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.
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:
For the Filling:
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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.