Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mixed Berry Tart (vegan)

This tart tastes as great as it looks! 
An astounding 93% of gardeners who grow fruits or vegetables grow tomatoes. Tomatoes are great- you ask anyone who grows them about how their garden "did this summer," and you get the tomato saga ; great, not so great, a weird disease, which varieties, whether they should or should not have sprayed, the story goes on.

Why do I start a post about a berry tart with tomatoes? Because this year our 3 year old blackberry plants (they really aren't bushes - they grow as canes, the fruit is produced on new growth) created an incredible screen of gorgeous leaves, flowers and then finally incredible (and numerous!) fruit. I admit it: I didn't care that it wasn't the best year for our tomatoes (another story).  We have developed a morning ritual of picking fresh blackberries for most of August, and will probably have berries through Labor Day.

We also grow a few "everbearing" strawberry plants as well as alpine strawberries (I'll point one out in a photo below) - which are among my favorite ground cover plants - so cute! And the tiny fruit pack a very "strawberryey" flavor.  It's easy to grow alpine strawberries from seed - there are many on-line seed purveyors - I've used Renee's Garden Seeds and The Strawberry Seed Store. Most alpine strawberries will not set runners (they grow into a charming clump, bloom mini flowers and produce fruit that dangle from the stems); however, this summer I had one that started to send out runners and after a bit of Internet research found that out that this can occasionally happen if the plant is stressed.

Anyway- if you're not inclined to grow the berries - July and August bring beautiful berries to the super market or farmers market. The filling can be made with frozen berries without any compromise to taste or texture, just cut back on the simmering time. My friends Judy,  Ellen and Jeannie and I have an alert system for berries that are on sale. Jeannie has enough blueberries in her freezer to see her through the winter.

This tart is adapted from the Blueberry Tart posted by Lorann Oils, a company that makes extraordinary extracts and flavoring. The original used cream cheese flavoring (which has milk in it), I substituted almond extract once and lemon oil another time, they both were very good.

This tart is made in a ceramic tart pan, the crust, which is similar to shortbread, doesn't show once the pan is filled with the berry filling and fresh berry topping.

There are three components to make this tart: the filling, crust and assembly with fresh fruit topping. You can make and chill the crust and filling up to two days before assembly.  Unlike a pie crust which needs to be rolled out and cut to fit, the cookie-like crust is whirred in a food processor and then pressed into the prepared pan. The baked crust can be cooled, covered and stored for up to two days in the refrigerator.

Think of the filling as an under-cooked fruit preserve, thickened with cornstarch (although I'm sure you could thicken it with tapioca if you prefer). If you use frozen berries, increase the cornstarch by 1/2 -1 tsp. Cook and cool the filling before using. If you plan to make the tart a day or two after you've prepared the filling, pour the thickened filling into a bowl or storage container, cover and store in the refrigerator.

Tart assembly takes a few minutes, and again can be done ahead of time (up to 24 hours).


  • Large ceramic pie tart pan (you can use other tart pans, there are metal pans with removable bottoms that I'm sure would work as well). 
  • Non-reactive saucepan for cooking the filling
  • Mixing and measuring cups, spoons 
  • Food processor (or hand pastry blender) - the electric food processor whips the dough up in under 2 minutes
For the crust:
10 oz all purpose flour (a full two cups)
5 oz sugar 
1/4 tsp Kosher salt 
1.5 sticks margarine (or butter) 
2 tsp almond extract OR 1 1/2 tsp lemon oil 
1-2 Tbsp ice cold water (if needed) 

For the filling: 
7 cups of hulled and rinsed berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries)
1/4 c water 
4 Tbsp cornstarch (mixed into 2 Tbsp very cold water)
1 - 1 1/4 c sugar (depends on how sweet the fruit is, blackberries especially can be tart)
2 Tbsp vanilla sugar (optional) 

For the topping:
2 cups of fresh berries (strawberries should hulled and sliced in half)
2 Tbsp demerara sugar to sprinkle on top of the fruit (optional)

Making the crust:
You can make this by hand, using a pastry cutter, work quickly, as the margarine (or butter for that matter) will soften and make the dough sticky and hard to work with.
1. Prepare the pan by spraying liberally with spray oil. Heat the oven to 380 degrees.
2.Add margarine (cut into small slices), sugar, salt, extract or flavoring oil to the bowl of the food processor and whir a bit.
3. Add the flour and whir until mixture comes together. You may find you'll need to add a tablespoon or two of ice water. Add the water judiciously. If the mixture accidentally gets too "wet," add a Tbsp of flour.
4. Press pieces of the dough into the bottom and up the side of the pan.  The dough along the side will shrink back while baking, don't worry about this, as you will not be removing the finished tart from the pan until you are serving.  Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork to minimize puffing.
5. Chill the crust for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator to firm up.  If you use a metal pan you can cool in the freezer, I worry about slipping a freezing cold ceramic or glass baking dish into a hot oven.
6. Slide the tart crust into the hot oven, lower heat to 375 degrees and bake until golden, approximately 25-35 minutes (check for color doneness after 25 minutes).  My home oven has uneven heat, I overcome this difficulty by keeping a baking stone in the oven while baking. Since the tart pan is cold when placed in the oven, I DO NOT place it directly on the hot stone.
7. Cool completely before filling. If you are not assembling the tart at this point, cool, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Whir the ingredients until the dough holds together

It's always good to have a happy assistant who cannot wait to sample the baked goods. Also, the happy assistant can press the raw dough into the pan.  This is an excellent activity for the children of the house - even if the children are taller than your counter. 

The baked crust will puff a bit, so make sure to prick  around the entire unbaked shell with a fork. The edge will shrink back while baking; in order to make sure the crust covers the bottom of the tart pan you must press the crust up along the side of the pan. 

Making the filling:
1. In a non-reactive pan add half of the 7 cups of berries and barely 1/4 c water.  Heat until they barely begin to pop. Add the sugar, stir and cook for another minute or two.
2. Prepare the cornstarch (or other thickener) while the berries are heating up
3. Add the remaining berries, bring back to a simmer. Stir the cornstarch to make sure it is dispersed in the water and pour into the simmering berries, stirring as you add. Bring back to a simmer, cook for another minute or two and turn off the heat.
4. Cover and cool completely. When the mixture has cooled down you can taste for sweetness. We do not like over-sweetened fruit desserts, so I tend to hold back on the sugar. Don't use corn syrup or honey - you'll be adding additional liquid and corn syrup mutes the natural sharp flavors of the berries.
5. The berry juice should thicken.  If it has not thickened when cool, pour off the juice, heat the juice again and add a bit more of thickener (dispersed in a Tbsp of cold water).  Mix the re-heated juice back into the berry mixture.  Unlike apples and cranberries for example, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are LOW in natural pectin and are a bit tricky to thicken. The filling will not be as thick as jam, yet should or less hold together when cold.
6. Either assemble the tart immediately or cover and store the filling in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Don't overcook the berry filling.  Notice the yellowish small berry in the lower left side- that is a yellow alpine strawberry

You can assemble the tart up to 24 hours before serving.
1. Pour the filling and spread over the baked tart crust.
2. Arrange the clean prepared raw fruit on top.  Sprinkle with demerara sugar if you like.
3. Serve immediately or keep the tart chilled.
An accompanying  scoop of ice cream is always welcome!

When serving use a pie server, make sure you completely cut through the bottom crust, which will be crispy, like a shortbread cookie

Enjoy the tart!  Comments and modifications you want to share are welcome! 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Blueberry Crumb Spice Cake

Summertime blueberries  (New Jersey Fresh!) , cinnamon and spice and incredible crumb topping ........delicious at any time of day.

This cake is lightly adapted from a great blueberry cake found in Paula Shoyer's cookbook, The Kosher Baker and my favorite crumb recipe, adapted from Melissa Clark's Rhubarb Crumb Cake (New York Times, June 2007). Combining the two proved that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.

The cake is made in two steps. Make the crumb first and set aside. The crumb can be made several hours before you intend to make the cake.  In an effort to speed the process, I've tried to make the crumb, cover in an airtight container and freeze the unbaked crumb. I found that the texture was affected slightly and wouldn't recommend it; however, making the crumb several hours before using it won't harm it at all.

When you are ready to make the cake, the fruit filling is prepared before you assemble the cake batter. Use the recommended spices as a starting point, if you like a particular spice more than another, play with the combination!

The cake is assembled in layers: batter, fruit filling, batter and crumb topping.  Bake and cool before serving. A scoop of vanilla sorbet or ice cream could only improve an already delicious cake.

This cake doesn't require an electric mixer. All ingredients were mixed by hand with mixing spoons.

  • 9x13 baking pan (I use a glass baking pan because I wanted to serve the cake in the pan and thought this looked more attractive than a metal baking pan)
  • Measuring cups, spoons, kitchen scale 
  • 3 large mixing bowls 
Make the crumb topping first
Crumb topping:

1/3 c granulated sugar
1/3 c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c melted margarine (use butter if you aren't concerned about the cake being pareve)
1 3/4 (7 oz) cake flour (you can use all-purpose flour, it will result in a slightly heavier crumb)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp kosher salt

Use fresh or frozen blueberries 
Blueberry filling:
3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries                
1 Tbsp granulated sugar or vanilla sugar
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp ground ginger          

Cake batter:
3/4 c neutral vegetable oil (plus a bit of oil for greasing the pan)
1 c  (6 oz) granulated sugar                  
1/2 c  (3 oz) brown sugar
Mix the batter by hand 
3 extra large eggs
1/3 cup orange juice
1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 c (11 oz) all purpose flour (plus a tsp or two for dusting the pan)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cardamon

1. Melt the margarine (or butter). Add the extract into the melted margarine.
2. Combine the flour and spices
3. Whisk the melted margarine and flour mixture
4. The mixture will resemble dough. Set aside (or cover and chill for use several hours later)

Blueberry filling:
1. Toss the blueberry filling ingredients together in a bowl, set aside

Cake batter:
1. Grease an 9 x 13 baking pan (glass or metal) , dust with 1-2 tsp flour . Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
2. Beat the eggs, set aside
3. Measure the spices into a small bowl, set aside
4. Measure the sugars
5. Sift baking powder into the flour, add the salt and spices. Mix.

6. Mix the oil and sugars together in a large mixing bowl, add the egg and mix. Add the orange juice and vanilla and mix.

7. Mix the liquid mixture into the flour mixture. The resulting batter will be thick.

8. Spread approximately half of the batter in the prepared pan. Top with blueberries and then top with the remaining batter. The top batter layer may be "dropped" and spread over the blueberries. Don't aim for perfection, you may not have enough to cover the berries entirely and the thick batter will be difficult to spread.

9. Take the topping, break up any very large lumps. Sprinkle the topping over the top layer of the cake.

10. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees, slide the assembled cake into the top third of the oven. Bake for approximately 45-55 minutes. Check with a cake tester to determine when the cake is done. Cool before slicing. (try not to pick pieces of the crumb!)