Friday, 12 February 2010

Valentine's Day on the Cheap

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

If you regularly read frugality blogs you'll find plenty of good suggestions on economical ways to enjoy a romantic day with your sweetie. Whatever you do, don't plan on dining out on V-day itself. It's one of the busiest restaurant days of the year, and you're pretty much assured a limited menu, prepared in haste, and served by overworked waiters in a room that has been crammed full of two tops. You don't have to take my word for it. Check out the Waiter's description of the day's horrors.

As you might expect from someone who watches their pennies, I would suggest a romantic evening at home. Get a sitter for the kids, at another location if need be. Maybe plan a bubble bath followed by trading massages for both of you. Then candles or dimmed lights, sultry music, a special dinner with a nice bottle of wine, and a nice dessert.

Oh, you want specifics? Well, dinner is up to you and your tastes of course. But this cherry tart is a dessert that I like to make for Valentine's Day. I adapted it from two of James Patterson's recipes. The filling and crust can be prepped a day ahead for fast assembly. Ideally of course, you'll have cherries frozen or canned from your own trees, but I sure don't have those yet. Frozen cherries work pretty well, and I have often added blueberries to bulk up the filling.

Valentine's Day Cherry Tart

For the dough:

10 tbsp. cold butter
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
¼ tsp. almond extract
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt

For the filling:

1½ lbs. pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
¼-2/3 cup sugar
¼ tsp. almond extract
3 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. water, room temperature

Slice the butter and place it with the sugar in a food processor with the cutting blade. Pulse until the butter and sugar are creamed and the texture becomes smooth. A ball should form, but you may need to scrape down the sides of the processor. Separate one of the eggs, reserving the white. Add the whole egg, the egg yolk, and the almond extract to the food processor, and process for about 30 seconds, until the mixture resembles cottage cheese. Add the flour and salt and process for another 30 seconds. The dough should now resemble lumpy mashed potatoes. If it looks too dry, add the reserved egg white and process until the correct texture is achieved. Take the dough out of the food processor and form it into a disk on a sheet of wax paper. Wrap it up tightly and chill for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Put the cherries in a saucepan and warm over medium heat. As they begin to release their juices, add sugar to taste. If you have sour cherries, you will likely need at least ½ cup of sugar. If you have sweet cherries, start with ¼ cup. In either case, adjust to taste when the juices have been released and some sugar has been added. Add the almond extract and bring the pot to a medium simmer. Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Add the slurry in a thin stream, stirring constantly. The juice will first lighten, but then return to its previous color when the cornstarch thickens the juice. Set the pan aside to cool. The filling may be kept tightly sealed in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Roll the dough out on a floured board to a thickness of about ¼” and place it in an 8” or 9” tart pan, pressing down on the edges to remove the excess dough. Cover the tart pan loosely with wax paper and chill it in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Shape the excess dough into a ball and roll it out again to a small circle. (If the dough has become too soft, chill it again until it is manageable.) Cut out one or two heart-shaped pieces of dough with a paring knife or a cookie cutter.

Line a baking sheet with baker’s parchment and place the chilled tart crust on the sheet, with the cut out heart alongside it. Cover the tart with another sheet of parchment and weight it down with rice or beans to cover well. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust loses its wet sheen. The cut out heart should be set but not browned. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Place the cut out heart on a cooling rack and carefully remove the weighted parchment from the tart crust. Return the tart crust to the oven for another 5 minutes. Take it out and let it cool for at least 30 minutes.

When the tart crust has cooled, set the oven to 375 degrees. Fill the tart crust with the cherry filling and place it in the oven again on the lined baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust develops a lovely golden color. Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Place the cut out heart in the center of the tart and serve warm or at room temperature.

Finally, to all you romantics out there, remember Amy Dacyczyn's axiom: Candlelight is not frugal if the results are twins.