Monday, February 14, 2011

Celebrate Valentine's Day with a Sour Cherry Linzer Tart

Whether you're part of a couple or going through a lonely hearts phase, this sour cherry linzer tart is the perfect Valentine's day treat.  You can find this recipe in Sur La Table's cookbook " The Art & Soul of Baking," although it's your lucky day because it looks like Sur La Table posted it online as well.  Now before we talk tart construction, I should start out by giving a shout out to the incredibly helpful Sur La Table staff in Santa Monica.  I've just started experimenting with piping bags and they went out of their way to help me navigate piping bag options for this recipe.

This particular recipe is great for a holiday or special event, because in theory there are a lot of steps you can take care of ahead of time.  However, I waited until the day of my tart deadline and finished with moments to spare.  Like so many recipes, this one starts with the step of creaming together butter and sugar.  In the spirit of Valentine's Day, one of the things I love most about baking is that you can start out with such simple ingredients and make a huge variety of creations.  Thus, I remain in awe of butter in particular and revere dairy farmers for making my experimentation possible.

Another thing I love about this recipe is the opportunity to zest.  This orange and lemon zest will eventually make it's way into the tart dough.  I've always said that if I had to pick a favorite kitchen tool, the zester would be it.  However, I have a Valentine's Day confession: my heart has been stolen away by this microplaner, a giveaway I received in my gift bag from the International Food Blogging Conference in 2010.  I am sure that somewhere in the food blogosphere, some blogger has published an op-ed about the benefits of zesting vs. microplaning. While I am curious about the difference, I have not read this op-ed and I prefer to live in ignorant bliss, microplane in hand.

Above, the orange and lemon zest are added to the 
butter, sugar & egg mixture.  After that,  
vanilla extract joins the crew

Next comes the fun part: blending the flour, nut. and spice mixture in your food processor!  I would call my food processor a "baby" food processor.  It's just big enough to blend a mixture like this one, or to make a small batch of hummus.  And while I won't deny that I've lusted after bigger, grander, food processors, I've always been inspired by Mark Bittman's philosophy that you don't have to own every cooking tool in order to execute magnificent food.  Yes, on this Valentine's Day, I'm also toasting to all of you studio apartment chefs out there.  For all of you living in big cities in little apartments, Bittman should certainly be your culinary muse if he isn't yet.  Note: this mixture includes whole hazelnuts, which can be a little bit harder to find in your average supermarket.  I found some at Whole Foods after a bit of searching.

Like so many doughs, this dough needs chilling before you work it into the tart pan.  I like to use the dough chilling time to clean up in the kitchen a bit, but this is also an excellent time to have a snack since you've been hard at work preparing your tart.  (Snacking while cooking? An essential step of the process.)

Above, part of the dough is placed into a piping bag 
and kept at room temperature.  
This dough will later turn into the tart's lattice top!

Dried cherries, cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean, cherry juice and sugar are simmered together to form the base of the filling, which is later thickened with corn starch.  Below, the cherries are separated from the juice before the corn starch is added to the liquid (the thickening step.)

Above, I don't own a fine mesh strainer, 
so I  strained the filling using a colander and some cheesecloth.  
Again, I'm always inspired my Bittman to improvise according to the situation!  
For more "food hacks" & improvisations, I would also suggest 

Above, the final thickened juices are combined with cherries 
and rest atop a bowl of ice water for faster chilling.  
The filling must cool before it is added to the tart pan.

Now that the dough is chilled, it's ready to press into the tart pan.  I would highly recommend this recipe for a first-time tart maker since it's a little less intimidating than tarts that involve rolling out the dough. (That being said, the rolling pin is your friend!  Do not be afraid to embrace a recipe that involves rolling some dough.  What's the worst that can happen?)

Once the filling is finally cool, add it to the tart dough.  
Now we're cookin'!

With the filling in place, now it's time to pipe on the lattice top and then let the oven do the work!  While I'm no piping expert, I made it work and I think practice makes perfect when it comes to this part.  Most importantly, this tart was fun to make, delicious to taste, and Valentine-approved.  Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!

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