Thursday, June 9, 2016

Fresh Cherry Apricot Tart

When you think of food for Hanukkah, you think of latkes. Passover? Matzo balls. Shavuot? Shavuot is all about dairy products - cheese borekas, cheese blintzes, cheese danishes, and most importantly and quintessentially: cheesecake.

I grew up hating cheesecake. I always thought it was too dense, and too often topped with horrible gloopy, canned, and not-good-tasting cherries. Then I tried my stepmother’s cheesecake, and it was unlike any other I had ever had. It was delicate with a light crust, and it had a thin layer of a cheesecake-like mixture that got topped with loads of fresh raspberries. It wasn’t too rich or too sweet, and the fresh fruit was the perfect compliment to the creamy filling.

Inspired by her’s, this recipe is akin to a no-bake cheesecake that you can top with any seasonal stone fruit or berry. Cherry season is short, and I want to take advantage of every second of it. Apricots pop up at the same time at the market, and both fruits are sweet and tart, complimentary in color, and equally complimentary in taste. I keep the fruit fresh on this tart, which also makes this dessert simple to put together, and easy to whip up in advance.

A few notes: the no-bake filling means that this is looser than any kind of traditional cheesecake. If you really want to use cherries and they’re not available, thawed frozen ones will work. I use vanilla bean in both the filling and to macerate the fruit; the vanilla flavor is more pronounced when the seeds come scraped out of the bean, but you can substitute with good quality vanilla extract instead. Also, I use Luxardo (Italian cherry liqueur) in both the filling and to macerate the fruit. It adds a note of complexity and booziness, and enhances the natural flavors in the cherries and apricots. If you don’t have a cherry liqueur or brandy on hand, you can substitute with other liqueurs (Amaretto, Cointreau, Chambord) or even a good bourbon. A splash of almond extract could work well, too. You can also skip that step entirely and the fruit and filling will still taste delicious.

Fresh Cherry & Apricot Tart
Serves 8-10

for the crust-
1½ cups (150g) graham cracker crumbs (about 10 full sheet rectangular graham crackers)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

for the filling-
1 8 oz. bar (225g) cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup sour cream
½ a vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (or 2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract)
3 tablespoons Luxardo or Kirsch (optional)

for the fruit topping-
1 lb. (450g) cherries, pitted (thawed if frozen)
2 medium apricots, pitted and sliced thin (thawed if frozen)
½ a vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons Luxardo or Kirsch (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

for the crust-
Preheat the oven to 350°F. (You can also skip baking the graham cracker crust - it will set well enough when it is refrigerated).

Generously grease a 10”-12” tart pan, or you can use a pie dish or something similar. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and grease the top of the paper.

Using a food processor, or a sealable bag and a rolling pin, crush the graham crackers until they resemble a coarse flour. In the food processor or in a bowl, add the melted butter, sugar, and salt and pulse (or mix) until just combined. Press the mixture into the greased pan. You can press and smooth the crust evenly by using the back of a flat glass or measuring cup.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until firm and golden brown. Allow to fully cool; the crust can be made up to a day in advance. Once cooled cover and reserve.

For the filling-
Using an electric stand or handheld mixer, cream together the room temperature cream cheese with the sugar. Add the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla, and Luxardo (if using) and beat until it is completely smooth and slightly airy. Make sure to periodically scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure there are no lumps in the mixture.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Even out the filling in the crust with an offset spatula or back of a spoon. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight to firm up.

For the fruit topping-
At least one hour or more before serving, prepare the fruit topping for the tart.

Pit the cherries using a cherry pitter, or by slicing the cherries in half and removing the pits. Halve and pit the apricots, and slice thin lengthwise. If using frozen fruit, make sure it is fully thawed.

In a bowl, combine the cherries and apricots with the vanilla bean, sugar, Luxardo, and lemon juice. Toss gently and allow the fruit to macerate.

Top the chilled tart with the fruit and serve.

Any leftover tart can be stored covered in the fridge; it will still be delicious the next day.

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