Gooseberry Tart

For me, gooseberries are one of those quintessentially British fruits, like damson plums or sloes, that I nonetheless never managed to try while I lived in London.Gooseberry Tart

To rectify this, I’ve been on the lookout for them  for the past several years, only to be disappointed.  But this year’s fruit crop in Massachusetts is proving to be amazing–tons of sour cherries have now given way to red, black, and even golden raspberries, along with red and black currants and yes, gooseberries.

Gooseberry Tart

The price, unfortunately, reflects the fact that these gooseberries are so hard to come by.  So even though I splurged on two generously filled half pints at the farmer’s market, I came home to find I didn’t even have the four to five cups required for a pie.  Fortunately, I had enough for pie’s rustic French cousin, a galette.

Gooseberry Tart

While you thankfully don’t have to chop gooseberries (which must be as tedious as cutting up grapes or cherry tomatoes for toddlers) they do require a bit of prep work–they need to be topped and tailed, which is really just removing the stem from one end and the blossom from the other.  It’s easy enough to do, but given how these tiny bits tend to stick to your fingers, and then rub off on the next gooseberry you reach for, you’ll want to wash your berries after this process.  Once done, the gooseberries look much like grapes, albeit rather veiny ones.

Then it’s just a matter of assembly.  It’s easy to find helpers who will enjoy sprinkling the cinnamon sugar over the berries and the crust.

Gooseberry Tart

Gooseberries are surprisingly tart, and are said to taste a bit like strawberries–which is true, but not something I would have noticed had I not already been aware of the comparison.  They cook down into a juicy filling, and have a surprising richness–making it easy to see why gooseberries complement savory dishes so nicely.  For dessert, however, a tart yogurt ice cream or dollop of creme fraiche would nicely accompany this galette, with the fruit’s juices swirling together with the melting cream.

Gooseberry Tart

Gooseberry Tart
Author: Adapted from Lindsey Shere, via [url href="http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/gooseberry-tart"]Food and Wine[/url]
Ingredients
  • Pastry
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 -inch dice
  • About 3 tablespoons ice water
  • Filling
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 pint gooseberries (about 3 cups), stems and tails removed
Instructions
Make the crust.
  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender (or two knives or forks) or your fingers, cut or rub in the butter until the mixture resembles a mix of coarse cornmeal with larger particles the size of peas. (I.e. you’ll still have a fair amount of larger chunks of butter). Stir in the ice water with a fork. When the dough holds together, knead it a few times against the side of the bowl to smooth it out. (If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a few more drops of ice water.) Pat the dough into a disk, and wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400F. Flour a surface and roll out the dough into a round about 14 inches in diameter. (You may have to wait a few moments for the dough to soften). It need not be perfect around the edges as this gives it its rustic look. Lay it on a large baking sheet or pizza pan lined with parchment paper and refrigerate briefly while you prepare the filling (but no longer as the crust will get to hard to fold over the filling later).
Make the filling and assemble the tart
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Mix 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar with the flour and sprinkle this mixture over a 9-inch area of the pastry. Spread the prepared gooseberries on top. (I rolled out the dough before prepping the gooseberries; the dough chilled while I topped and tailed the berries). Reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons of the cinnamon-sugar and sprinkle the remainder over the gooseberries. Fold the edges of the pastry up over the berries to form a 9-inch free-form tart, making pleats and pressing them together lightly. Brush the pastry with water and sprinkle with the reserved cinnamon-sugar.
  2. Bake the tart in the center of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the gooseberries are bubbling and lightly browned and the pastry has caramelized in spots and is well browned on the bottom. Cut the tart into wedges with a sharp knife and serve.

Gooseberry Tart

Maple Pots de Creme (Baked Maple Custard)

I had been turning the thought of making custard over in my mind even before November’s monthly mingle (hosted by My Custard Pie) was announced. But, I always hesitate a bit about custard–not because I’m worried about the classic concerns, such as a glum pudding that resembles runny scrambled eggs (though I worry about that too) or that comes out overcooked (also angst-worthy)–but because it feels a bit profligate to use all those egg yolks. I feel bad wasting whites, so I keep them in my freezer until…

Yes, the guilt. (What is that old saw about women feeling needlessly guilty all the time?) My husband, who is very encouraging of my making of custard, has been trying to convince me this is silly and to just make some already. (Might I note that he also is blissfully unaware of my constant reshuffling of the fridge, shifting expiring items forward and sliding unopened milk cartons and orange juices jugs towards the rear).

Maple Custard (4 of 6)

Much as some of us buy new gym clothes to encourage us to work out (with not always stellar effect) I not-so-recently bought some miniature cocotte pots at Williams Sonoma’s (ahem) Christmas clearance sale (ahem) last January. (Another takeaway from this is to never doubt the power of the words “50% off already reduced prices.” Please note I was only seduced by very deep discounting: I don’t want you to think I spent the originally stickered $50 each).

And while you might think the fact that I had to pull those stickers off of them last week to make this custard could be the irrefutable proof that they were an unwise impulse buy, I have no regrets. They are just too charming. You know how it goes with things in miniature. And in my defense, it could have been worse. I could have decided I needed a kitchen blowtorch for creme brulee while I was at it. (Oddly, my husband thinks this would be a sensible purchase. This seems to beg another cliché about men and fire).

Now that this preamble is out of the way, on to the custard.

Maple Custard (3 of 6)

I can’t help but love this whole genre: creme caramels, pots de creme, crema catalana, flan, puddings…I went through a period where I just kept ordering creme brulees on the restaurant menu, until I realized I was becoming far too predictable and it was time to stop neglecting the other desserts out there. But one resists change: if dessert is about comfort, it’s hard to get more at that essence than this.

With just three components, using good ingredients matters, as does technique (for more on that, please see Shuna Lydon’s very helpful video tutorials over at food52.) I used my favorite Berkshires Jersey cream and local maple syrup. (Sadly, my source for free-range eggs has dried up, as chickens don’t lay as much when the days are shorter).

As for the technique, please see those videos I mentioned above, but here’s a few comments of my own. You’ll need to place your custard cups in a water bath: set your filled cups in a large cake pan, and then fill up about an inch or so with hot water. Make sure it’s hot, or it will never finish cooking (as I learned with a bad bread pudding episode). And make sure not to add too much water, or you risk splashing yourself–ouch–or your custards–sniff–with it when you go to remove the finished product from the oven. (Again, I learned the hard way). A hot water bath ensures your custards bake gently, resulting in a creamy, gliding texture.

Maple Custard (2 of 6)

The other potential misstep is making a custard that more closely resembles oversweetened, runny scrambled eggs. The same principle of the water bath applies: You want to be sure you do not allow the yolks to cook too quickly when they first come into contact with your hot milk or cream. Temper the eggs by stirring only a bit of the hot cream into your eggs, whisking well to prevent lumps. Add a bit more, whisk, and then you can finally completely combine all the cream–but keep whisking! Tempering merely means bringing two items of differing temperatures to the same temperature (it’s often done with chocolate as well).

As further insurance, strain your custard mixture through a fine mesh sieve. This will strain out any large cooked egg particles, as well as those stringy fibrous bits of egg white that can cling to even a well-separated yolk. (The technical name is chalazae, but please don’t ask me how to pronounce it).

Maple Custard (6 of 6)

This dessert: subtle but delicious. The maple was almost a background note, floating lightly and delicately in the rich pudding. The custard tasted almost nutty to me at first, which was startling, but then made perfect sense: why else would maple pair so pleasingly with nuts, from pecans to walnuts?

Baked Maple Custard (adapted from Lindsay Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts)

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2c maple syrup
  • 6 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Heat the cream until steaming hot. Whisk the syrup into the egg yolks (do not allow the mixture to sit unmixed as the sugar will chemically “cook” the yolks). Pour about a 1/4 c or so of the hot cream mixture into the yolk-sugar mixture, whisking all the while. Add about another 1/4-1/2c and whisk. You can now add this back into the hot cream, continuing to whisk.

Pour into your custard cups (anything ceramic or cast iron will work well). Use a kitchen scale to make sure you pour the same amount into each cup, so that everything bakes evenly. Set your cups into a cake pan, and fill halfway up the sides of your custard cups with hot water. Place in the oven. (You can also add the water after you put the pan in the oven). Lay a piece of aluminum foil over your cups.

Bake for 45 minutes or up to 60 minutes or more (a deeper pot, like mine, will cook more slowly). Your custard will still jiggle when it is done, and you can use a tester to double-check. (If it comes out clean, it’s definitely done and hopefully not overdone). Chill before serving. (We ate it warm, and it’s certainly good that way, though better cold).

Notes: Since maple syrup is the star here, it’s worth saying a few words. Maple syrup comes in various grades. Grade A “Fancy” is perhaps the most well-known, but Grade B (which is preferred by “real” New Englanders) has a more robust flavor. (This recipe in fact suggests Grade C maple, which I have never seen for purchase) I usually buy only Grade B, but here I used a mix of A and B, for no other reason than that I was trying to use up a small jar of Grade A syrup I bought at the farmer’s market last year. Please don’t tell me if maple syrup doesn’t keep that long. I don’t want to know).

You’ll notice, if you watch the videos (which I hope you do) that I did not incorporate all of Shuna’s suggestions. Namely because I started these custards too late in the day! But I hope to try all of her tricks very soon.