When it comes to cranberry sauce on my Thanksgiving table, I’m a traditionalist. I make this triple cranberry sauce every year. Made with fresh cranberries, dried cranberries and cranberry juice it is bright, full of flavor and I love it. I might make a second one, spiced with ginger or zapped with horseradish or whatnot to mix it up, but the triple-cranberry version is non-negotiable. I might even make an allowance for a canned jelly, which is as much a tradition in some families as the turkey, but a whole berry, chunky sauce is a must have. Regardless of which direction you go, canned or homemade, we can all agree that cranberry sauce in some manner is required, especially on a leftover turkey sandwich. But what about cranberries in other parts of the meal? Like dessert? This year I decided to try something different and came up with a cranberry tart to cap the meal. I have to say, I’m quite happy with the results.
I used to teach cooking classes and every year I’d do a special Thanksgiving class. We’d make a full Thanksgiving dinner, start to finish. From appetizers to dessert, with the turkey and rolls and multiple side dishes. It was quite the feat to pull off in 3 hours but was much easier with 12 people pitching in to get it all done. What I hadn’t counted on was repeat participants year to year. There was a mother-daughter group that came every time and because of this, I had to change the menu. No sticking to my tried-and-true favorites every year and though my turkey method stayed the same, everything else changed. Over the years, the desserts ranged from a classic pumpkin pie, chocolate pecan tart, sweet potato cheesecake, chocolate fudge torte and a cranberry cornmeal tart.
A week or so ago, I was reminded of that cranberry tart when the New York Times food section posted a stunning photo of a cranberry curt tart from David Tanis. Did you see it? Gorgeous. It inspired me to dig out that recipe and take another look. Mine was based on one from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen, a wonderful book by pastry chef Gina DePalma. Sadly, she passed away earlier this year and I felt that this tart would be a great tribute to her talent.
The crust is made with instant polenta, which gives a little texture and a wonderful, subtle flavor. It’s in semi-regular rotation in my kitchen and goes particularly well with stone fruits during the summer. Originally the filling was a chunky cranberry sauce but I took inspiration from that NYT recipe and pureed it in a blender until smooth. I like it better this way; the original version, while good, was just a little too cranberry-saucy if you know what I mean. I also added a little spice, ginger and allspice, to make it interesting. For reasons that have always baffled me, this recipe makes far more pastry than you’ll need. I suspect it’s the quirks of translating a professional kitchen recipe for the home cook but it is easily enough to line two tart pans. While I could cut it down, the original recipe calls for 1 egg and I think it’s absurd to write a recipe that calls for ½ an egg. I can’t ask you to do that. So I had a better idea. I take that extra tart dough and crumble it on top for a delicious crunchy streusel on top. You know what? I like it better that way.
So if you’re looking for something different, an interesting addition to your holiday table, give this one a shot. The stunning, ruby red color will brighten up the 50 shades of brown that is a Thanksgiving table and the flavor is quite unexpected. I say do it.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: MIX IT UP. Who’s expecting cranberries for dessert? Not only is this tart gorgeous, that deep ruby red color is truly stunning, the flavor – a little tart, a little sweet – is particularly nice at the end of a large holiday meal. It also goes spectacularly well with a glass of champagne. And let’s also not forget the sheer joy of making something so damn pretty. Bonus points all around.
Other possible Thanksgiving desserts: Classic Pumpkin Pie, Cider Apple Pie, Pumpkin Roulade with Pumpkin Spice Caramel Sauce, Gingerbread with Bourbon Sauce, Scratch Rum Cake, Simple Apple Tarts, Maple Buttermilk Spoonbread with Glazed Pears, Classic Apple Pie, German Apple Cheese Torte, Apple Pear Crisp, ChocoFlan, Galette de Gayon – Fig Walnut & Honey Galette, French Apple Pie, Spiced Honey Maple Roasted Pears
Seven years ago: Pumpkin Bundt Cake
Six years ago: French Apple Tart
Five years ago: Salted Caramel Apple Pie
Four years ago: Kale & Squash Salad
Three years ago: Maple Bourbon Carrots
Two years ago: Baked Brie with Savory Fig Jam
Last year: Spicy Seeded Parmesan Straws
CRANBERRY CRUMBLE TART – adapted from Gina DePalma’s recipe in Dolce Italiano
I typically use a 9” tart pan and always have a bit too much filling. A 10” pan would work a bit better if you have one but if not, a 9” is fine but don’t use all the filling or it will overflow a bit during baking. You’ll also have a bit of pastry dough leftover; save for another use. It freezes beautifully.
For the tart pastry:
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup instant or fine polenta
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
grated zest of 1 lemon, about 1 teaspoon
½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces (1 stick/4 ounces)
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
for the filling:
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
3 cups (12-ounce bag) fresh cranberries, picked over
3 large egg yolks
2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- For the pastry: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, polenta, sugar, salt and lemon to combine.
- Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand and no large butter chunks are visible.
- In a small bowl, lightly mix egg, olive oil and vanilla.
- Add to the processor and pulse until the mixture begins to clump and come together.
- Turn the dough onto the work surface and give it a few kneads to bring together and incorporate all the loose, dry bits.
- Pat the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and chill until firm enough to roll, about 1-2 hours.
- Roll out the tart dough: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to an 11” or so circle and about 1/8” thick, keeping the dough moving and using more flour on the top and bottom to prevent sticking.
- Ease the dough into a 9” or 10” tart shell, making sure to press the dough into the corners/edges and pinch or roll off the excess dough along the pan top.
- Gather the dough scraps together and save for the crumble topping in the refrigerator. Place the tart pan into the freezer to chill while you make the filling.
- For the filling: In a large saucepan combine sugar and corn syrup; bring to a boil over medium.
- Add cranberries and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes, until they begin to pop and release juice.
- Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F and place a rack in the lower third of the oven.
- In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and flour, salt, ginger and allspice until smooth.
- Whisk in half the cream until smooth, then whisk in the remaining cream and vanilla.
- Place the cooled cranberries and the egg mixture in a blender and process until smooth. Alternatively, use an immersion blender though it may not get completely smooth. That’s ok.
- Place the chilled tart shell on a parchment paper lined sheet pan and pour the filling into the shell. (note: if using a 9″ pan, hold back a little of the filling so it doesn’t overflow during baking.)
- Crumble the remaining chilled tart dough on top. You’ll have some tart dough leftover. Use for something else or freeze for a later date.
- Bake: 40-45 minutes until the crust and crumble is golden brown and the filling is just set, with a slight jiggle in the middle.
- Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before removing the pan sides.
- Once cooled, dust the top with powdered sugar and serve.
- While the tart dough and filling can be made a day or two ahead, the tart is best the day it is baked.