08 August, 2009

Luscious and ugly.

Right, I had the same thought: the blackberries look a bit grim in this photo. They should, they've just been baked and are meltingly soft. I should have taken a before shot, to better showcase their just-picked perfection. I planted a very prolific thornless blackberry a while back; it makes for painless and speedy picking and large, sweet fruit. My cheeks are nevertheless flushed and the brain is plain addled by the leaden air brought by a flash storm in full sun. I am still showing off this non-photogenic tart, because boy is it ever ravishingly good, especially with a generous lashing of gently whipped, vanilla-inflected sweetened cream. And yes, I baked in this August heat; there is only so much blackberry and ginger jam a girl can make before she starts running out of pantry space.

You may have also noticed I have a thing for sweets. In this heat, however, any excessive bending over a stove verges on masochistic. Cancel that. It is masochistic, period. Accordingly, simple, simple, simple is my personal theme song. And so naturally salad becomes the refrain. I do have well-appreciated favorites, but sometimes I need a nudge in the right direction when faced with the full panoply of produce now in season. Here's where Mark Bittman, a stand-out authority on the simple and good, races to the rescue, with 101 novel and easy recipes for salads. Check out his New York Times article for the ideas alone. If you like it, you might also enjoy his free-ranging NYT culinary blog.
In the meantime, for that ugly tart. As there are so few ingredients, please don't skimp on the quality. You will be amply rewarded in satisfaction, pleasure and praise (that last only if you're willing to share).

Tarte aux Mûres (Blackberry Tart)

1 uncooked, ready-made puff pastry crust, best quality
about four or five cups of fresh organic blackberries
about 3/4 cup of ground almonds (or almond meal)
about 4 tablespoons of blackberry or currant jelly, melted
about 1 cup cream
about 3 tablespoons powdered sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180C. Meanwhile, unroll the dough and place in the tart pan, folding the edges over. Prick the bottom with a fork so the crust will neither rise nor shrink while baking. Spread the ground almonds evenly across the bottom. They will absorb the berry juices while imparting a delicate flavor of their own. Fill the crust evenly and fully with the blackberries. Pop in the oven for about 35 minutes. Your kitchen will soon be suffused with a heady scent. Try to stay focused.

While the tart bakes, begin whipping the cream in a (preferably cold) bowl, adding the vanilla and powdered sugar, tasting all the while. I like the cream to be softly whipped, where it just holds its shape. Reheat the jam to a spreadable consistency. Once the tart crust is nicely browned, remove it from the oven and allow to cool a bit. Using a brush, ever so gently dab the jam glaze as evenly as you can manage across the now-fragile berries.

Serve lukewarm. And don't forget a big dollop of the cream, which marries quite beautifully with the baked berries.

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