February 2nd, 2011

Berry Creme Tart With Cocoa Olive Oil Crust

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Makes 6 tarts
Total time: 2 hours || Active time: 1 hour

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so why not go all out? Sure, if you’re in love then a pint of ice cream in your pjs might do the trick. But why not take this day to test the limits, bake dangerously and see what your love is made of? I mean, working with agar agar is really the pastry equivalent of slaying a dragon for the object of your affection. But that’s not vegan.

This tart is actually easier than I’m making it out to be, but I can see how it would be intimidating if you’ve never worked with these ingredients and methods before. The tart shell is made with pantry staples, including olive oil, which actually gives it a bit of buttery mystery. In order to achieve a soft, shortbread-like texture, the olive oil is partially frozen before being cut into the flour.

The filling is rich and creamy, with the help of coconut milk and cashew cream. It’s sweet and tangy and luscious and magenta and perfectly valentine-y. Plus, you’ll feel so smart and food-sciency working with starch and agar agar, and as you know, smart is sexy.

And that fancy swirl on the top isn’t even an extra step, it’s just some of the reserved berries and stuff that you cook down. But read the recipe and you’ll see what I mean! One thing though, I haven’t tried this in a regular tart pan, so you’ll have to procure some tart pans or improvise in some other way. But there’s enough time to order them, so do it! For the mixed berries, I used Trader Joes brand, which has blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. I think straight-up raspberry would be a great (and pretty) alternative, though.

A few notes to help you manage your time: About an hour before beginning the recipe, place the olive oil in a plastic receptacle of some sort and freeze until it’s congealed, but still somewhat liquidy. If it’s over-frozen, that’s ok, just let it thaw a bit so that you can work with it. Also, soak the cashews in water at least an hour before prepping everything else.

For the tart shell:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup olive oil, partially frozen (see note)
3 to 4 tablespoons almond milk

Cooking spray

For the filling:

1 cup cashews, soaked (see recipe notes)
1 cup coconut milk

1 cup almond milk
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1  teaspoon powdered agar agar
8 oz frozen berries (about 1 1/2 cups)
2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

To make the dough, sift the flour, cocoa and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Don’t skip this step, you really need to break up the clumps. Rub the salt between your fingers to grind it down a little more, and add to the mixture.

Add the olive oil to the flour mixture in spoonfuls. Use about 1/4 cup at first, and cut it into the flour using either your fingers or a pastry cutter (I prefer to use my hands.) Add the rest and keep cutting it in until dough appears moist, clumpy and crumbly. Drizzle in the almond milk (start with 3 tablespoons) and mix until the dough holds together when squeezed between your fingers.

Lightly spray 6 four-inch mini-tart pans with cooking spray.

Distribute handfuls of dough equally amongst the tart pans, leaving a small amount in the mixing bowl (1/4 cup or so) in case you need to patch spot. Now one by one, firmly press the dough into the sides and bottom of the tart pan.

Now poke the shells all over with a fork (like so), and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Remove tarts from freezer and place on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool enough to touch begin the filling.

For the filling:
Drain the cashews and place them in a food processor or Vita-Mix type thing. Blend them with the coconut milk until totally smooth, scraping down the sides occasionally. This can take up to 5 minutes.

In the meantime, measure out the almond milk and vigorously mix in the cornstarch until dissolved. Stir together the the milk, agar agar, frozen berries and sugar in a small (2 quart) sauce pot.

Bring mixture to a boil, stirring pretty consistently. Once boiling, lower the heat so that you’re just getting small bubbles. Mix for about 10 more minutes, it should thicken up and become a loose gel. Let cool for 5 minutes or so (keep stirring, even though it’s cooling.)

Pour 1 3/4 cups of the berry mixture into the cashew mixture in the food processor. (Reserve the remaining berry mixture for drizzling.) Puree until smooth. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and puree to blend.

Now assemble:
Pour the puree into the baked tart shells, being careful not to overfill. If there’s a little extra filling left over then just place it alone in a cup and save it for a rainy day. Now, take the reserve berry mixture and use a spoon to drizzle it over the filled tarts in a spiral fashion, or however you like. A few splatters of berry only make it cuter.

Place tarts in the fridge to set, it should take about an hour. I have an enclosed porch that I let mine set on (because it was like 4 degrees outside) and they were ready in 30 minutes, but be patient, it may even take 2 or 3 hours for you depending on how cold your fridge is.

Once set, top with a few thawed berries and serve. I was thinking these would be even more amazing with a chocolate drizzle as well, so try that if you like!

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