Please excuse my absence from blogging – I know, two weeks away is a long time, but I did have a darn good excuse. I spent an extended Memorial Day Weekend with some good friends in Napa, eating and drinking my way through California wine country. The Napa/Sonoma area is now officially my favorite part of the country. Perfect weather, good wine, and most importantly, amazing food.
In my several visits to Napa and Sonoma, I’ve eaten at at least two dozen restaurants – including the French Laundry (twice!), one of the best restaurants in the world. For a slightly more casual experience (or much more casual experience), I love Redd and it’s more casual pizza cousin, Redd Wood; Bistro Jeanty; Bouchon Bakery (of course!); and the Girl and the Fig.
But on this recent trip, of all the meals we had, there was one standout: Mustards Grill, a casual little roadside restaurant that has been in Napa since the 1980s. The food was not expensive, but it was really, really good. So good that as soon as I got home, I ordered their cookbook. I first wanted to make their legendary Lemon Lime Meringue Pie, but seeing as how it’s the season for Bing cherries, this Bing Cherry and Almond Tart called to me.
I made a few modifications to the tart recipe, but overall I thought this was a brilliant dessert. The cherry and almond flavors go beautifully together, and the amount of almonds in the tart do not overpower the fresh, sweet cherries. The almond filling surrounding the cherries has a cake-like texture, which I loved. It’s a perfect dessert for this time of year, when fresh cherries are everywhere you look.
My one complaint was the tart crust – I used the Mustards recipe and did not care for it at all, as it was a bland pie dough and not a tart dough. I’ve recommended below that if you decide to make this, make the tart dough I made last summer for my Fresh Fruit Tart.
Bing Cherry and Almond Tart
Adapted generously from Mustard’s Grill
Makes one 9 to 11-inch tart; my recipe also made 2 additional mini tarts
1 prebaked tart crust, baked in tart pan with removable bottom (I recommend my recipe from the Fresh Fruit Tart)
3/4 cup blanched or unblanched whole almonds
4 cups pitted Bing cherries (around 2 lbs) – I have this awesome OXO cherrry/olive pitter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish
1. For the tart pastry, prepare and bake the tart crust as directed, and set aside to cool. Set the oven at 325 degrees F. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, until fragrant. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Toss the cherries with the 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a bowl, and set aside.
2. To prepare the filling: heat the butter with the vanilla bean or paste in a saute pan over medium heat, until the butter has melted. Increase the heat to medium-high, and cook for about 8 minutes, until the butter is brown and fragrant. Do not go anywhere during the process, because butter goes from nicely browned to burned very quickly. Pour the butter into a small bowl and set aside to cool.
3. Pulse together the confectioners’ sugar, nuts, salt, and flour in a food processor, until almonds are finely ground. Add the eggs and pulse until combined, then add the butter and almond extract and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Pour the filling into the tart shell. Place 2 to 3 cups of the cherries evenly over the filling. The original recipe called for 2 cups of the cherries, but I used much more, and probably could have squeeze a few more in. I placed the cherries individually into the filling, since it looks neater this way. The cherries sink into the filling a little bit, so just dumping the cherries into the filling would be messy (not to mention look messy).
4. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the filling is golden brown and the center is just set. Cool the tart on a rack, and remove the sides of the pan when serving. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.