As a person who is in the kitchen several times a day feeding myself and various family members (pets included), I've had some experiments that turned out badly—thinking of you, cabbage torte—and others that came out, well, just so-so. But once in awhile there's that shining star, an attempt that, while it might take a time or two to perfect, is so wonderful that it's worth taking to a potluck dinner or serving to your own guests, where it gets those oohs and aahs that make a cook feel appreciated.
Local organic cranberries.
This last Thanksgiving I'd volunteered to take a dessert to my family's feast. My brother had the basics covered—turkey, mashed potatoes, etc.—and my sister-in-law was whipping up some of her fabulous pumpkin pies and homemade cranberry sauce. I'd thought about apple pie, one of my family's all-time faves, but I had a pound-and-a-half of cranberries from the Sidle family at Eagle Organic Cranberries in Bandon that I'd bought. (You can read a profile here).
Voila! Rusticity at its most tasty.
Since cranberry sauce was taken care of, it occurred to me that a cranberry pie of some sort might be in order, its tartness offsetting some of the richness of the rest of the meal. I decided a rustic tart would be a beautiful and relatively easy solution, plus the "Wow!" factor, if it turned out well—tarts, with their free-form artfulness are, to me, so much more impressive than pies—is so very satisfying.
There was a bit of holding-of-breath involved, since I wasn't sure how much sugar it would take to make it sweet enough but still keep some of the cranberries' lovely tartness, or how much liquid I could add without making it soupy, but the result was stunning. I served it again a few nights later using fewer cranberries, the original quantity being a little too bulky and tweaking the amount of sugar, but I think you'll find your audience, since cooking is performance art, after all, will be applauding.
Not-So-Tart Cranberry Tart
For the crust:
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 c. cold butter or margarine (1 1/2 sticks), cut into pieces
4-5 Tbsp. ice water
For the filling:
1 lb. cranberries, preferably locally grown
1 scant c. sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1/2 large orange
For the crust, you can use any pie crust recipe you like. I just made one-and-a-half times the amount I use for my single-crust pies, since a tart has no top crust, as such, but the outside edges are folded over the filling. And I make my crust in the food processor. (My mother never forgave this transgression, but some pie is better than no pie, after all.)
Put the flour in the bowl of the food processor with the salt and sugar. Pulse briefly to combine. Add butter or margarine pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. With processor running, dribble in ice water until the dough comes together in one piece (this might take a minute, so dribble slowly and stop as soon as it begins forming) and starts whacking around inside the processor bowl. Wrap in plastic wrap or zip-lock bag and place in the refrigerator to chill for one hour.
Just before the dough finished chilling, place cranberries in a large bowl and add sugar, liqueur, cornstarch and orange zest. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on well-floured surface (I use my mother's pastry cloth from my childhood). Roll out into large round approximately 14-15" in diameter. Transfer to large, parchment-covered baking sheet (I usually fold the dough in half very carefully, transfer it to the sheet and unfold it). Brush the bottom of the dough with a very thin coating of egg white to within 4" of the edge. Place cranberry filling in the middle, keeping it within 3-4" of the edge of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough and fold over on top of filling, pleating it slightly to keep the tart's rounded shape. An option here is to brush the dough with egg white and sprinkle it with sugar to give it a shiny appearance as in the photos above.
Place in oven and bake at 375° for one hour or so until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.