It's been an incredible year for cranberries, at least in the spot where I spent the last two weekends, on my knees in my wellies, gathering those ruby jewels of an autumn wetland. I speak like an expert but the truth is, I've foraged for cranberries exactly twice in my life; last weekend, and the weekend before.
The maiden voyage was under the guidance of a friend who offered to show us to her "secret location," which turned out to be a place where we take walks all year round. Lesson learned: you never know what might be growing at your feet. By the end of that first day, I had seven pounds of berries in my basket, and a mind racing with ideas of what to do with them. With the first batch still unsorted, I was keen on going back a second time. It's become an obsession.
Our daughter picked methodically, searching for the darkest berries possible. I was less selective, though I tried to avoid the shriveled ones and made a little game out of attempting to pluck a cranberry whilst preserving its dainty little stem.
Maxwell, on the other hand, developed a sort of bottom-trawling method, using his hands as rakes and collecting berries of all stages, plus their accompanying foliage, bits of sand, and other low-land marsh debris. Together we collected enough to make three tarts, several batches of sauce and four gallon bags for the freezer.
I'd been wanting to play around with some nut-based crusts for tarts and this seemed the perfect opportunity. I happened to have ground hazelnuts in my freezer, though don't be afraid to try it with other nut flours. The berries cook in a sweet solution of sugar and syrup. I used maple sugar and Lyle's Golden Syrup, though you could easily substitute regular granulated sugar and maple syrup or other thick, liquid-form sweetener. Most cranberry tarts call for corn syrup, but I avoid it, instead using Golden Syrup, a British pantry staple, which is relatively easy to find these days stateside.
It turned out to be a spot-on combination for fall: the assertive nutty flavor of hazelnuts paired with the tart berries and the maple sugar was the perfect dessert for a post-forage dinner party last weekend. And since the photos from that night didn't turn out very well, I just had to make it all over again this morning for you all. So, truth be told, it makes a nice breakfast too.
Cranberry Tart with Hazelnut Crust
makes one 9-inch tart
4 cups (16 ounces) fresh whole cranberries
2/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups golden syrup
zest from 1/2 unwaxed lemon
for the Hazelnut Crust:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cups nut flour/meal
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1-3 tablespoons cold water
In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar and golden syrup over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbling. Add the cranberries and turn over several times to coat evenly with the sugar mixture. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Prepare the dough. If using a food processor, combine the dry ingredients in the processor bowl and pulse to combine. Drop in the butter pieces and pulse several times until the consistency of oatmeal. If preparing by hand, combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter pieces and cut in with two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture is the consistency of oatmeal.
Continue preparing the dough by adding the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just barely comes together in a ball. Dump the dough out onto the counter and gather up and shape into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out to a rough 9-inch circle. Carefully transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough into the pan and then form a lip around the edge by turning the pan while gently pinching the lip between your left thumb on the outside and right thumb and forefinger on the inside. Chill the prepared pan for 10-15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
When ready to bake, remove the prepared pan from the refrigerator and prick the bottom a few times with the tines of a fork. Line the bottom of the tart shell with pie weights or a layer of parchment paper and uncooked beans. Bake for 10 minutes or until crust begins to show some drying and browning.
Remove the tart shell from the oven and pour the cool cranberry mixture into the shell, spreading it out from the middle so as not to drip on the lip of the crust. Drizzle any remaining sugar mixture from the pan throughout the shell, again avoiding the lip of the tart.
Bake for another 30 minutes, or until crust deepens in color and the filling is bubbling. Cool on a wire rack. Carefully remove the outer ring, and serve while still warm, or at room temperature. Top with a scoop of ice cream, or a dollop of cream.
(Images: Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan; Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)