Reluctant Surprises

Most of the recipes I feature on the site are things I’ve bookmarked and planned out — I don’t often just whip something up on a whim, take a photo, and blog about it. Until this week. Don’t get me wrong. I had a recipe planned for you (and it’ll appear next week instead. And it’s quite wonderful). But this week has brought about some bumps in the road and unexpected surprises. If you could call them that.Here in California, most of our dried cranberries have been recalled due to some situation in the processing factory. And I use dried cranberries in the granola I make for Marge. So this week my delivery guy decided to drop off seven pounds of fresh cranberries instead of dried, figuring, I’m guessing, What the heck? She can dry them out! Well the delivery man resides in San Francisco and my bakery’s in Oakland and the two are far enough away that driving back over the bridge to return seven pounds of cranberries just doesn’t make logical sense. So I stared at them for awhile. And put them in the refrigerator. And drove home.

I was so looking forward to a gym class that night, and knew I could figure out what to do with the cranberries in the morning.  This particular class is a very un-Megan class in a way because a) I usually hate gym classes and b) there’s weight-lifting involved. But we do lots of sit-ups and weird squats and it wipes me out in a way that running and yoga just don’t. The teacher plays loud, sometimes-raunchy rap and it’s a darn fine escape from the world of baking, farmers markets, and writing. I arrived  a second or two late that night to find a middle-aged woman in a very 1988 leotard explaining how she’d be filling in for our regular teacher and would be doing a conditioning class for the body, spirit, and soul. She also explained that she didn’t have any music so perhaps it could be meditative.

No raunchy rap! No groan-inducing sit-ups! It was frankly too late to tip-toe out of class and I just couldn’t bring myself to do so anyway. I gathered my foam mat along with the rest of the class and followed the substitute’s lead doing numerous sets of leg lifts and shoulder shrugs and arm windmills. And about twenty minutes into the class something funny happened. My mind just went to a completely different place. A place where I had time to think about what to buy/make people for Christmas, what to do for health insurance for 2012, and when I might make it up to Eureka next.

I actually forgot about the odd leg lifts and shoulder shrugs and arm windmills and noticeable lack of raunchy rap and had a very real hour of head-clearing. An hour without books or the newspaper or email or Instagram or the phone. Just with my own thoughts. At the end of the class I thanked the teacher for one of the best classes I’ve had in months. She looked confused,  probably thinking I was being sarcastic as a few people in the class had actually left half-way through. No really, this was just what I needed, I assured her.

When you’re delivered the wrong product one week, you figure out a way to make do. When you realize the gym class you looked forward to all day is going to be taught by an ex-Jazzercise enthusiast and will likely be the worst exercise class you’ve ever attended, you go with it. Because what else are you going to do? There are unanticipated surprises in those kinks. Initially reluctant surprises, but inevitably wonderful ones, too.

In an essay/book review she wrote for the New York Times on happiness, writer Amy Bloom notes, “To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever.” And that’s why we have to drink it all in during the holiday season. Go with the flow. Go with the planned parties and grocery lists but also all of the meandering surprises. There are tarts to make, cookies to plan for, plane tickets to buy, snowflakes to make, loved ones to kiss, lights to string, sisters to snuggle. We only get it for these next few weeks — so let the savoring begin.

Now I think you’d agree: I’m generally not very demanding of you. We usually chat about what’s going on in my life and and then write about a recipe I baked or cooked recently. But there are a few recipes that I really feel I must say to you: Make This Now. This is one of them. I felt that way with with Kim Boyce’s cookies and with the Rustic Fig and Almond Cream Galettes. And with a good handful of recipes on this site, actually. Things that I make over and over again in my own kitchen. And I genuinely feel that way about this tart.

The filling isn’t as light as a custard but is a very close cousin. It’s flecked with vanilla and lightly scented with meyer lemon zest and nestled right into a toasty hazelnut crust. After cooling, the whole thing is topped with softened and lightly sweetened cranberries. While I made this for myself on a normal old Wednesday, this is dinner party- worthy, for sure. Yes, even holiday dinner party-worthy. So I hope you’ll let yourself follow a few unexpected paths this holiday season. If for no other reason than to make a cranberry tart that arrives in your in-box unexpectedly on a Thursday morning in early-ish December.

Brown-Butter Cranberry Tart with a Hazelnut Crust

Brown-Butter Cranberry Tart with a Hazelnut Crust

  • Yield: 8 servings
  • Prep time: 20 mins
  • Cook time: 35 mins
  • Inactive time: 1 hr
  • Total time: 1 hr 55 mins

There are perfect marriages in food as in life, and I’ve always found cranberries and hazelnuts to be such a marriage. For this tart, I used a hazelnut crust I’ve been experimenting with in the bakery and a simple old-fashioned filling that’s reminiscent of an early-American pie recipe I do in the spring with citrus. To revamp it for the holiday season, I used a vanilla bean and fresh cranberries instead. I think you’ll find it’s wonderful served with a dollop of whipped cream, but it’s perfect as is, too.


For the Crust:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
1 large egg yolk
1-2 tablespoons ice-cold water

For the Filling:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest, grated
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup water


Make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch square tart pan with removable bottom. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts by pulsing on/off for about 30 seconds until they’re a smooth medium-grind.  They shouldn’t be too chunky but don’t go so far as to turn them into a paste either. Add the  flour, sugar, and salt into the food processor and give them a quick pulse so they’re all blended together.

Add the butter and cut into the dry ingredients with an on/off pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk and 1 tablespoon ice water and blend until moist clumps form (don’t allow dough to form ball). If your mixture is still too dry, add another tablespoon of ice water. Press dough into bottom and up the sides of prepared pan. The crust should be about 1/4-inch thick. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. After crust has chilled, bake until barely golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Make the filling:
In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the vanilla bean and scraped-out seeds. Cook over medium- heat until the butter starts to turn golden brown and smells toasty or nutty, about 4-5 minutes. You just successfully made brown butter! Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1 cup of the sugar and the lemon zest. Slowly pour the brown butter into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time so as to not allow your eggs to cook. Whisk in the flour and salt. Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden and set (not jiggly in the center). Transfer to a rack to cool, about 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar with the cranberries and water. Bring to a simmer over medium-heat and cook until the cranberries just begin to pop and the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Pour the cranberries into a bowl and refrigerate until cool, roughly 1 hour.

Drain the cranberries using a slotted spoon or a fine sieve and arrange them on top of the tart (the cranberry liquid will be discarded). Cut the tart into wedges and serve.

Note: This tart can be kept room temperature overnight and refrigerated up to two days.


  1. la domestique

    Wonderful post! The tart is gorgeous and quite festive. I'm (reluctantly) attending a Christmas party tonight and will hope for a surprise. :) It's funny, I just feel compelled to be there. After reading you're post, I'm going with it.

  2. Bowen

    Lovely post about "going with the flow" - something I struggle with both in and out of the kitchen. Unfortunately I'm allergic to hazelnuts (thought I hear they're quite delicious), but this looks gorgeous and I'm sure I could substitute something else.

    Happy holidays!

    1. megang

      Yes! Use your favorite nuts in the recipe...doesn't have to be hazelnuts at all. Almonds would be lovely..

  3. Kasey

    When life gives you cranberries...Beautiful looking tart, Megan! And I, too, have a fondness for those cookies. xo

  4. Elizabeth @ Saffron Lane

    I'm pretty sure you're not going to have to twist my arm to make this (although I do appreciate the push). I also adore that quote. So simple, satisfying and so true.

    Based on this gorgeous creation, I wouldn't mind if your delivery person screwed up more often. :)

  5. Y

    Love this tart! Wish I could bake with cranberries more but they are so hard to get here, apart from the dried ones.

    1. megang

      That's right! I always forget that cranberries are hard to come by in your neck of the woods. You could actually do the base tart recipe and use any fruit you really love (pears, macerated citrus...)

  6. kale @ tastes good to me!

    This sure is one gorgeous "whim"! Wish I could snuggle my sister and try this, cranberries are her fav!

  7. jo-lyn's cup cakes n' candies

    hhhmmm...going with the flow has never been my 'cup of tea' but i am getting better at it! your tart is gorgeous and sounds super delish! ;)

  8. Danielle

    That sub gym teacher sounds like quite a character, I have various ideas of what a '1988 leotard' would look like. Do people even wear leotards any more?? Maybe the fashion never left. Maybe I should go shopping for some. Polka dots or stripes?

    Ok, I will stop here before this comment turns into a reluctant surprise for you ;) Gorgeous tart Megan and way to turn lemons into lemonade (metaphorically speaking, obviously...) Happy Holidays my dear friend! xo

    1. megang

      Danielle-I think you can safely let go of any desire to revisit the leotard. It was never good. My favorite was the woman who wore the thong leotards over the spandex....ah, the late 80's. Thank you for the sweet comment. Hope you're doing well, my friend.

  9. Mary

    The tart is gorgeous. I'll have to try making one. Re: Kim Boyce - those are my fave chocolate chip cookies. I recently made a batch w/ chocolate I bought during my visit to Mast Brothers. It's blended w/Stumptown coffee beans. Heavenly.

    1. megang

      Hi Mary! Thank you! Yes that Kim Boyce recipe is absolutely amazing. I can't quite figure out why it's so legendary, but they're my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe of all time. And I've been seeing your Instagram photos of this Mast Brothers chocolate -- looks like very special stuff. xo. ~m

  10. lori

    Megan, the photos are gorgeous and your writing is even prettier. BTW, I love that you quoted Amy Bloom. I've been a huge fan of hers since reading her first book about "love." She has a wicked sense of humor. Happy Holidays! Lori

    1. megang

      Thanks so much, Lori. Yes, Amy Bloom is a her short stories.

  11. betty

    I love the way it looks, so delicious

  12. kickpleat

    Oh hello, this looks amazing! I think this would be ideal to serve on Christmas day and I can't believe I haven't tried those cookies yet.

    1. megang

      Jeannette: O.k. cookies first, tart second! Yes, it'd be so pretty (and tasty) on Christmas Day. Hope you had a great week!

  13. nicole

    Making this for a wee dinner party I'm doing next week ... it looks so good, and a perfect new dessert to try. Thanks!

  14. shanna

    Just made this and it is gorgeous! I am so excited to have it at our pie party tonight! : )

  15. Mel

    Thanks for writing a beautiful post. "Go with the planned parties and grocery lists but also all of the meandering surprises" - YES!

  16. Ashley

    As sad as I am for your granola I'm sort of happy that 7lbs of fresh cranberries ended up in your possession. Look what you've done with them! Beautiful.

  17. MichaelaRae

    I'm a huge fan of anything cranberry! I will definitely try this someday. Thanks! Also, beautiful pictures. :-)

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