Chocolate Cranberry Tart

Have you ever had one of those “oops” moments when you’re cooking? I mean the sort of thing where you forget a main ingredient or forget to set the timer? I do this more often than I care to mention. The timer thing, well, that’s the thing I forget the most. I set the timer for the correct number of minutes but I just forget to push the start button. Later when I look at the timer and see it's not moving... Aack, panic sets in immediately. I suddenly try to calculate how long my item has been in the oven as if there is some magical clock in my head that I can reference. I usually will look at the clock on the wall too, like that is of any help. Gee, it's four o'clock. Yeah, so? Then I go into analytical mode; I start by finding some piece of information in my mind that I can use as a starting point to try and calculate the amount of elapsed time. Lets see…it was 3 o'clock when I first started peeling the potatoes so if that took about [15 minutes] + [another 10 minutes to prep the onions] + [chopping the garlic] divided by the phase of the moon = ...what exactly? All the while my mind is trying to calculate the elapsed time, my hands and body are in overdrive. I will have grabbed an oven mitt, my thermometer, and flung open the oven door to look in, my eyes darting back and forth to look for scorch marks or smoke or any other tell tale sign that I have burned whatever it was that I was making. I have been lucky many, many times, and things are still on track, but occasionally, (well let’s just say “occasionally“) things are not so good. I can remember one time in particular I was browning a batch of meatballs in the oven and forgot to set the timer. Then I got a phone call and since it was a little hot in the house I went outside to talk and forty minutes later, when I went back in... well let's just say those meatballs were... what’s the word?... extremely well done (David ate them anyway: he likes crunchy food!).

Somewhat recently I was making a lemon cheesecake for a friends birthday. I put it in the oven to bake and started cleaning up the countertops when I noticed still sitting right next to the mixer were my prep bowls with the vanilla and lemon juice. My lemon cheesecake was in the oven with no flavoring in it at all! There was a scramble at that point to pull the thing out of the oven, pour the filling out of the pan (without messing up the crust) mix in the flavorings and get it back in the oven. In the end it came out just fine and no one was the wiser – disaster averted! However, this was not the case one Thanksgiving quite some time ago. Somewhere in my travels I had acquired one of those giant pie pans like Costco uses to bake their pies. I decided for Thanksgiving I would take charge and bake a giant pumpkin pie for the family dinner. Pumpkin pie is actually a super easy pie to make and the recipe most everybody uses is the one right on the can of Libby's Pure Pumpkin. That’s exactly the recipe I would use and, since these pies are so easy to make, I got it together in no time and baked to perfection in my giant pie tin. When I arrived at my parent’s house and placed the pie on the sideboard it looked spectacular. Back then giant pies were not common and seeing this 18-inch pie was quite a sight. Dinner that day was typical Thanksgiving fair and the family ate, drank and chatted away until we were all almost full. The icing on the cake, as it were, was the pumpkin pie. I brought it over to the table and started slicing great big pieces. I could probably stop my story here and I'll bet most of you are shaking your heads knowing what's coming next. For those of you who can’t guess... my dad was the first person to take a bite and as soon as he did he stopped chewing and said through clenched teeth... "Don’t eat the pie, I think you forgot the sugar". I started searching my memory - pumpkin, check, eggs, check, evaporated milk, check. And then that moment when my brain said... sugar, nope, no check... oops… More cranberry sauce anyone?

Although I didn't leave out any ingredients in the recipe for today's post I did have a few minor issues when I made it soon after it was first published in Bon Appetit magazine (you can view the original recipe here). My end result pretty much looked exactly like the picture in the magazine and I was very pleased. I took it to work the day before the Thanksgiving holiday so the staff could meet as a group and socialize with each other for a few minutes before I sent them home early for the holidays. After all, your work colleagues are just another kind of (equally dysfunctional) family aren't they? Anyway, I got my knife to slice the tart and found the crust to be just a little too crisp and hard to cut. The mascarpone filling was a bit loose as well, so it just sort of slid off the crust. It wasn't horrible though by any means. The taste was really great but the look on the plate, well, I was a little bit disappointed. Now, I’ll pause just a minute here and say that this dessert is not a fancy showstopper dessert. For all intents and purposes this is just a standard fruit tart; crust, filling and fruit on top. It has the added benefit though of looking quite stunning on a cake plate. So... as I think about my first experience with this recipe, I actually shouldn’t have been disappointed in any way. Despite that first experience I set myself to seeing if I could fix the problems I encountered. Well, do you remember how I said I'm not chef? I didn't even know where to start and I almost just resigned myself to never making it again. In true form though I filed the recipe away in my desserts folder and every so often I would come across it and think about re-making it. One of those times I committed myself to fixing those minor problems. I decided the first place to start was by reading through the many reviews and suggestions in the comments section that posted after the recipe online and take their advice to heart. In fact a number of folks had similar issues and with those comments in my head I tried again. It should be said that, in fact, there really wasn’t many changes needed. Just a little less sugar in the crust and watching the amount of butter helps keep the crust from becoming too hard (it does need to be a little stiff so it will unmold and hold its shape). As for the filling being loose that’s simply a matter of making sure the ingredients are the same temperature when mixing them and watching closely as it mixes. What you end up with is very flavorful dessert. The chocolate crust and sweet mascarpone filling is perfectly offset by the tart and gingery cranberry topping. You will need to allow the topping of this tart to chill at least eight hours or overnight so plan at least 1 day ahead of when you want to serve. You will also need a few special items to make this; one is a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, another is a food processor to turn chocolate wafer cookies into fine crumbs, and a strainer to separate the cranberries and cooking liquid will be very helpful. Lastly, I use my stand mixer with the paddle attachment when making the filling, which I think, works great, but you can use a standard electric mixer as well.

See, it looks a little messy, but that's ok!

So, here is how I put this together:

Ingredients:

For the Cranberry Topping:

  • ½ cup cranberry juice, divided

  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

  • 1 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries

  • ¾ cup sugar

  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

  • 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger

  • Pinch of salt

  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

For the Crust:

  • 1¼ cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (made from about 6½ ounces chocolate wafer cookies, finely ground in a food processor)

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

  • 5½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Mascarpone Filling:

  • 1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese, room temperature

  • ½ cup powdered sugar

  • ½ cup whipping cream – room temperature

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)

Garnish:

  • Thin strips of crystallized ginger (optional)

Instructions:

Start by making the cranberry topping

Pour ¼ cup cranberry juice into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the juice. Just let those hang out until softened, which takes about 15 minutes…. Meanwhile…

Combine the remaining ¼ cup cranberry juice, cranberries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, fresh ginger and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat.

Bring the cranberry mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the cranberries are tender but still plump, a mere 2 - 4 minutes is all it should take. You don’t want to overcook the cranberries. Think super chunky cranberry sauce.

Set a strainer over a medium bowl and pour the cranberry mixture into the strainer, then set the cranberries aside for a minute.

Add the gelatin mixture to the hot juice in the bowl and stir just until the gelatin dissolves.

Now, gently stir the cranberries back into the juice and chill the mixture until it is cold and thickened, at least 8 hours or overnight.

When chilled, gently fold the chopped crystallized ginger into the cranberry mixture, and return to the refrigerator.

Note: You can make the cranberry topping up to 2 days ahead of time, keeping it covered and chilled.

Next make the crust

Preheat your oven to 350°F with the rack in the center position.

Put the chocolate wafer cookie crumbs, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine.

Add the melted butter and stir until crumbs are well and evenly moistened.

Press the crumb mixture firmly onto the bottom and up the sides of 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Use a flat-bottomed measuring cup or a glass to help press the crumbs into place.  

Bake the crust until beginning to set and slightly crisp, pressing with a spoon if the crust puffs during baking, between 10 and 14 minutes.

Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack and allow the crust to cool completely before filling.

Finally, we make the mascarpone filling

Place the mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, whipping cream, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment

Turn the mixer to low speed in order to get the ingredients combined.

Increase the speed, as the mixture comes together, to medium high and beat just until thick enough to spread. It should look like thick whipped cream - do not overbeat or the filling may separate.

Spread filling in cooled crust.

Note: you can make the filling up to 1 day ahead, cover and chill until ready to use.

Spoon the cranberry mixture evenly over the mascarpone filling and chill at least 2 hours (and up to 6 hours).

Garnish with crystallized ginger strips, if desired.

Cut tart into wedges and serve cold.

 

I really like the tartness of cranberries in this tart. I really like the spiciness of the ginger. I really like the mascarpone filling. I really like the chocolate crust. I really like the look and the presentation and I really like that it’s not just another piece of pumpkin pie (with or without sugar). I hope you try it and like it as well. 

It's weird how no matter how you move, his eyes seem to follow you.