As the longer days and hot sun hint that summer's just around the corner it's exciting to know it won't be long before we're back enjoying some of my favourite warm-weather produce. While I do so love the cooler months spring does have a habit of feeling rejuvenating, and it's pretty hard not to get excited when asparagus, fresh berries and stone fruit are back gracing our menus.
Last week I picked up some beautiful cherries that were getting a bit beyond themselves, and therefore absolutely perfect for preserving and turning into a sweet cherry and vanilla jam. The jam was just right on buttered toast and crumpets, and while the preserved cherries were great with yoghurt, I thought they deserved a little feature of their own.
I'm quite partial to a good cherry pie—even if it means enduring one of the more irritating of all kitchen earworms (sorry)—but since a whole pie for one seemed a bit much I decided to whip up some of these cherry "pop tarts" instead. A "pre-baked toaster pastry" popular in the US, these homemade versions are, however, a far cry from their commercial counterparts. The pastry here is buttery and good, and does well in finding that delicate balance between flakiness and the need to remain sturdy. Complimented well by the sweet filling I think it would be better again if made with morellos, but I enjoyed that the jammy syrup was so densely studded with whole fruit. That you get crust in every bite is an added bonus and, so long as it's not too runny, you can of course fill them with whatever you please. Perfect for picnics or with that afternoon cup of tea, they'll put a smile on your face...
- 180 g plain flour
- 20 g wholemeal flour
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp lemon zest, finely grated
- ½ tsp salt
- 200 g butter, cold and diced
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp buttermilk
- 230 g preserved cherries (see below)
- 1 Tbsp cornflour
For the filling, mix the cornflour with 1 tablespoon water to form a smooth paste. Drain the cherries (don't be too thorough as you want some of the poaching liquid to help thicken the filling) and place in a pan, together with the cornflour mixture, over medium heat. Bring to a boil then simmer, stirring constantly for 2 minutes before setting aside to cool.
To make the pastry, whisk together the flours, sugar and salt. Rub the butter in using your fingertips until you have pea-sized lumps, then mix through the zest. In a separate bowl whisk together the egg and buttermilk then mix into the flour and bring together into a dough. Divide in half, roughly shape each into a rectangle then cover in cling film and refrigerate until ready to use (rest the pastry for at least 30 minutes).
To assemble the tarts, allow the dough to soften slightly and then roll each block into a 23- x 30-cm rectangle approximately 3-mm thick. Cut each into nine, 7.5- x 10-cm rectangles and brush the entire surface of one set with egg wash. Place a heaped tablespoon of filling in the centre of each rectangle, leaving a 1-cm perimeter. Cover with the second piece of pastry, pressing the edges to seal, and then use the tines of a fork to decorate and create vents. Place on a lightly-greased baking sheet, brush with egg wash and refrigerate for 30 minutes while pre-heating the oven to 180°C. Bake the tarts for 25-30 minutes, until lightly golden brown, then place the tray on a rack to cool. Makes 9.
- 1 kg fresh cherries
- 300 g caster sugar
- The juice from 1 lemon
- 2-4 star anise, to taste
Pit the cherries* and rinse well. Combine the sugar, star anise, lemon juice and 250 ml water in a pan and bring to a boil. Add the cherries and cover with a circle of greaseproof paper to keep the fruit submerged. Return to a boil and then simmer for 6-8 minutes. Remove the star anise then, using a slotted spoon, transfer the cherries to a sterilised jar. Boil the remaining syrup for a further 10 minutes until reduced by half. Pour the syrup over the cherries, seal the jar, and refrigerate. Cherries will keep for one month.
** No need for fancy kitchen gadgets as this is easily done using the humble paper clip. Just insert one of the round ends in through the stem, work your way around the pip and then hook the clip underneath and pull it out (a quick tutorial can be viewed here). It's also a good idea to wear gloves as the juice stains your hands really well.