It is indeed cherry season here in the Bay Area, a little early but no one's complaining. Unlike asparagus and strawberries, cherries are hard to find out of season and tend to induce a little frenzy when they appear. Here's my contribution to the madness, a long-time favorite.
I've been making this tart since the '80's when I used to churn out dozens as a novice pastry chef at a now defunct French bakery in Milwaukee. It's a little unusual in that almost all the sugar is in the crust, which caramelizes in the oven into a crisp yet chewy delight.
The simple custard can be made even richer by using heavy cream but it's not necessary. I've even had great results using whole milk. You will need one 11" tart pan with a removable bottom.
Chery Custard Tart
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
11/4 cup of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
2 cups pitted fresh cherries
2 cups half and half
Preheat oven to 375.
Cream the butter and sugar. Sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. Add to butter/sugar and mix briefly. The mixture should be crumbly but moist enough to hold together when pressed. Set aside 1/4 cup and press remaining dough into tart pan, making sure the sides are strong and even.
Add cherries, spreading evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle on the reserved 1/4 cup of mixture and place tart pan on a baking sheet and slide into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a bowl, then add the half and half and whisk until combined. After 15 minutes, open oven door and pull the baking sheet half way out of the oven. Carefully and quickly pour the custard mixture over the tart and carefully push the baking sheet back in and close the oven door. Bake another 25 minutes, until crust is deep gold and the custard is set and beginning to brown.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing tart ring. Let cool completely before sliding off bottom. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
More improvisation: I've made this with pears that have been sautéed in butter and a little brandy. I've also added 1/4 cup ground almonds to the crust and a few drops of almond extract to the custard. It works well with apricots, too. In the winter, you can use jarred cherries, just be sure you drain them well. Trader Joe's Morello Cherries are a good choice.