Archive for April, 2011


Cherry Mandarin Rustic Tart w/Cream Cheese Crust

[ Equipment: baking pan, oven or temperature-controlled slow cooker accurate to 250°F/121°C. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

A rich cream cheese crust counters the tang of mandarin oranges and cherries in this rustic tart. Since baking my first mini fruit tarts last year, I’ve been planning to make larger versions (this one spans 6 inches and can serve 2 or 4). The opportunity arrived when one of my local markets had a 50% off sale on bags of mandarin oranges. Because the flesh of oranges encapsulates so much juice, I did not think of trying an orange tart at first. Yet the idea did cross my mind, and after some research, I did find examples online.

In pictures of orange tarts I saw, orange slices were cut against the segments for a circular sunburst or spoked wheel design. I thought the mandarin oranges (I believe the ones in my bag were Murcott Mandarins) too small to get many slices with that technique. Hence, I just cut the segments into thirds and piled the tiny wedges onto the dough for a random effect that served the “rustic” nature of the pastry.

To my taste buds, the real flavor of mandarin oranges lies not in the juice or the pulp, but in the peel. I first time I tried zesting on a mini grater, I barely accumulated 1/2 teaspoon of zest from an entire peel, because the grater held onto a large portion and because what did come out had been crushed into a wet mess. Instead, I prepare zest the old fashion way: by scrapping off the bitter pith and fine chopping it with a sharp knife. With this technique I get up to a tablespoon of zest. I rub the zest lightly between my fingers to release the oils before adding it to batters.

Along with the zest, the tart gets a flavor boost from cherries – only a few cherries, because they are meant to enhance the acid from the oranges. Although I didn’t spice this tart, a little ginger and/or cinnamon mixed in with the sprinkled sugar could pleasantly perk up the fruit. I have included an optional marmalade glaze both for extra sweetening and for flavor.

The cream cheese crust is a variation on the low-fat crust from my mini rustic tarts. The classic cream cheese crust has only butter, but I kept the butter-shortening blend to help the crust maintain its freeform shape, as it bakes for over 2 hours. The ratio of butter to cream cheese varies with recipes. I’ve seen some with more butter than cream cheese (by volume and weight since butter and cream cheese weigh the same per unit volume) and vice versa.

The first time I glazed this tart, I brushed on heated apricot jam, but thought it ordinary in this recipe. Now, I glaze it with a homemade lavender mandarin marmalade that punctuates the orange flavors. Lavender flowers transform the condiment into something almost mysteriously good but also very subtle when applied as a glaze. Because the marmalade stands well on its own, I gave the recipe its own page.

It may seem odd to suggest that a 6-inch tart can serve 4. However, a quarter tart reports in at over 200 calories. For a more substantial dessert, serve a quarter tart with a heap of orange slices. A single mandarin orange counts just 40 calories.

Makes one 6-inch tart, 2 to 4 servings
– 215/4 or 430/2 calories per serving
– Oven Temperature: 250°F/121°C

Pastry Crust:

  • 5/8 cup all-purpose flour (3.4 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chilled vegetable shortening (zero trans-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon chilled butter
  • 2 tablespoons chilled cream cheese, regular or low-fat
  • 1 tablespoon ice water
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilled lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon milk


  • 4 mandarin oranges, peeled and segmented (reserve peels for zesting – see below for zesting method)
  • 5 cherries, pitted and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon mandarin orange zest
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon butter


  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Glaze (optional):

Method: Mandarin Orange Zest

1. With a spoon, scrape the white pith off the back of the peels.

2. Julienne the peels into thin strips.

3. Then cross-cut them into tiny bits. Lastly, mince the peel finely. Store covered in the refrigerator. Rub the zest lightly between the fingers to release oils before adding it to food.

Method: Cream Cheese Pastry Crust

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar and salt until well combined.

3. Add the cream cheese, pinched into small chunks, and cut into the flour with a pastry blender or rub it between the hands until it attains a crumbly texture.

4. Cube the butter and cut in the flour mixture with pastry blender or rub between the hands until it attains a pebbly texture (the size of small beans or smaller).

5. Mix the water and lemon/lime juice in a cup. Sprinkle lemon water – 1/2 teaspoon at a time – over the flour mixture, tossing and pressing (do NOT knead) until it forms a cohesive ball. In my experience, 2 to 3 teaspoons of this acidulated water will suffice to make the dough.

6. Shape the dough into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap with a 10-inch long sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Method: Tart

1. Pre-heat the oven to 250°F/121°C. Cut the orange slices into thirds, for a total of about 1 cup.

2. The tart will be baked on a baking sheet, which in these pictures is the bottom of a 7-inch removable bottom cake pan. Cut a 7-inch circle from a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the baking sheet and press the paper circle on it. The water will serve as a temporary glue.

3. Unwrap the pastry dough and center the disk on the plastic wrap. Cover the dough with another 10-inch sheet of plastic wrap and roll the dough out to about an 8-inch circle.

4. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and dust with flour.

5. Gently fold the dough in half and then in half again to form a wedge or quarter circle.

6. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and unfold.

4. In a small dish, mix the thickener ingredients until well combined. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a generous layer of the thickener, leaving a 1-inch border clear, and spread with the back of a spoon to cover evenly.

5. Pile 3/4 cup of the orange slices on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border to form the sides of the crust later and reserving 1/4 cup of slices for garnishing. Sprinkle the quartered cherries over the orange slices. Sprinkle the zest and 1 to 2 teaspoon of sugar over the fruit (more sugar for mildly sweet oranges).

6. Top the fruit with dots of butter (about 1 teaspoon total). Fold the sides of the dough up over the fruit and press down at the corners.

7. Brush the dough with milk. Bake at 250°F/121°C for about 2-1/2 hours or until the crust is lightly golden brown. If baking in a slow cooker, place a trivet (mine was a metal condiment cup) in the crock so that the baking tray doesn’t touch the bottom of the crock and scorch the tart.

8. Allow the tart to cool.

9. The glaze could be smooth or flecked with bits of orange from the marmalade. Heat the marmalade for a few seconds in the microwave to soften it. For a smooth glaze, press the marmalade through a fine sieve and discard the pulp. If necessary, dilute the glaze with a few drops of water to loosen it.

10. Brush the glaze over the fruit. Slice and serve.


Lavender Mandarin Marmalade

[ Equipment: microwave oven. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

This delicious marmalade gets its “je ne sais quoi” from culinary lavender, the woody, spicey flavor merging seamlessly with the tang of the mandarin oranges, producing overtones of floral honey. This recipe was conceived first as a constructed ingredient for the glaze on a cherry mandarin rustic tart. It’s such a tasty condiment and worthwhile ingredient in its own right that I separated it. The base recipe is a fast microwave marmalade (adaptable to stove cooking) found on a number of sites on the web. Because it’s not “canned” for preservation, it must be refrigerated, and I make a fresh jar every few days, while my cache of oranges lasts.

The mandarins in the pictures below are murcotts, which are in season from February to April. Clementines may be the best substitute as they are virtually identical in size and are in season from November to January. A seedless tangerine could also work. The recipe assumes about 1 cup of pulp before reduction, but can be scaled with the available fruit or as desired.

Unlike many other recipes for mandarin marmalade, this one removes as much of the pith as possible before cooking to minimize bitterness. The process goes fairly quickly because the thin peels don’t have much pith anyway. However, without the pith, the marmalade won’t set as firmly, with a consistency more like that of a fruit spread. For those who want a firmer set, either keep the pith or try adding 1/4 teaspoon of powdered pectin to the pulp before cooking.

Standard microwave marmalade recipes specify an amount of sugar equal to the weight of the fruit. Four murcotts weigh 8 oz. I put in only half as much sugar and found it very sweet still.

The instructions for making lavender sugar can be found in the Gotta Have Heart Gobs recipe. I prefer lavender sugar to powdered lavender because the very light and tiny flowers by themselves don’t pulverize well in a spice grinder. A small mortar and pestle should have no trouble fine grinding the flowers.

Makes 2/3 cup or about 10 servings
– 60 calories per serving (1 tablespoon)

  • 4 mandarin oranges (clementines or murcotts, 2 oz. each – see text)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lavender sugar or dried lavender flowers

Method: Marmalade

Note: In the pictures below, an immersion blender is shown operating in a shallow bowl for illustration purposes. The mixture will splatter if blended in this manner. Use a deep bowl or blending cup instead.

1. Wash and dry the mandarin oranges.

2. Peel the oranges (reserve peels for next step). Pick the strands of pith off the outside of the orange fruits. Then section each orange in half and remove the pith at the core. Set aside.

3. Optional (see text above): with a spoon, gently scrape the pith off the orange peels.

4. Julienne the peels into long thin strips; then roughly chop the orange strips.

5. Roughly chop the orange sections.

6. Put the in a food processor or with an immersion blender, pulse the oranges 3 or 4 times into a pulpy mush (not a smooth puree).

7. Add the orange peels and pulse 2 or 3 times to combine and shred the peels a little.

8. Mix in the sugar and lemon juice.

9. Mix in the lavender sugar. For lavender flowers, finely grind the flowers in a mortar first.

10. Transfer the mixture to a microwave-safe bowl (a heatproof glass measuring cup in the picture above). Cover with a microwave-safe plastic wrap and cut a small slit in the wrap to vent steam.

11. Microwave the mixture on HIGH for 4 minutes. Remove, uncover and stir. Recover and microwave for another 4 minutes or until the mixture has thickened and reduced to about 2/3 cup (from a starting volume of 1 cup). The times apply to an 800W microwave oven.

12. Cool and spoon into a jar. Serve or cover and keep refrigerated.


Happy Earth Day 2011!

I hoped to post a recipe in honor of Earth Day, but it’s taking longer to write up than I anticipated. It should be ready in a day or two. It will be the first of several recipes featuring mandarin oranges, a cherry mandarin-orange rustic tart with cream cheese crust and lavender marmalade glaze. That lavender marmalade is especially delicious and easy to make.