One of my favorite things about the warmer months is the proliferation of stone fruits at my farmers' market. I love peaches and plutots, but for some reason I always wind up with ones that get ripe on the outside however when I slice and pull them apart, the flesh doesn't release from the pit and the skin pulls off in a juicy mess. Heartbreaking. For this reason, I love cherries. You can just pop the whole thing in your mouth and just sort of gnaw the sweetness off the pit. It's fun to sort of get in a rhythm of plucking off the stem, popping them in your mouth, chew, spit out the pit and repeat. It's the epitome of summer.
When I saw this recipe in the latest issue of Everyday Food I knew I had to give it a try. I love that the cherries are not cooked and there is something sort of charmingly homey about the crust made of graham crackers. This version is a little different than the one in the magazine. As I was gathering and prepping the ingredients I thought back to a similar and more labor intensive recipe for a cherry tart in the Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook. It was more of a conventional baked tart. It had ground almonds in the crust and is designed to be served with homemade almond ice cream. I didn't feel like going that far, but I liked the idea of the combining sweet cherries with nutty almonds. I decided to add some to the crust and a handful, toasted and scattered over the top. It just made so much sense. So much so that I sort of question why they weren't in the original recipe to begin with.
9 graham crackers (each 2 1/2 by 5 inches)
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted at 350 degrees until light brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes
2 tablespoons plus cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 ounces bar cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 pound fresh sweet cherries, such as Bing
1 tablespoon seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup sliced almonds (although you could use more slivered, I just like the delicate crunch of the sliced), also toasted in the oven toasted at 350 degrees until light brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers, toasted slivered almonds and 2 tablespoons sugar until finely ground. Add butter, and process until combined. Transfer mixture to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Using the base of a dry measuring cup, firmly press mixture into bottom and up sides of pan.
NOTE: I used a 10 inch pan, as that was all I had. I figured that with the addition of the almonds in the crust it would still be okay. However, after pressing the mixture into the pan, it seemed a bit thin. So I would strongly recommend using the 9 inch pan.
Bake until browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
While the tart shell is baking, it would be a good time to pit the cherries. I do not have a cherry pitter, so using a small knife, starting at the stem end I sliced around the cherry and sort of twisted half of it off the pit, sort of like when you slice open an avocado. Then using my fingernail I pried the pit loose from the second half. Trust me it's not as labor intensive as it sounds. It goes quite fast. I worked up to five cherries a minute.
Once the cherries are pitted, move on to the cream cheese filling. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese, vanilla, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add cream, and beat until soft peaks form; spread mixture in cooled crust. Scatter cherries on top. You could neatly lay the cherries in rows of concentric circles, which looks really pretty, but I decided to just sort of topple them all haphazzardly onto the filling. It's a little more "rustic."
In a small saucepan, combine jam and 1 teaspoon water; heat over low until liquefied, about 2 minutes. Using a pastry brush, dab cherries with glaze and then scatter over the toasted, sliced almonds. Refrigerate tart at least 30 minutes or, covered, up to 1 day.
I made the tart for a Memorial Day barbeque Mark and I went to at a friends house over in Silverlake. It was the perfect end to a fantastic meal of ribs, home made fried chicken, collard greens with bacon, corn of the cob, and beautiful sliced tomatoes drizzled with a 10 year old balsamic. We served it with a scoop of coffee ice cream which actually worked really well with the flavors. Not cooking the cherries really makes the tart taste bright and fresh and there are so many complimentary textures going on - the tangy and mild cream cheese filling, sweet cherries, thin little slivers of toasted almonds, and the grainy graham cracker crust. A more conventional shortbread style crust would be great, I'm sure, but I really like the texture of the pulverized almonds and graham crackers with the smooth creamy filling. I was slightly concerned that the pie would turn into a mess once I tried to serve it, since the crust was thinner that I would have liked, but letting it set in the refrigerator for several hours really gave it time to kind of meld and come together. I was able to slice perfect little wedges without anything falling apart. Although even if it had, it still would have tasted great.
Serves about 12