Cherries and almonds a natural combination, so we were excited that they were the Improv Challenge ingredients for this month. We always start by tossing around ideas until we come up with something-either a great recipe we have seen and want to try, an old favorite with a new twist, or just a combination of ideas we think will work well together in one dish. After thinking about it for a few days, we knew we wanted a cool and creamy tart, with an almond shortbread crust, topped with fresh sweet cherries. Sometimes shortbread crusts can be hard to eat when they are cold, causing your bite to fly across your plate (or the table) when you press your fork into it. We wanted to avoid the problem of having half a piece of tart end up on the floor, so we made a shortbread crumble for the crust. To hold the crust in place we covered it in a layer of chocolate ganache. The chocolate holds all the crumbs together but stays soft enough to get a fork through without incident. On top of the chocolate we added a thick layer of almond flavored mascarpone cream filling and topped the whole thing with sweet and soft poached cherries.
This a great summer do ahead dessert. All the parts can be made ahead and the tart almost completely assembled a day a head of time. Take the tart out of the fridge a few minutes before you are ready to serve so the ganache warms slightly, and add the crumb and fruit toppings. We also think this would be quite delicious when made with fresh peaches. We would use a white chocolate ganache and simply top the tart with some peaches macerated in some sugar and amaretto.
1 lb cherries, pitted
3/4 cup simple syrup
Put cherries in a sauce pan with simple syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cherries cook until soft. With a slotted spoon or sieve remove cherries form syrup and set aside. Return pan with syrup to heat and bring to a boil. Continue cooking until reduced by half. Cool completely and stir in the cooked cherries. Refrigerate until needed.
Simple syrup: Have ready equal parts water and sugar. In a sauce pan bring water to a boil, add sugar to the boiling water, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and cool completely before using.
1 cup blanched almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt.
In the bowl of a food processor pulse the almonds and the sugar until finely ground. Add the salt and the butter and pulse until combined. Add flour and pulse until mixture forms crumbs.
Pour crumbs on a cookie sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven until golden brown, stirring occasionally for even cooking.
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
3/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1-2 tablespoons amaretto or 1 teaspoon almond extract
Whip heavy cream with 2 tablespoon sugar until firm peaks form.In another bowl on low speed beat mascarpone, sugar and amaretto just until smooth. Fold in whipped cream.
Make this just before making the bottom layer tart. It needs to be warm to pour over the crumbs.
4 ounces chocolate (any kind you like. I used 70% dark chocolate)
1/3 cup heavy cream
In a microwave proof bowl combine chocolate and cream, and heat about 60 seconds to melt the chocolate. Stir to combine to a smooth pourable chocolate sauce.
1. To the bottom of a 9 inch tart pan, add an even layer of crumbs, using about 1/2 to 2/3 of the crumbs you made. Reserve the remainder of the crumbs for the top of the tart.
2. Pour the ganache over the crumbs and smooth over the entire crumb layer. Rap the pan on the counter to encourage the ganache into the crumb layer. Refrigerate until firm. (about 15-20 minutes)
3. Smooth cream filling over the ganache layer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set.
4. When ready to serve, remove cherries and tart from refrigerator. Drain cherries in a sieve and remove plastic wrap from the tart. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs around the outer edge of the tart and fill the center with the drained cherries.
For more about the Improv challenge visit Kristen at the Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker