I don’t really do festive cooking. The feast itself is kept under the iron control of my mother, who adheres to a timetable developed over 40 or more Christmases, not to mention Eves and Boxing Days; I help with little jobs, the blanketing of pigs and the cross-hatching of sprouts, but the real meat of the matter, the planning, execution and seasoning, is all hers.
Professionally, I’ve been lucky, in recent years, to work in places that don’t really do festive cooking either; certainly not in a turkey-and-cranberry-and-mincemeat-and-stuffing-and-bread-sauce sort of a way. My first job was in a hotel which VERY MUCH did Christmas, with large work parties several times a day (turkey, smoked salmon & port everywhere). It was, I remember distinctly, hell.
Still, it’s nice to give a nod to the season, in the form of nuts and dried fruits and spices. There’s bugger all else to bake with, for one thing, at least until the orange season really kicks in. Hence this tart, with flavours from somewhere between Turkey and Ukraine, and a texture and taste blending mincemeat, treacle, and bakewell – snap, squidge, crunch.
SOUR CHERRY AND WALNUT TART
Makes 1 tart.
250g plain flour
50g light muscovado sugar
125g cold, cubed butter
pinch of salt
splash of milk
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Blitz, rub or cut the flour together with the sugar, butter and salt. When it looks like fine breadcrumbs, mix in the egg and a tiny splash of milk, then form into a ball and stick in the freezer while you make the filling.
60g caster sugar
60 soft butter
1 tbsp plain flour
100g dried sour cherries
Grind the walnuts with the flour into a fine crumb. Cream the sugar with the butter until almost white and really fluffy. Beat in the egg and then fold in the walnut mix.
Roll the pastry out thinly to line a buttered and floured tart tin (you’ll have too much pastry, which is infinitely preferable to not enough). Trim off the excess, and spread in the filling. Sprinkle the cherries evenly over the top (they’ll gradually sink, which is fine), then bake for about an hour until the filling is set and the pastry is a nice brown. Meanwhile, make the topping.
30g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
knob of butter
Put the walnuts in a small frying pan with the sugar, salt and spices, and toss and heat gently until the sugar melts and darkens into a caramel. Melt in the butter, then tip the lot onto a piece of baking parchment. Leave to cool, then smash or roughly blitz.
When the tart’s hour is up, sprinkle the topping over it and put back in the oven for 10 minutes or so. Leave to mostly cool, then turn out of the tin and serve with fresh cream.