As much as I love the holiday season, the constant temptation to indulge in all manner of sweet and savory special occasion foods can be overwhelming. Rich fare at holiday parties, homemade baked goods brought to office and school events, cookie swaps among friends — I’m nearly in a food coma just thinking about it.
One way to keep the temptations in check is to find ways to lighten your holiday desserts. That’s what I’ve done with this cranberry shortbread tart recipe. I saw the original version a few years ago in an issue of Fine Cooking. As you know, I absolutely love cranberries, and this tart, with its mixture of cranberries and almonds, seemed a perfect addition to my holiday dessert list.
But it also has 550 calories per serving, which is about one-quarter of a day’s worth of calories for most people. That’s huge! So, about a year ago, I made a new version with less sugar, fat, and calories.
As usual, I’ve substituted whole wheat flour (in this case whole wheat pastry flour) for all purpose flour in order to boost the nutritional profile of the tart.
I also use half of the amount of butter and flour and a little more than a quarter of the sugar called for in the Fine Cooking recipe. This means that the crust and the topping are both a little thinner and the cranberry filling less sweet than what you will find in Fine Cooking’s version. But I doubt you’ll mind. Using less sugar allows the naturally tart flavor of the cranberries to shine through, and using less butter and flour minimize the heaviness you feel after eating dessert with a rich holiday meal.
Despite these changes, the tart is still easy to make and delicious (my family devoured the one I made for this post), plus it has more fiber, vitamins and minerals but half of the calories per serving of the Fine Cooking version.
To make the tart, keep the following tips in mind. First, to keep the butter hard (which helps make the crust flaky), I’ve provided instructions that minimize the amount of handling that is done to it by both you and the food processor. (The more the butter is handled, the more heat is transferred to it and the softer it becomes.)
Second, if you find the dough starting to stick to your fingers as you press it into the pan, try wetting your fingers a little with some water. The moisture will help keep the dough from sticking.
Third, keep an eye on the tart shell and the filled tart while they are in the oven to make sure the sides don’t get too dark. (I’ve provided baking times for my oven, but your oven may be hotter than mine, which could result in a shorter baking time.)
Finally, be sure to let the tart cool completely (at least an hour) before removing it from the pan. This will ensure that it holds its shape while you are serving it. (When I was making the one I photographed for this post, I was running out of daylight and removed it from the pan and cut it before it had completely cooled. As a result, the sides were a little more crumbly than usual.)
Cranberry Almond Shortbread Tart
Adapted from Fine Cooking (Issue #119)
*Updated December 3, 2015 to reflect tweaks made to the original recipe during the 2015 holiday season. These tweaks include replacing the whole wheat pastry flour with white whole wheat flour, which I always have on hand, and bumping up the amount of flour from one cup to 1 1/2 cups, which increases the thickness of the sides of the tart. I also replaced the egg yolk with an entire egg in order to provide additional moisture for binding the dough and to prevent the egg white from being wasted.
Ingredients for Cranberry Filling:
1/2 cup (110 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
12 ounce (340 g) bag of cranberries (3 cups)
3 tablespoons of apricot jam or orange marmalade
Ingredients for Shortbread Crust:
8 tablespoons (113 g) unsalted butter (one stick)
1/4 cup (35 g) almonds, slivered
1 1/2 cup (6 oz or 175 g) white whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Make the Cranberry Filling:
1. Combine the 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup water and cranberries in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then and immediately lower the heat and simmer the cranberries, covered but stirring occasionally, until they have popped and the liquid is syrupy, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the apricot jam or marmalade and stir until it melts, about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Make the Shortbread Crust:
2. Take the stick of butter from the refrigerator and remove its wrapper. Cut the stick into small equal-sized chunks (for example, cut the stick into eight slices, and then cut each slice into four quarters). Spread the pieces on a plate, and return the plate to the refrigerator. (This is to ensure the butter is very cold when it is added to the almond and flour mixture in step 3.)
3. In a food processor, combine the almonds with two tablespoons of the white whole wheat flour. Process until very fine but not powdery. Add the remaining flour, two tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pulse several more more times to combine the dry ingredients. Remove the plate of butter from the refrigerator. Using a knife, scrape the butter off the plate and onto the dry ingredients, making sure the pieces are evenly distributed in the bowl. Pulse 10 to 15 times (one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, and so on) until the butter is incorporated into the dry ingredients. Add the egg and almond extract. Pulse 5 to 10 more times until the mixture starts to clump together but before it forms a ball.
4. Remove about 3/4 cup of the dough from the food processor place in a small bowl. Dump the remainder of the dough into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Using your fingers, press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Cover both the tart pan and the bowl with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
5. About 10 minutes before you are ready to blind bake the tart shell, preheat the over to 375° F (190°C).
6. When the oven has preheated, take the tart shell from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, and prick the bottom of the tart shell all over with a fork. Cut a sheet of parchment paper to roughly fit the inside of the tart shell, place the parchment paper in the tart shell, and place either dried beans or pie weights on top of the parchment paper. (This keeps the tart shell from puffing up while it is baking.) Bake the crust on a heavy-duty baking sheet until it is firm, dry, and just starting to turn gold brown around the edges, 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, about 10 minutes, and then remove the pie weights and parchment paper.
7. Spoon the cooled cranberry filling into the tart shell and, using the back of a spoon, spread it evenly over the bottom of the shell. Remove the bowl with the remaining shortbread dough from the refrigerator and crumble it on top of the cranberry filling, covering as much of the cranberry filling as possible. Bake until the topping is golden-brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack (at least an hour).
8. Carefully remove the rim of the tart pan. Slide a long thin knife or offset icing spatula between the pastry and all over the pan bottom, and then very, very carefully slide the tart off the pan bottom and onto a serving platter. Cut the tart into either eight or ten slices. (The calorie count was calculated based on a ten-slice tart.) Serve with whipped cream if desired.
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