Welcome to another edition of #ProgressiveEats, our virtual version of a progressive dinner party. This month’s theme is Holiday Dessert Extravaganza hosted by Jenni Field of Pastry Chef Online. This is such a talented group and each month I am thrilled with the beautiful and creative recipes everyone comes up with. You’ll love all the recipes this month, perfect for any holiday party or family gathering! Make sure you check out the links below the recipe.
Today I am sharing one of my favorite desserts. Fresh, light, creamy, and a little sweet, but not over the top. It beautifully complements rich entrées and typical heavy holiday meals. This is the kind of dessert that makes people want to lick their plates clean so they don’t miss a morsel.
I don’t know where I first ran across the idea for this dessert. It was probably about the time I discovered mascarpone, the luscious Italian form of cream cheese. The creaminess of mascarpone takes the concept of cheesecake to a whole new level. This is technically not a cheesecake because only the crust is baked but it may become your preferred sweetened cheese dessert!
Mascarpone is a triple-cream cheese made from fresh cream. The cows have been fed a special diet high in fresh herbs and flowers giving the cheese a lightness with floral overtones. It is one of the dishes of the Lombardy region of Italy and can be used in the place of cream cheese in nearly every recipe. It has a milder tanginess and is thinner so if you are using this in another recipe, you may want to reduce the amount of liquid slightly to compensate.
Even if you are not gluten-free I hope you will give this nutty crust a try. Crunchy, a bit sweet, a little like shortbread, and rich with butter and nuts, this is a delight for your senses and palate. I am so enamored with it that I use it whenever I can and it is always the base of my cheesecakes. The Artist prefers this to any graham cracker crust he’s ever had.
We’ve all walked into professional bakeries and marveled at the glorious fruit tarts on display. Did you ever wonder how they got them so shiny on top? It is a very simple trick that also helps preserve the fruit. Just melt seedless red currant or apricot jam (depending on the color desired) and brush it over the top. Your guests will be astounded and mystified – while you sit back and smile, LOL!
I love the contrast of red and white colors often seen during the holidays, and that is what prompted my use of raspberries today. But you can use any type of fruit that you like and that is in season, sweet and fresh. Pineapple, kiwi, strawberries, and blueberries all make good options. The main goal is to cover as much of the mascarpone filling as possible with fruit. This helps keep the cream fresh. If you are using different kinds of fruits, mixing or alternating them is always attractive. Sketch out your design ahead of time so you have a pattern to work from. It makes it much easier and more organized! This design can be as simple or stunning as you want.
If you don’t already have mini tart pans, make sure you get ones with fluted sides and removable bottoms. When you are ready to serve, hold your hand under the center of the pans and ease the sides down. Transfer the tarts to serving plates carefully. Because you pre-baked the crust fully, it holds up perfectly on its own, unlike a pie crust. If making pie crust scares you, try these lovely tarts ~ incredibly easy to make and absolutely delicious.
These can be made any time of the year, but if it is warm in your house, keep the tarts refrigerated so the cheese filling doesn’t melt.
This is one of those desserts that can be presented very simply with just a drizzle of raspberry sauce over the mascarpone filling, all the way to a full-blown extravaganza of fruit. A thin layer of melted chocolate over the top of the mascarpone would be delicious too. Let your imagination go wild!!
Make these tarts for the holidays or any special occasion. They would be fabulous for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, etc. Change out the fruit to fit the occasion and season. They are delightful, perfect after heavy holiday meals, and something that everyone will love. And they can’t get any easier to make – simply the perfect dessert!
Using almond meal or grinding your own almonds makes a wonderful departure from the ubiquitous graham cracker crusts and it is gluten-free.
Kitchen Skill: Making a Tart Crust
Tart crusts like this one are especially easy to make. Crumble some of the dough into each pan, and starting at the sides, use your fingers to press it into the fluted edges and down onto the bottom of the pan. Press additional crumbled dough over the bottom, making sure it is gently pressed into the dough at the sides. If any dough has risen above the top of the pan, press the excess off with your fingers.
Using a fork, poke holes all over the bottom of the crust to minimize bubbling up as it bakes. This technique is called docking. If you do this kind of dessert often, it is worth buying a dough docker, a series of prongs on a revolving cylinder. It makes docking crusts really easy and quick. But with small tarts like these, a fork works best.
- 1-1/2 cups ground almonds or almond meal
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch kosher salt
- 4 tbsp (1/2 stick; 1/4 cup) butter, melted
- 1 cup (8 oz) mascarpone cheese
- 1 tsp vanilla paste or pure extract
- 2 to 3 tbsp powdered sugar, to taste
- 1 to 2 tsp very cold heavy cream, only if needed
- 2 cups fresh raspberries, rinsed and patted dry
- 1/3 cup red currant jelly or seedless raspberry jelly
- Powdered sugar
- Fresh mint sprigs
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set 4 (4-inch; 10-1/2cm) tart pans with removable bottoms on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper (for traction).
- Make the Crust: In a food processor, pulse the nuts with the sugar until finely ground. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles moist sand. If you are using almond meal, you can do this with a fork in a bowl.
- Press the crumb dough into the sides and bottoms of the tart pans. Place pans on the baking sheet, poke the bottoms a few times with a fork, and set in the hot oven. Bake for 12 minutes, or until browned around the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. If the crusts have puffed up during baking, gently press the centers with the back of a fork to settle the crust into the pans.
- Filling: In a medium bowl, mix mascarpone cheese, vanilla and sugar together gently with a flexible silicone spatula. Taste and add more sugar if desired. The more you mix the mascarpone, the softer it gets, but it will firm up again when it rests and chills. You want it smooth and silky, soft enough to scoop dollops into the shells. If it is too thick, add cream, 1 tsp at a time, mixing gently to blend. Add only enough to make a smooth consistency. Do not over-mix.
- Assembly: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the jelly (or in a bowl in the microwave). Spread sweetened cream in cooled tart shells to slightly below the top (leave room for the berries). Arrange cleaned berries over the tarts, pointed end up, snuggling them down into the cream, covering as much of the filling as possible. Brush berries with melted jelly, making sure to completely cover the berries and any exposed filling between them. This helps keep the tart and berries fresh. Chill in refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours before serving.
- To Serve: Dust each tart with a little powdered sugar if desired, tuck a sprig of mint alongside for color and serve chilled.
- Yield: 4 servings
Create a New Tradition Today!
This recipe is part of our monthly progressive dinner party, #ProgressiveEats. See the links below for more inspiration and great recipes!
Great Holiday Desserts
- Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon and Caramel Sauce
- Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream Cake Roll
- Bourbon Cajeta Apple Butter Goat Cheese Cheesecake
- Mini Mascarpone Cheesecakes
- Vanilla Rum-Chocolate Chestnut Saint Honoré
Pies and Tarts
Welcome to another edition of Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a progressive dinner party. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.
We have a core group of 12 bloggers, but we will always need substitutes and if there is enough interest would consider additional groups. To see our upcoming themes and how you can participate, please check out the schedule at Creative Culinary or contact Barb for more information.
This month’s theme is Great Holiday Desserts hosted by Jenni Field at Pastry Chef Online. Cookies, Cakes, Pies and more for your holiday party planning!
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