in an outrageous Double Cherry Tart.

Each type has its own characteristics. Sweet cherries have a crunchy texture and deep burgundy flavor, while tart ones offer sharp, bright flavors.

While the fruit is believed to have originated in China around 4000 B.C., cherries are named after Cerasus, a Turkish town that cultivated them as early as 300 B.C. The French are credited with propagating cherries along the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes. Cherries are grown in rural areas nationwide in amounts sufficient for farmers' markets and roadside stands. Michigan leads the nation in producing tart cherries and is fourth in sweet cherries.

This wonderfully refreshing fruit can be enjoyed right from the tree. Cherries are low in calories but very high in vitamin C -- and flavor.

Because tart cherries have a delicate flesh, the fruit usually separates from the stem during harvest. As this causes the fruit to spoil within a day or two after picking, tart cherries must be processed almost immediately. Most are frozen or concentrated into juice. Sweet cherries, with their firmer flesh, are harvested with the stem intact. That makes them more available for distribution as a fresh fruit.

Drive through the country to find cherries at a farmer's market or roadside stand. On the way back, keep the cherries at their prime inside your air-conditioned car. On a hot summer's day, carrying them in your trunk can cook them before you get home.

Select firm, dark almost purple-red sweet cherries, with stems intact and a rich fruit scent. Choose tart cherries that are delicately firm without bruise or discoloration and in that exciting Ferrari-red shade.

At home, keep cherries refrigerated in a shallow bowl or pan loosely covered with plastic wrap. Wash under cool running water before eating.

A cherry pitter is a great tool to remove the pit without losing the cherry's wonderful juice and destroying its shape. Handle cherries carefully to preserve their natural texture when baked.

Although this tart is just about perfect by itself, it's even better with a scoop of ice cream.

Mix and match: Cherries are also great with peaches, blueberries, black berries and even raspberries. Try making this tart with a balance of these fruits for terrific results.

Double Cherry Tart

Serves 12

TART PASTRY:

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup butter, cut into marble-sized pieces

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup half-and-half

FILLING:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate melted with 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1 cup half-and-half, scalded

1/4 cup Cointreau

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups sour cherries, washed under cool running water, stems removed, pitted

2 cups sweet cherries, washed under cool running water, stems removed, pitted

confectioners' sugar

fresh mint sprigs for garnish

To prepare pastry: In a food processor, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and pulse until cut into the flour. In another bowl, whip together the 2 egg yolks and half-and-half until smooth.

Slowly add the egg mixture to the food processor, pulsing the processor just until the pastry combines. Remove the pastry to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and flatten the dough into a rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and place on a cool, floured counter top. Roll the dough to 1/4 -inch thick and cut to fit a 12-inch pie tin.

Line the raw tart shell with a sheet of aluminum foil, dull side up. Fill with pastry beads or dried beans. Bake on the lower rack of the oven until set, about 20 minutes. Take the shell from the oven and remove the foil and beads. Return to the oven and bake until just beginning to brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven. After allowing to cool slightly, about 15 minutes, use a pastry brush to spread the melted chocolate over the inside of the pastry shell.

Leave the oven on to continue filling preparation.

To make the custard: In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, egg yolks, vanilla and salt. Add the scalded half-and-half. Add the Cointreau. Strain and keep warm.

In a large, nonstick skillet over high heat, melt the butter until bubbling. Add the tart cherries, cooking until they begin to weep their juices. Continue cooking until the juices begin to coat the cherries.

Remove from the heat and add the sweet cherries. Spoon the cherries into the tart shell. Drizzle the custard over the cherries so it runs deep between the fruit, using a fork as necessary to move the cherries and allow the custard to seep down.

Return to the oven and bake until the custard is set, about 10 or 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cake rack. Tart can be left at room temperature for immediate consumption, or refrigerate for serving later.

Serve the tart with a dusting of confectioners' sugar and a sprig of mint.

Cook's note: This sweet tart pastry can be used with your favorite tart recipe.

Per serving: calories, 408; calories from fat, 58 percent; fat, 26 grams; cholesterol, 182 milligrams; sodium, 203 milligrams; carbohydrate, 40 grams; protein, 6 grams.

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