Apricot Cheesecake Tart

I have yet to taste a cheesecake I wouldn’t like. The creamy sweet cheese filling simply works no matter what you pair it with. White cheesecake with hint of vanilla is a classic. Chocolate? Everything is better with chocolate, and cheesecake is no exception. How about fruit? Pretty much any fruit is delicious on a bed of fluffy cheese – you can go for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples in the fall or cranberries in winter, and your cheesecake will be a winner every time.

The dessert I’m offering to you today is not your typical cheesecake though. It’s more like its distant relative – first of all, there is only a small amount of cream cheese in the filling compared to cheesecake as we know it, and second, I’ve decided to forgo the graham cracker/cookie crumb base and poured the filling into a flaky tart shell. The additional cream cheese you’d normally see in the filling is actually hiding in the crust, and makes it very rich and tender. (Bonus: this crust is also very easy to roll out, as long as you give it time to properly chill in the fridge.) This cheesecake tart is my last tribute to my beloved apricots this year. Apricots are always the first fruit to announce the coming of the summer season, and also the first one to go. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for weeks, and when I finally decided  to give it a go this weekend, I had a really hard time finding them. It seemed last week they were everywhere, and now, only couple of days later, they just disappeared from the face of the Earth. It took a lot of driving around and many smiles at guys in produce departments – but as you can see, in the end I brought home what seemed to be the last two pounds of apricots in the Pacific Northwest, and put them to a good use 🙂

This tart is not a high-end dessert by any means; it’s simple and somewhat homey looking, but that doesn’t take away from its appeal at all. I think it’s very cheerful and the orange apricots waggishly poking out of white cheese filling kind of look like eggs sunny side up 🙂 And the taste is superb:  the subtle tartness of the apricots balances out the sweetness of the filling, and the jelly glaze gives it shine and accentuates the fruity apricot flavor. A perfect way to say farewell to apricots in my book. Put your best smile on and run to your nearest greengrocer or farmers market – if you’re lucky, you might still be able to find some apricots, and if you won’t eat them all on your way home as I usually do, I promise this tart is the second best way to use them!

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Apricot Cheesecake Tart

(adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible)

Cream Cheese Tart Shell:
  • ½ cup (113 g, 4 oz.) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • a little over 1 1/3 cups (185 g, 6.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour (for gluten-free tart see Note)
  • pinch salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 85 g (3 oz.) cream cheese, chilled and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream, cold
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
Cream Cheese Filling:
  • 1 egg, separated, + 1 egg white
  • 57 g (2 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons white sugar (to taste)
  • pinch cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (175 g,  6 oz.) heavy cream

+ 1 egg white, for brushing the tart shell
approx. 1 kg (2 lbs.) fresh apricots, stoned and halved
1 cup apricot preserves, divided
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur), divided

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Method:
  1. To make the pastry shell, place the flour mixed with salt and baking powder into the bowl of your food processor. Add the cubed cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add butter and pulse again until the butter is the size of peas. Lastly, add vinegar and cold cream, and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough and chill for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.
  2. Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until it’s a little bigger than your 10 inch (25 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. Chill the rolled out dough for about 15 minutes, so it’s easier to transfer to the pan. Lightly butter the pan and ease the dough into it, pressing it firmly against the sides. Dock the dough with a fork and put the tart pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven to 425 °F (218 °C).
  3. When the oven is preheated, place the tart pan onto a baking sheet, and place a sheet of parchment paper on the surface of the dough. Fill the parchment with dry beans/rice, and prebake the tart shell for about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove the parchment paper with the beans/rice/pie weights, prick the dough again, and bake for 5 – 10 minutes longer, until pale golden brown. (If the edges brown too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil). While still hot, brush the tart shell with an egg white. Let the tart shell cool slightly while you prep the filling and fruit.
  4. To make the cheesecake filling, process the cream cheese, sugar, and spices in the food processor until smooth. Add egg yolks, egg white, cream, and 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and pulse to combine. (There still might be pieces of cream cheese in the mixture.) Set the filling aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  6. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of apricot preserves with 1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier until hot. Strain the preserves into a small bowl.
  7. To assemble the tart: Brush about 2 tablespoons of apricot preserves on the bottom of partially cooled tart shell. Pour about half of the filling into the tart. Arrange apricot halves on top of the filling, and carefully pour the rest of the filling around them, taking care not to pour the filling on top of the fruit.
  8. Bake the tart for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the filling is puffy and slightly browned. (Cover the edges with aluminum foil to prevent burning.)
  9. Let the tart cool slightly. Reheat the rest of the apricot jelly and spoon it evenly on the top of the tart, both apricots and filling. Chill the tart for at least 1 hour before unmolding and serving.
Note:

I subbed Bob’s Red Mill Pie Crust flour mix with good results, but I imagine you could use any gluten-free flour mix and the tart will turn out well.

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Three Jam Crostata

My summers growing up were pretty simple. The school was out, and since my parents and their siblings were working, they used to pack up their troubles and send them off to grandma’s.  All the cousins met up at the rural house in the country and we had a great time together. If we wanted to have fun, we had to come up with something fun to do. Nobody was driving us places, hovering over us fretting if we used sunscreen and if our young brains were stimulated enough. Grandma gave us something to eat three times a day and if we fought too hard and there was blood, I *think* she washed us up and slapped a Band-Aid on. That was it. Aaaah, memories.

Grandma also made sure we weren’t just wandering around doing nothing all day, and had no problem taking advantage of free child labor she had awaiting her pleasure. She had a big garden with fruit trees, and since it was summer, there were always cherries and apricots to process and preserve. We were in charge of pitting/halving the fruit and I positively hated this part of my summer vacation. To my child’s eyes the sea of fruit seemed bottomless, and just as we put away all the fruit one day, there was always more when we woke up.

It’s funny. How often we eventually get to like what we hated as kids? I used to despise spinach, and now eat so much of it my blood should be green, and preserving fruits and veggies is one of my greatest summer pleasures. There is something deeply satisfying in seeing those neat rows of jars filled with summer abundance in the pantry; plus, I get to play with flavors and combinations, and make each batch a little different.

This crostata (tart in Italian) showcases three kinds of jam at once, and manages to do so gorgeously! If you’re not a jam making fanatic as I am, you can just use your favorite store bought jam, and be done in no time. Playing with decorations and painting is totally optional, but so much fun 🙂

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Three Jam Crostata

(inspired by http://www.findyourcake.it)

Crostata:
  • 200 g (7 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 50 g (1.5 oz.) potato starch
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 125 g (4.5 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 egg yolks, cold
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest

+ 1 egg yolk to paint the dough decorations; assorted food colors
1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

Quick Strawberry Jam (makes 4 cups)
  • 1 ½ pints (1 ¼ lbs., 560 g) fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon framboise liqueur (optional)
Quick Cherry Jam (makes about 1 ¼ cups)
  • 3 cups cherries (24 oz., 675 g)
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Kirsch liqueur (optional)
Quick Apricot Jam
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) apricots, pitted and halved
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon rum (optional)

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Method:
  1. To make the jams, prepare clean glass jars with lids by running them through a dishwasher sanitizing cycle, or sterilize them by submerging them into a clean boiling water for 10 minutes.  You’ll need to warm them up before filling them with hot jam.
  2. For each of the jams, pulse the fruit in a food processor couple of times to break it up a little, and then transfer it to a deep saucepan. Add the sugar and the lemon juice/zest, and cook on a medium heat until thick to your liking (10 – 15 minutes, for thicker consistency cook longer). Check the consistency by putting one drop of preserves on a cold plate that has been in the freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add rum/liqueur if using.
  3. Ladle the hot jam into the preheated jars, and screw the lids on. You can either can the jars by submerging them into boiling water for 10 minutes, or just turn them upside down on a clean towel, let them cool and keep them in the refrigerator. (This is what I do when I preserve small quantity of fruit such as in this case – the jams are gone within a week anyway 🙂
  4. To make the crostata: Place the dry ingredients in a bowl of your food processor, fitted with an S – blade; pulse to combine. Add the cold cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles peas (you should still see small pieces of butter, that’s what makes the pastry tender and flaky.)
  5. One by one add the egg yolks and the zest, mix just until combined and the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough in a saran wrap and chill it for 30 minutes, so it will be easier to roll.
  6. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a circle a little bigger than your tart pan with removable bottom. Transfer the rolled out dough into the pan and press it up the sides of the pan. Roll out three pieces of dough into a rope about ¾ cm thick and braid them together. Place the braid onto the dough in the pan, dividing it into thirds.Chill the dough while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C). Reserve the scraps of the dough for decorations.
  7. Place sheet of parchment paper on the surface of the dough, and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. Parbake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove the beans/weights, lower the temp to 350 °F (175 °C), brush the crostata with egg wash and bake for about 10 minutes more, until the crust is golden brown. If the edges are browning too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil. Remove the tart from the oven and let cool completely.
  8. Roll out the dough scarps, cut out the decorations and chill them for 20 minutes, so they will be easier to paint. Place an egg yolk in the center of a plate and place 2 – 3 drops of desired colors on the edge of the plate. Mix a little of the egg yolk with the color you’re using and paint the cut out decorations. Place the painted decorations on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake them at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 5 – 7 minutes. Let cool completely.
  9. Fill the crostata with jams, using about 2/3 cup of each strawberry, apricot, and cherry jam. Decorate with the painted prebaked decorations and serve.
Note:

The original recipe instructions said to fill the unbaked crostata with jam, decorate it with unbaked painted decorations and bake it that way. I chose to brebake both the crust and the decorations, because I was worried the crostata filled with jam wouldn’t bake through and the crust would be soggy, and the bubbling jam would mess up the painted fruit decorations. This method took slightly longer, but I think the crostata looks better.

Almond Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Apricots

Summer: Flowing dresses, colorful toenails in flip-flops, road trips to see the unseen, wind in the hair, splashing water, warm breezy evenings with friends and wine. I adore summertime more than anything else in the world, and I’d gladly give up any other season to have more of it. That’s probably why I love apricots so much – to me they’re a perfect symbol of leisurely summer days, each and every one like a tiny, round, orange sun. I do my best to fill up on them while they’re in season, and also try to preserve the sunshine they embody in any way I can – whether it’s jam, frozen pulp to add to my morning smoothies, or just quartered fruit to throw in my cakes later. Then when we’re in the depth of (rainy and gloomy) winter, I can just open the freezer or pop a jar, and have a dose of apricot sunshine therapy.

I like them best when they’re freckled, mushy, and overripe with sweetness, but of course for baking it’s better to find fruit that’s a little more firm and holds its shape.  Whether to peel it or not, that’s up to you, but I rarely bother. Apricots are a wonderful accompaniment for any of your summer baking endeavors: muffins, quick breads, yeast goods, you name it – everything will taste amazing with apricots in it!

This weekend I’ve decided to make a tart: I filled an almond short crust pastry with vanilla pastry cream, and sat slices of poached apricots on top. The mild tartness of apricots complements the sweet taste of pastry cream very well, but I love the tart’s looks the most: Deep orange, with almond sprinkled all over… Sunshine in every bite.

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Almond Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Apricots

Almond tart:
  • 125 g (4.5 oz.) all – purpose flour (for gluten – free alternative, please see Note)
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) ground dry toasted almonds
  • pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 114 g (4 oz., ½ cup) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
  • 2 egg whites, divided
Vanilla Pastry Cream:
  • 2 cups (500 ml, 16 oz.) half-and-half or whipping cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 140 g (5 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract (I used Frangelico liqueur instead)
  • 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin, bloomed in 2 tablespoons water
Poached Apricots:
  • 500 g (1 lb.) fresh apricots, halved and pitted
  • 1 l (32 oz.) water (+ extra iced water for cooling the apricots
  • 230 g (8 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

+ 140 g (5 oz.) granulated white sugar – for sprinkling the poached fruit
½ cup sliced almonds, divided
40 g (1.5 oz.) apricot preserves, mixed with 15 ml (0.5 oz.) water – to brush the apricots

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Method:
  1. First, prepare the tart shell: Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl of your food processor; pulse couple of times until combined.
  2. Add chilled/cubed butter, and pulse until the butter resembles peas. Add the egg white and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper into a rectangle that fits into a 13 x 4 inch (33 x 10 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. The dough should be about 1/8 (3 – 4 mm) thick. Chill the rolled out rectangle for about 20 minutes so it’s easier to transfer into the pan. When it’s chilled, peel off the top parchment paper and invert it into your pan. Chill again for 20 – 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  4. Place a sheet of parchment paper onto the dough in the pan and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until set. Remove the parchment with weights/beans, brush the tart with a beaten egg white and continue to bake for 10 – 15 minutes more until golden brown. Let cool completely in the pan.
  5. Make the pastry cream: Combine powdered gelatin with water and set aside to bloom.
  6. In a saucepan, heat the half-and-half/cream with sugar, almond extract and vanilla extract. Mix the egg yolks with cornstarch, temper the mixture with a little of warm cream/yolk mixture and pour it into the rest of the cream/yolk mixture in the pan, whisking constantly. Cook for about 2 – 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pudding thickens and remove it from the heat.
  7. Let the vanilla cream cool a little, and then liquefy the gelatin over a pot of hot water and mix it into the hot vanilla pastry cream. Set aside for now.
  8. Make the poached apricots: Bring the water, sugar, and vanilla to a boil. Add the halved fruit and cook over a medium heat for 2 – 4 minutes, until the apricots are soft when pierced with a fork, but not mushy. Immediately place them into a bowl of iced water.
  9. Pour the lukewarm vanilla pastry cream into the tart shell and sprinkle it with half of the sliced almonds. Chill in the refrigerator.
  10. Drain the apricots and cut them into neat slices (3 – 4 slices per half) and sprinkle them with sugar. Let stand for couple of minutes.
  11. Arrange the apricots on the pastry cream. Warm up the apricot jelly with water, brush the fruit and sprinkle it with the rest of the sliced almonds.
  12. Return to the refrigerator and chill until serving.

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Note:

To make the tart gluten – free, replace the all – purpose flour with your favorite flour mix (don’t forget to add 1 teaspoon guar/xanthan gum if your mix doesn’t contain it already). I usually mix my own flour mixes, but for this recipe I used Bob’s Red Mill Pie flour mix, and it worked beautifully. Please check that your vanilla and almond extracts are gluten – free as well; gluten often hides in the most unexpected places!