Cranberries, rhubarb, and now sour cherries. Do we sense a theme here? I appear to have a thing for incandescently red, tart fruit, don’t I? I suppose I might as well confess that I love pomegranates and blood oranges, too. I’m sure someone with a psychology background could come up with some sordid reason for my attraction to crimson fruits, but I prefer not to examine the implications too closely and just enjoy the mood-lifting color and the tastebud-stimulating tingle.
Even if you don’t share my potentially problematic compulsion to snatch up anything red and tangy, you really ought to take advantage of the blink-of-an-eye season for sour cherries if you’re lucky enough to live in their growing area. They’re obscenely expensive for the two weeks or so that they appear, and pitting them is a pain in the ass, but their manic color and flavor are so wonderful that it’s well worth the pricetag and the trouble. If you do bite the bullet, the best way to showcase them is in a pie, or, if you’re not feeling up to working with dough, a crisp or cobbler. You want to let the fruit get top billing, with some plain and sweet dough or crumbly mixture to play the supporting role.
I went a little nuts (literally!) with today’s recipe, which combines both an almond-enhanced bottom crust and a crumbly topping, but since they’re a once-a-year treat, I thought they deserved the extra effort. As has become another habit, this recipe is an amalgam of components from several recipes: the basic almond tart dough and the almond crumble from Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake, and the filling from a Gourmet recipe for sour cherry crostata on Epicurious. The end product is humble in appearance but a shooting star in taste and texture, with a tender cookie-like crust and a crumbly and nutty top layer, sandwiching between them a zingy layer of unadorned fruit.
Sour Cherry Crumb Tart
Makes 1 9-inch tart
Almond Tart Dough
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1/2 cup finely ground almond meal
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Sour Cherry Filling
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 quart fresh sour cherries, pitted (approx. 4-5 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cold water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Almond Crumble Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup slivered almonds
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Equipment: 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom
Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium for 5 minutes, or until fluffy and pale in color. Beat in the vanilla and egg yolk and beat for another 2 minutes, then beat in the almond meal. Sift the flour over the the mixture and fold in gently with a spatula, until no traces of flour remain. Place in a gallon-sized zip-top bag or sandwich between two layers of plastic wrap and press out into a disk approx. 1/4 inch thick. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over moderate heat, then add the cherries and sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Lower the heat and continue to simmer until the cherries are tender but not mushy, about 6 minutes. Mix the water and cornstarch into a paste, pull the pan off the heat, and stir the paste into the filling. Return the pan to the heat and simmer two more minutes, stirring frequently. Pour the filling onto a shallow baking dish and allow to cool to room temperature.
Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. While the oven is heating, prepare the topping by mixing the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, then stirring in the butter until thoroughly combined. Let sit for five minutes, then break the mixture into medium-sized crumbs with your fingers.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and press into the tart pan, making sure the bottom and sides are even and patching any cracks or holes through which the filling might ooze. If the dough heats and softens too much from working it, return to the refrigerator for several minutes, then fill with the cherries. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top.
Set the tart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake until the dough and topping are golden and the filling is bubbling, 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a rack, a full hour if you can wait that long, and at least half an hour if you can’t.