There is an idiom in Italian: ‘Una ciliegia tira l’altra’, a cherry leads you to the next one. Indeed, I cannot stop. Cherries are among my favourite treats. The season in Italy is painfully short, probably over by now, but for my good luck it tends to be longer here up North. We have been having sweet and dark Spanish, Turkish and Italian cherries for months, but the true highlight is now, when the local ones are ready and ripe, and oh so tasty.
I probably inherited the passion for cherries from my dad, although to be fair, it is quite common a passion. It is one of the best moments in life to wander through the Italian countryside, possibly on a bike, and come across a cherry tree, in a sunny morning of May, the air hot but still bearable. It is a joy me and my dad have shared more than once. Every time, we don’t care whether the cherries are of the sweet or the tart variety (both are quite common, there are often trees that have been abandoned, or so my dad used to say to me, which is probably not completely true, but anyway, we are not doing more damage than birds). We eat cherries until we are literally sick, both of us.
So since my parents are visiting me this week, and since it is cherry season, I could not help but spoil them with a cherry dessert. It gives me a lot of satisfaction when they visit and I finally get to cook for them all the nice recipes I’ve discovered in the last few months. I made spakanopitta with the feta and phyllo pastry I get at the Greek shop; I made Heidi’s Indian cucumber salad, which I cannot stop eating since when cucumber has been cleared of the accusations for the Ecoli outbreak; I am going to make them David’s wasabi coleslaw. One of my favourites I could not skip is the cover girl of ‘Good to the grain‘: a rhubarb tart made with corn flour.
The pastry is oddly similar to zaeti, cookies I’ve been doing for ages and whose flavour I love. There is not one thing I don’t like of these tartlets. The pastry is extremely tasty, quick to make, and easy to work with: no need to rest before shaping. You need no rolling pins, tartlet tins, or baking beans. I think this could make them an appealing recipe even for those who normally are not into baking cakes. Some of us are control freaks and like to shape perfect cookies or roll dough to exactly 0.4 cm thickness. Some of us love food, but just can’t be bothered with the precision involved in patisserie. I fall in between those categories, and these tartlets have the appealing freedom of being completely hand-made - picture a child playing with play-doh. I played with the filling this time, since the original rhubarb is running out of season, and since my parents grow rhubarb in huge amounts in their garden, and by this time of the year, they are kind of sick of it. The cherry version was just as delicious as the rhubarb one: any slightly tart filling will work, I guess. I kept the filling definitely on the tart side, I served the tartlets with a dollop of whipped cream and had the pleasure to see my dad, who usually does not indulge in sweet treats, pile more cream on top of his tartlet.
A warning: as I told you before, no equipment is required, apart from a vital one: a large metal spatula to lift the shaped tartlets and put them in the freezer. If you don’t have this inexpensive piece of equipment I would consider tracking it down. It is much more useful than what you’d think, and this recipe is a good demonstration.
Cherry and corn tartlets (makes 5)
For the pastry:
75 gr corn flour ( very fine milled, don’t use polenta flour)
55 gr all purpose flour
42 gr polenta flour, fine milled
40 gr sugar
56 gr butter, cold, cut into small pieces
pinch of salt
30 gr double cream
1 egg yolk
For the filling:
500 gr sour cherries, unpitted
80 gr brown sugar
4-5 dried hibiscus flowers (optional, they give a great colour and a difficult to pin but intriguing hint of flavour)
Remove the pith the cherries. When they are ripe, I found you can pith the sour cherries just by squeezing them with your fingers, if you don’t mind the cleaning (make sure you don’t wear your favourite white dress …). Add two-thirds of them to a heavy bottom pot with all their juices, the sugar and the hibiscus flowers, if using. Bring to the boil and let it bubble merrily for about 10 minutes, until it thickens a bit. Add the remaining cherries, mix well and leave to cool. When cool enough, remove the hibiscus flowers.
For the pastry: weight and sift the dry ingredients. Mix in the butter, cut into small pieces, and rub it quickly with your fingertips until crumbs form. Add in the egg and cream. Mix until it comes together. Divide the dough into five equal sized balls. Flour a working surface, add one of the ball and press it with the palm of your hand to a disc about 10 cm of diameter. Use the spatula to make sure you can lift it. Using your finger tips lower the border until quite thin, about 2 more cm wide. Arrange a few tablespoons of cherries in the center (leave most of the juices behind: they are great on yoghurt). Fold the thinner border into ribbons over the cherries making a rough flower shape. Slide the spatula underneath it and put it on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Proceed with the other tartlets, trying not to worry too much if they don’t look perfect, or even nice: people will eat them just as greedily, I promise. If you are a control freak you are welcome to use buttered tartlet tins instead.
Put the tartlets for at least two hours in the freezer to chill. If you want to keep them longer, wrap them well once frozen. Bake in 180 preheated oven for about 30 mins, until the edges are golden and they smell good. The pastry will still be a bit soft, but it hardens as it cools. If not eating immediately when cold, wrap them in plastic.