When the weather gets cold and Americans in Paris start thinking of Thanksgiving, there are chestnuts galore for stuffing, pecans for pie (although you usually have to shell them) and, if you know where to look, even some fresh cranberries. Cranberries are a little easier to find now than they were when I first started living in France, but they're still treated like precious exotic fruit and priced just as high. In fact, they're sold in containers so small the only thing you might be able to do with your stash is to make this tart, which requires just a handful or so of berries.
The tart has three layers, each adding something different to the mix: The crust is sweet and crisp and so purposefully low I think of it as a platter. The thin layer of thick jam is there for flavor, texture and insulation: It's like a barrier island between the dry base and the moist crown. The topping is a fluff of marshmallowy meringue and fresh cranberries, a mixture of sweet and tart that bakes to a crackle finish. I love the contrasts and the way the surface of the meringue turns crunchy, while underneath it remains soft and snow white.
The tart looks homey, but it's oddly sophisticated in its own way and not-so-oddly very satisfying, particularly after a hearty meal, like a Thanksgiving feast.
- 1 recipe Sweet Tart Dough (recipe below) or Galette Dough, ready to roll
For the filling
- 2 tablespoons chunky cherry, raspberry or strawberry jam
- 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 1 1/2 cups (about 150 grams) cranberries (if they're frozen, don't thaw)
- Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)
Butter a 9-inch pie pan (I use a Pyrex pan) and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Sandwich the dough between two sheets of parchment or wax paper and roll it out until it is a scant 1/8 inch thick. Don't worry about making a beautiful circle, because you're going to trim the dough.
Fit the dough into the pie pan, allowing the excess to drape over the sides. Gently press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan and then, using a paring knife, a pizza wheel or a fluted ravioli wheel, trim the dough to about one third down from the rim of the pan. Prick the bottom of the tart shell all over with a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes. (The leftover dough makes a nice turnover.)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Line the crust with a piece of parchment or a buttered piece of aluminum foil and weight it down with rice, dried beans or light pie weights. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the paper and weights and bake for 8 to 12 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. The crust will have shrunk, but that's fine. Set the crust on a rack to cool to room temperature.
When you're ready to fill and bake the tart: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Spoon the jam into the crust and spread it evenly over the bottom. Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt at medium speed just until they turn opaque. With the mixer going, add the sugar in a very slow, steady stream, then keep beating until the whites are shiny and form peaks with pretty, droopy tips; they will look like marshmallow.
Pour the cranberries into the bowl and, using a flexible spatula, fold them into the meringue. Try to distribute the fruit evenly, but don't try too hard-- you want to keep the meringue fluffy. Turn the meringue over the jam and spread it to the edges, making it swirly if you'd like. The jam will sneak up around the sides of the meringue, and that's fine.
Bake the tart for 1 hour, at which point the top will be light beige and most probably cracked here and there. (If you'd like more color, you can bake it longer or put it under the broiler.) Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature. If you'd like, dust the tart with confectioners' sugar before serving.
Serving: Just before serving, it's nice to sprinkle the top of the tart with confectioners' sugar. In France, I've seen some meringue tarts served with whipped cream and some with ice cream. I thought that adding whipped or ice cream would be too much--I was wrong.
Storing: The tart is best served the day it's made, although it's still pretty nice a day later. Leave the tart at room temperature, covering only the cut part with a piece of wax paper or plastic film.
Sweet Tart Dough
Makes one 9- to 9 1/2-inch crust
Used by so many French pastry chefs for so many French tarts, this is the dough that I turn to automatically when I've got a tart on my mind. Known as pâte sablée, it's really a sweet cookie dough, the one you'd use to make a tender sablé or shortbread cookie.
I always prebake the crust even if it's going to get another long bake with the filling, because I like the resulting color, flavor and texture--and the fact that the bottom won't be soggy.
I use a fluted tart pan with a removable base. If all you've got is a pie plate, don't let that stop you.
A word on rolling versus pressing: You can roll the crust out and fit it into the tart pan or just press it in. I roll the dough. Rolling gives you a thinner crust than pressing, so if you press, you might occasionally find yourself with a little filling left over.
- 1 1/2 cups (204 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (60 grams) confectioners' sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 9 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces; 128 grams) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 large egg yolk
To make the dough: Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to blend. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely--you'll have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk just to break it up and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is incorporated, process in long pulses--about 10 seconds each--until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change--heads-up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.
To incorporate the butter more evenly and to catch any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing, separate small amounts of dough from the pile and use the heel of your hand to smear each piece a few inches across the counter. In French this is called fraisage, and it's the ideal way to finish blending a dough.
To make a rolled-out crust: Shape the dough into a disk and put it between two sheets of parchment or wax paper. Roll the dough out evenly, turning it over frequently and lifting the paper often so that it doesn't roll into the dough and form creases. Aim for a circle that's at least 3 inches larger than the base of your tart pan. The dough will be 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick, but it's the diameter, not the thickness, that counts. Slide the rolled-out dough, still between the papers, onto a baking sheet or cutting board and refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze it for 1 hour. (The dough can be refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; wrap it airtight to freeze.)
When the dough is thoroughly chilled, put it on the counter and let it rest for about 10 minutes, or until it's just pliable enough to bend without breaking. Remove the dough from the paper, fit it into a buttered tart pan and trim the excess dough even with the edges of the pan. (If you'd like, you can fold the excess over and make a thicker wall around the sides of the tart.) Prick the crust all over with a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
To make a press-in crust: Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You won't need all of the dough if you want to make a thin crust, but I think it's nice to make a thickish one so that you can really enjoy the texture. Press the pieces of dough in so that they cling to one another and will knit together when baked, but don't use a lot of force--working lightly will preserve the crust's shortbready texture. Prick the crust all over with a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
When you're ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil snugly into the crust. If the crust is frozen, you can bake it as is; if not, fill it with dried beans or rice (which you can reuse as weights but won't be able to cook after they've been used this way).
To partially bake the crust: Bake for 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil (and weights). If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).
To fully bake the crust: Bake the crust for 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil (and weights). If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust for another 7 to 10 minutes, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).
Storing: Well wrapped, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, I prefer to freeze the crust fitted into the pan but not baked and then to bake it directly from the freezer--it will have a fresher flavor. Just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.
Bonne Idée -- Sweet Tart Dough with Nuts: Reduce the all-purpose flour to 1 1/4 cups and add 1/4 cup almond or hazelnut flour (or very finely ground pecans or pistachios). Proceed as directed.