It's springtime! Not that it makes any difference in Jamaica, it's pretty much always warm. In my opinion there are three seasons here, rainy season, drought and hurricane season. But I know its spring because supermarkets are starting to carry the imported fruits that aren't always available here. Fresh berries, peaches, plums, nectarines. Forgive me if I take advantage of the availability and better prices and use them liberally in my challenges, I don't get to eat or use them often. This week I made a Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart with Ginersnap Crust from Bon Apetit July 2002.
I wanted to make this tart the moment I saw it on Epicurious.com. I mean, look at it, it's gorgeous. I think tarts are slowly becoming my favorite thing to make. I just think they are elegant, delicate, and stunning and fresh fruit makes them even more beautiful. Of course, the fact that the filling contains mascarpone and cream cheese was also a major factor in my choice. In case you didn't get the memo, I love cream cheese. I can't believe how wonderful it tastes in both sweet and savory preparations. Need a sweet tangy frosting for your carrot cake? Cream cheese. Need something creamy to go with your smoked salmon? Cream cheese. Mascarpone is also an ingredient I've never actually used before but I've learnt a lot about it from watching copious amounts of food tv. When I learnt it was a sweet Italian cream cheese, I knew we'd become great friends.
I came home early on Friday and headed straight to the kitchen. I made the crust first. I don't have a food processor but I do have a mini chopper which I used to grind 25 Jamaican Ginger Biscuits for the crust. I combined this with butter and pressed it into my 9" tart pan. The crust baked for 8 minutes, then I placed it on the cooling rack to cool.
While the tart cooled, I made the filling. For some reason both lemons and limes have totally vanished from the produce section at the supermarket. I had some oranges at home, so I used orange zest instead. I combined the orange zest, mascarpone, cream cheese, sugar, sour cream and vanilla and beat them with my hand mixer until the filling was smooth. Then I added a tablespoon of crystallized ginger. At first I was worried about the crystallized ginger at first, wondering if it would be like biting into a big piece of raw ginger when you're eating a nice piece of meat. Ginger is a wonderful spice and can make things taste amazing. But when you bite into a chunk of it, it's rather unpleasant. I decided to use it anyway, mostly because of the many reviews I saw that said it MADE the tart. So many people couldn't be wrong right? After making the filling I spread it into the cooled crust and refrigerated it overnight.
The next morning, I got the nectarines out to make the topping. I haven't actually eaten nectarines before, I have had peaches which are very similar. In fact I read that the difference between the peach and the nectarine basically boils down to the fact that peaches have fuzz and nectarines don't. I found them very hard to cut in half. They were glued to the stone. I tried my best to pry them open without ruining the fruit. I sliced three of them thinly and arranged them on top of the cooled tart. I brushed the topped tart with warm peach preserves and sprinkled it with two tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger.
So now for the most important part, sure it was beautiful, but how did it taste? The filling was really wonderful. The orange zest worked very well, adding a citrus hint to the sweet, creamy filling with a hint of ginger. The crust was also delicious and complimented the filling beautifully. I have a feeling that I'll be using this filling and this crust many more times varying the toppings and zests. There were mixed reviews about the fruit topping. The nectarines, by no fault of their own weren't ripe enough in my opinion. So they were not very sweet and quite crunchy. I would've preferred if they were ripes and sweeter. I guess thats what you get when you use a fruit you're not used to. Some felt as though the fact that they weren't as sweet was refreshing, and that the crunch added great texture to the creamy filling beneath it.
I'm certainly going to try it again with different fruits and riper nectarines. I know it will be even more delicious than it was this weekend and trust me, it was really tasty. So tasty in fact, that my friends have already devoured it. And as for the verdict on the crystallized ginger, lovely, subtle, spicy, perfect in both the filling and sprinkled on top. I should never have doubted it.