We made a dried apricot tart this weekend, which we tweaked to our liking, (or so we thought). It cam from a recipe M found online. I’ll bet you’re expecting to see that tweaked recipe down at the end of this post too, yeah? Well, truth be told, there will be a recipe at the end, but it won’t be this one -we need to talk about recipe development.
The recipe came from what we shall call a Very Established And Respected Public Source for writing about food. Whether it’s Monica or me that gets an itch to make something and turn it into our own, we both do our due diligence – AKA, research. I work in the food biz, she does not, but the roots of the process are similar regardless of whether it’s her, me, or us doing the work. If it’s me doing the lion’s share, I tend to use resources like The Flavor Bible, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and various other regional or genre experts for thoughts on ingredients, technique, and the like. Monica tends to go for a mainstream recipe, which she studies and then alters to achieve what she is after.
Fact is, both routes are just fine and work pretty much equally well. Granted, I have more arcane food knowledge in my noggin, and as such, I tend to model on or alter recipes less than she does – But that doesn’t mean my method is better – it may take fewer tries to get where we want to go, but that’s really neither here nor there when it comes to the end result. It would be disingenuous to say I create more recipes than she does because of differences in method – I create more because I do the majority of the cooking and developing – There’s really nothing more operative in that regard.
My point with that last paragraph is this – I hear a lot of folks who seem almost embarrassed to say that they made something their own, when ‘all I did was tweak a recipe.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Fact is, even great chefs, legendary chefs, do exactly that. That is why, almost every post here includes some variation on the phrase, make it yours – Because when you put your stamp on it, and then repeat it, and it becomes a beloved standard for you, then my friend, that recipe is 100%, no doubt about it, yours.
So, what about this recipe would warrant me stating that it definitely needed further development? Well, frankly, it’s because the finished tart sucked. Bad. Now, that said – the caveats – Yes, it’s possible we screwed it up, (we didn’t), or that our ingredients were sub-par, (they weren’t), but the fact is, that recipe just was not designed or explained well at all. I knew it, truth be told, and so did M – But this was again, from a very reputable source, so we thought, what the hell, we’ll give it a spin – You have to do that sometimes, because there may well be magic where you least expect it, and if you don’t try it, you’ll never know. I gotta say though, in this case, it used some ingredients that are not cheap, so springing for that stuff and ending up with sub par results should not make a consumer happy.
We really tried with this thing. Again, we added a couple twists of our own, but nothing earthshaking – We didn’t have mascarpone in house, so we subbed cream cheese, heavy cream, and sour cream – That’s a certified, A-OK cheat, by the way, (but again? I knew better, and we did it anyway – My bad…) We also added a few dried cranberries, because they go nicely with apricots, and well, why not? And… It sucked. We ate a piece each, and the rest went to the squirrels and jays, (sorry, fellas). So why did that happen?
The answer to that requires digging in a bit deeper. First off, reading all 30+ of the review comments left by folks who made the recipe, (which supposedly received a 4 out of 5 star rating), it became immediately evident that almost no one said outright that this was a great tart recipe. In fact, overwhelmingly, people had trouble interpreting it, and said so – It was too vague, didn’t speak thoroughly to method, ingredient handling, or proper bakeware. Another healthy chunk said, in so many words, that it didn’t taste good – it was dry, had too much crust, the apricots shouldn’t have been left whole as shown, and so on. Several folks complained about the custard.So how did this thing score so highly? Good question.
I noted the following. The ‘custard’ was, in fact, mascarpone, eggs, sugar, and almond extract – Which is not custard. The recipe never stated how thick the crust should end up, and frankly, the mix they used was more of a pie crust than a tart crust, and yes, there’s a difference. It called for bringing 2/3 cup of whiskey and 30 dried apricots ‘to a simmer and then set aside’, which is insufficient to soften dried fruits, or to burn off the alcohol. It listed an egg yolk in ingredients that didn’t make it to procedure, and a couple of tablespoons of water showed up in procedure that were not in the ingredient list.
This was not from a home blogger, gang. This was from a major publication with over 100 years of experience – And they screwed it up. I’m not saying that to make them look bad – I’m really not – I’m saying it because it illustrates how tough it can be to create and share a good recipe, what can happen if you don’t, and why there’s a big time caveat emptor consideration for home cooks with damn near any recipe.
So, what did it actually take to fix this thing? A little more work, a few less sort cuts, and a little better narrative. First off, we made a real tart crust, (and for the record, for a 9” to 10” tart, that should be around 1/4” thick, and thinner yet if you’re doing tartlets). Secondly, softening dried fruit in booze is costly, especially if you use the proper amount, which means enough to completely cover and submerge 30 some odd apricots – You can see from our image that the proscribed amount wasn’t even close in that regard. And in any event, doing that is simply not as effective as hot water – If you want the taste of whisky or whatever, a quarter cup in a sauce pan over medium heat, simmered until the raw booze smell dissipates and the liquid thickens slightly, then cooled and added to the custard, will do the trick much better. And finally, custard is custard, gang. That’s milk heated gently and mixed with eggs, which act as a thickener – again, mascarpone doth not a custard make – That stuff is basically cream cheese that is already quite stiff. Adding eggs and sugar and flavoring to that will not make a custard – It’ll make an eggy, sweet cream cheese, which is not, repeat not, what we’re after here. So – All that said, here’s what we did for the one we ate all of.
Dried Apricot and Cranberry Tart
For the Tart
1 Cup Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Almond Flour
1/4 Cup Bakers Sugar
1/2 Cup Cold Unsalted Butter
1 Large Egg
Pinch Sea Salt
You can do the tart by hand, which is my preferred method, or you can do it in a food processor, which is M’s preferred method – Either is just fine.
In a large mixing bowl, (or the processor), add flours, sugar, and salt and combine thoroughly.
Cut butter into roughly 1/4” cubes. Add that to the dry mix and combine by hand or process until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal.
Add the egg and incorporate thoroughly, but don’t go overboard – you don’t want the dough forming a ball on its own – You can check for done by squishing a hunk between your thumb and dialing finger – It should stick together, but not feel dry, or fall apart, (it also should not be sticky).
Pull the dough and form it into a roughly 1” disk. Wrap that in waxed paper and refrigerate for an hour, at least, (and longer is fine – Even up to a couple days – You can also freeze it, so long as you refrigerator thaw overnight prior to use).
When you’re ready to go, preheat your oven to 375° F and place a rack in a middle position.
You’ll want either a tart pan or a pie pan to bake in – Either really is fine.
Lightly grease the pan with butter.
Place the dough between sheets of waxed paper or parchment, and roll it out to about 1/4” thickness.
Carefully peel one sheet of paper off the dough and place it onto your chosen pan.
Use a fork and liberally and evenly prick the crust.
Cover the tart with a shaped piece of parchment, then use pie weights, beans, or rice to weigh down the tart.
Bake at 375° F for about 20-25 minutes, until the tart looks firm and is beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
For the Filling/Custard
About 40 dried Apricots
1/4 Cup dried, sweetened Cranberries
1 small Lemon
1 Cup heavy Cream
2 Large Eggs
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 Cup Bakers Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Set aside about a dozen apricots and 6-8 cranberries.
Place the rest of the dried fruit into a mixing bowl.
Quarter the lemon, squeeze out the juice and add it to the rest of the fruit.
Cover the fruit with boiling water and allow it to steep for 15 minutes.
When the fruit is hydrated, pour off the liquid through a single mesh strainer, reserve the fruit.
Chop the reserved dozen apricots and the cranberries, set aside.
Preheat oven to 350° F and make sure there’s still a rack in the middle position.
In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and sugar. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate – You want to get some air into this mix, so take your time – 2 to 3 minutes or so.
In a sauce pan over medium heat, scald the cream – That is, heat it until small bubbles start to form at the edges of the liquid.
Remove the cream from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Slowly add the cream to the egg and sugar mixture, whisking steadily but gently – Don’t put too much of the hot cream in at a time – You want to temper the egg mix slowly, so that it doesn’t curdle.
Place whole apricots and cherries evenly across the tart, then carefully pour the custard onto the fruit.
Top tart with the chopped apricots around the rim of the tart, and the cranberries in the middle.
Bake at 350° F for 35 to 45 minutes, until custard is firm but still jiggles a bit in the middle, and fruit is slightly browned.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
Garnish with mint, if you like. You certainly may add whipped cream or crème fraiche as well.
This one will taste good – We promise.