I know about a secret cranberry spot on Long Island, and from foraging trips there, this recipe was born. Each fall I'd spend two or three weekends on my knees in my wellies, gathering those ruby jewels autumn. I'd rinse and freeze enough for Thanksgiving, then use the rest to play with in the kitchen.
A common misapprehension is that cranberries grow in giant vats of water—"bogs"—but in fact they in fact grow on little ankle-high bushes and sometimes are harvested by being flooded with water then raked to the surface. You can also pick them by hand and that's what you must do when you come across wild bushes on a walk. It's a lot of work, but it's forgiving; no thorns like with many other berries, and no stained fingers either.
My daughter always picks methodically, searching for the darkest berries possible. I am a less selective forager; my only bias was to try to pluck enough cranberries whilst preserving its dainty little stem so I could line them up on the windowsill back home for a seasonal still-life.
The first time I made this dessert, I happened to have ground hazelnuts in my freezer, but since then I've made it many times and have had luck with almond and walnut flours too. The berries simmer in a sweet solution of sugar and syrup. Though most cranberry tarts call for corn syrup, I used Lyle's Golden Syrup, a British pantry staple, though you could easily substitute maple syrup or other thick, liquid-form sweetener.
The tart is a spot-on combination for fall: the assertive nutty flavor of the crust paired with the tart berries and the maple sugar is the perfect dessert for this time of year and will take you through to Thanksgiving.
Cranberry Tart with Nut Crust
Serves 6. Makes one 9-inch tart.
For the pie:
4 cups (16 ounces) fresh (or defrosted) whole cranberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup golden syrup
Zest of 1/2 unwaxed lemon
For the crust:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup nut flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 to 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 lemon zest 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. Turn 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 9-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.
(Image credits: Sara Kate Gillingham)