This is one of my most special desserts. Mainly because its main ingredient is so special. Huckleberries. If you’re from around here (Seattle), your version may be different than mine. I get these beauties from Montana where my grandma lives. I go every summer and after a nice long visit with my grandma and her brothers about where the best berries are that year, I head up to the woods and start trying to fill my buckets. These berries have an earthy flavor different from any store-bought berry you can find. Part of the magic is all the memories that go along with them for me. My grandma is the first person who ever showed me a huckleberry, along with many other plants and flowers and she deserves her very own posting at a later date. Suffice it to say, that when I brought these berries back and found this recipe in the Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook, it became an instant favorite around here. I made this latest one for my dear friend’s birthday, having saved just the right amount of berries in the freezer for her February birthday request. If you aren’t lucky enough to have huckleberries around, blueberries should do fine and they’re in the stores right now.
About 3 hours, about 1 hour active time
Special equipment needed: 10 inch tart pan with removable bottom and a small blowtorch
3 cups fresh or frozen huckleberries
1 recipe sweet almond dough (following) at room temperature
1 1/2 cups creme fraiche
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
-Clean huckleberries if needed. If frozen, let thaw and drain on paper towels to air dry.
-Using your fingers, press the sweet almond dough into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Form an even crust, about 1/8 inch thick, over the bottom and all the way up the sides of the pan. It’s important that the crust be the same thickness on the bottom and the sides. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Line the chilled tart shell with a piece of parchment paper and fill with dreid beans or baking weights. Bake on center rack of oven for 20-25 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Carefully remove the paper and beans and set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.
-Combine creme fraiche, eggs 1/2 cup of sugar and vanilla extract in a medium stainless steel bowl. Mix well with a whisk until eggs are fully incorporated. Place bowl on top of a saucepan filled with 2 inches of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water. It’s important that the water be just simmering or it might scorch the ingredients. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula until the mixture is warmed through, approximately 95 degrees on a candy thermometer. This usually takes me about 5 minutes or so.
-Place the cooled tart shell on a rimmed baking sheet and scatter the huckleberries evenly across the bottom of the shell. Pour the warmed custard over the berries, filling the shell to just below the top. (I always have some custard left, so last time I put a few berries in a ramekin and poured the leftover custard in, then baked with the tart. It needed about 5 minutes longer in the oven to set, but was delicious! And since the crust has nuts in it, it was perfect for my guest with a nut allergy.) Place baking sheet on center rack of oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until tart is just set. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
-Combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle evenly over the tart. Using a small blowtorch, carefully caramelize the surface of the tart. The sugar will turn a deep, golden brown. If you don’t have a blowtorch, place the tart under a preheated broiler and turn frequently until the surface of the tart is evenly browned. Serve immediately.
(I’ve also made this tart a day ahead, kept it at room temperature and then caramelized the sugar and spices right before serving.)
Sweet Almond Dough
(For 1 10-inch tart)
1/4 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast in oven for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool, then finely grind in a food processor. Measure out 2 tablespoons of ground almonds and set aside. Save the rest for another day and another tart.
-Combine 2 tablespoons of the ground almonds, sugar and flour in a medium bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, mix together vanilla, almond extract and melted butter. Add butter mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until coarse and crumbly, using your hands to break up any large lumps. The finished dough will stick together when squeezed between your thumb and forefinger.
-At this point, the dough is ready for the above recipe. Or you can wrap the dough in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for 1-2 days or freeze for up to a month. Be sure and bring dough to room temperature before using.