Blackberry-White Chocolate Tart and Other Happy Accidents

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It’s blackberry season here in Seattle (and elsewhere) which means that the nuisance thorn bushes that grow on our hills and encroach on our yards–that spread their sprouts far, wide, and deep–have transformed into beautiful berry bushes, brimming with fat, fresh, tart, sweet, juicy berry goodness.

Wow, that was a lot of adjectives.

I wait all year for blackberry season. It’s one of the few things I like about summer, along with fresh corn and tomatoes.

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It’s been especially fun this year because we’ve gotten to share the experience of blackberry picking with our kids. They don’t really pick much fruit and when they do they often go for unripe red berries, but they love to trundle out toward the bushes with their Halloween trick-or-treat buckets and let Mommy and Daddy fill them with fruit. If I can pick them faster than Violet eats them, we bring them home to freeze for future projects or to make delicious desserts. For example: blackberry tarts.

Not too long ago, I came across a recipe for blackberry pastry cream. I spent the last month or so periodically checking the blackberry bushes to make sure I didn’t miss them (we were busy last year and they’d mostly turned boozy before I remembered what month it was–it’s a dangerous time for birds when the blackberries ferment; they eat them, get drunk, and fly into windows). This year, in addition to the jars of jam and blenders full of smoothies, I would get to try something new.

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I didn’t intend to put white chocolate in this tart. I made a poppy seed pastry shell (in homage to the seeds I’d be removing from the berries to achieve a smooth cream) and thought I’d do blackberry filling, top with blackberries, et voilà.

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But I’m clumsy. I broke the pastry shell on its way out of the tin. I needed something to glue it together. The first thing I found was white chocolate.

Now, I’m silly. I threw white chocolate chips straight into the hot crust, spreading them around as they melted. This created a hard layer of chocolate inside the tart–delicious, but hard to get your fork through. So I decided to try it again with a white chocolate ganache. I also decided to finesse my timing a little better so that instead of spreading the cold blackberry pastry cream into the tart, creating the finish you see above, I’d get it in before it set up, to achieve a more level, professional finish. And if I was going to do that, I might as well take extra care with the edges of the pastry, and choose the best berries for decoration, and maybe do a little chocolate work. Especially since (another happy accident) I had someone to give this tart to: it would soon be the kids’ babysitter’s birthday. But doing it right would take a long time with all the chilling and baking and stirring and resting. And originally, I had planned to take the kids out on an an adventure this day–there’s a cute local farm that has a couple carnival rides and trucks they can climb on and a little petting zoo–but Sam defied me one time too many and the privilege was revoked. So–happy accident number three? Not so happy, really. But my morning was suddenly free.

I started with the pastry:

Sweet Poppyseed Pastry

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
zest of one lime
2 egg yolks
big pinch kosher salt
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cold water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon poppy seeds

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, toss together the butter, sugar, and lime zest. Cream together until, well, creamy. Add egg yolks and salt and beat on medium speed until combined. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the flour and poppy seeds. Add the water and mix until it comes together as a dough and the seeds are well dispersed. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

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(The use of the creaming method with cold butter is one I’ve picked up from Johnny Iuzzini’s Sugar Rush, which is also where I got the basic proportions for this pastry before I jazzed it up, and where I got the recipe for the blackberry pastry cream, which is coming up. Johnny does not have you add the zest during the creaming but I like to because I think it helps imbue the butter with that zesty flavor. Not that the zest of one lime really imparts much, but I’m using the juice in the curd later and I thought I might as well throw it in.)

Near the end of the chilling time, preheat the oven to 350F. Lay out some plastic wrap to roll your dough on; you could use flour but I prefer not to compromise flavor, texture, and color the way additional flour can. Unwrap your dough and place it on the plastic wrap, cover it in more plastic, and roll large enough to fit your tart tin. (The plastic wrap also makes it super easy to move the dough to the tin; just peel off the top layer, and invert your dough onto the tin, then peel the plastic off.

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Once you’ve fitted it into the tin, pricked the bottom all over with a fork to prevent puffing, and trimmed the edges (I use the trimmings to create a tester cookie which I bake during this next step so I’ll know my pastry will taste good before serving the tart), pop it in the freezer for about fifteen minutes. Once it’s chilled and rested a little bit, bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until the edges are a nice golden brown and the pastry looks dry all over.

While it’s baking, make the ganache:

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White Chocolate Ganache

1 cup white chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup half and half

Melt all the ingredients together. You can use a double boiler, put it straight in a pot, or do what I do and use the microwave, heating it in twenty second increments and stirring frequently, watching so it doesn’t overheat, which is the death of all chocolates.

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Once the pastry’s out of the oven and has cooled a little but not necessarily all the way, pour in the ganache. ALLOW THIS TO COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE MOVING ON TO THE PASTRY CREAM. I put this in all caps because I didn’t, and, well–it wasn’t pretty. See?

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So get your ganache into the crust and put the whole thing in the fridge before making:

Blackberry Pastry Cream

1 1/2 pounds fresh ripe blackberries
Juice of 1 lime
7 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

Put the blackberries in a blender and puree until just liquefied (you don’t want to overdo this because the seeds will be bitter if pulverized). Strain through a fine mesh strainer and measure out 2 cups of puree; discard the pulp.

In a medium saucepan, combine blackberry puree, lime juice, and half the sugar. Heat over medium/medium-high heat for about three minutes, until steaming but not boiling. When the puree is hot, whisk the remaining sugar into the egg until pale and fluffy. Whisk in the cornstarch.

Very slowly add a little bit of the hot puree to the egg mixture, whisking like the dickens. Add a little more and a little more, always beating the heck out of it so it doesn’t turn into scrambled eggs. Once about half the puree is in the egg mixture, scrape all the egg mixture back into the pot and cook everything at medium-ish heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until it boils. Once it boils, cook about two minutes more, being careful not to let it overheat and separate (it’s like playing chicken–how brave are you?). It will be nice and thick and glossy. Remove from heat and beat in butter until smooth.

Strain your pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve (it’s really thick so this will take some elbow grease–or wrist grease, rather) into a medium bowl, then begin cooling the mixture in an ice bath (put ice in a larger bowl, set this bowl on the ice, and stir periodically). Once it’s about room temperature, carefully pour it over the cold pastry and ganache (any hotter and it will melt the chocolate and you’ll get the same problem I had).

Of course, this post is all about happy accidents, which means that my chocolate/pastry cream problem motivated me to work a little harder in the decoration department. I tempered some chocolate and made a sort of collar for the tart that I imagined was reminiscent of blackberry branches (or maybe it’s just messy–I don’t know). A little ingenuity and:

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And oh yeah, it was a birthday present. So happy birthday to the best babysitter a kid could have, and I hope you like blackberries!

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