I like to think of myself as open-minded, but I’ve always considered myself above Jell-O. I’m above Rainier cherries, also, in part because they’re too damned sweet and too damned pretty, but mostly because once, on Cape Cod, I overheard a woman telling her daughter that “rainy-er” cherries come from the rainier part of Washington. If there’s a way to kill a fruit’s glamour, that’s it, right there. I know I’m a loner for it, but I don’t like Rainiers.
But oh, the Orondo Ruby. When a friend in Wenatchee, WA – a fruit guy and cider maker I met writing Dishing Up Washington, which, for the record, is completely, totally, 100% finished and heading to the printing press – offered to send me some new kind of cherry, I assumed it would be red. Sure, I said. I’ve only met one cherry I didn’t love. I didn’t have time to consider a wooden crate full of jumbo-sized cherries that must be the love child of Rainiers and something much darker and spunkier, like a Benson or a Vans. But by the time I’d bitten through his crisp scarlet skin (yes, with a name like Orondo, he has to be male), the tartness had taken hold, and I couldn’t fault him for the light flesh. This cherry, he’s more striking than any I’ve seen – Orondos aren’t native latinos (they’re from Orondo, WA), but the name fits because deep down, this cherry is a flamenco dancer. This cherry moves. He’s sweet, but he’s also quite sassy. I am in love.
But before all that, when the box landed on my doorstep, I knew the Orondos were too pretty for pie. (Nobody puts Baby in the corner.) So I decided to pile them up in a tart, sliced any which way, to show off the contrast in color between the skins and the flesh. Simple enough right?
Not really. Because in my cooking lexicon, a tart piled with raw fruit has always had a crust made with wheat flour and a filling made with eggs. And I’m not eating wheat flour or eggs these days.
Here’s where the Jell-O thing comes in. The crust was easy enough – a quickly-stirred mixture of quinoa, coconut, and almond flours, along with some chia seeds that work amazingly well as a binder, and I had a beautiful, sweet crust that was much easier to handle (no pie weights!) than many traditional ones.
But the filling. (Damn the egg thing.) I wanted to stay away from dairy, not because I’m avoiding dairy, but because I’m suddenly hyper-aware of food allergies. (You read this, didn’t you?) Well, that, and the coconut flour in the crust had me hankering for something more exotic. So that blushing, sweet center? It’s essentially homemade coconut-cherry Jell-O. As in, made with gelatin. As in, creamy tart filling I can eat. As in, I am suddenly a fan of using gelatin and of cherries with light, sweet flesh.
New things are wonderful, aren’t they?
Coconut Cream Tart with Cherries and Chia Seeds (PDF)
You can use any type of cherries for this slightly quirky tart, but note that dark red ones (rather than the light-fleshed Orondo Ruby or Rainier cherries) will bleed their juices onto the filling a bit. Look for ingredients like coconut, quinoa, and almond flours and chia seeds in the baking section of a health foods store, or in a large yuppie market like Whole Foods.
Note that because nut and seed flours have such different textures, it’s best to measure them by weight, if you can.
Active time: About 1 hour
Makes 1 9-inch tart
For the crust
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup (30g) coconut flour
1/2 cup (60g) almond flour
1/2 cup (60g) quinoa flour
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the cherry-coconut cream
1 pound fresh, firm cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sugar
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk, stirred
1/4 cup cold water
1 packet powdered gelatin (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 pound fresh, firm cherries, pitted and halved or sliced, for topping the tart
First, make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a nonstick 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and set aside.
Blend the flax seeds with the hot water in a small bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk the coconut, almond, and quinoa flours together with the chia seeds and salt. Add the brown rice syrup, brown sugar, olive oil, and flax mixture, and mix and mash the crust with a large fork until no dry spots remain and the mixture looks like cookie dough.
Dump the crust into the tart pan, and use your hands to squish it into a roughly even layer on the bottom and sides, taking care not to make the corners too thick. (It should be about 1/4 inch thick on all sides.)
Bake the crust for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.
Meanwhile, make the cherry-coconut cream: Pulse the pitted cherries in a food processor until finely chopped, about 10 one-second pulses. Transfer them to a medium saucepan, add the 1/2 cup sugar, and bring the mixture to a strong simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes more, until thickened slightly.
Transfer 2 cups of the cherry-coconut cream to a medium bowl. (You’ll only need the 2 cups. Eat the rest.) Place the 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin into the water, stirring until the mixture looks like applesauce. Place the bowl in a pan filled with about an inch of boiling water, and stir the gelatin mixture until it turns clear. Add this clear liquid to the warm measured filling, stir well, and pour the filling into the tart crust.
Let the tart cool to room temperature, then transfer the tart to the refrigerator. Chill until the filling is firm, about 4 hours.
Just before serving, pile the halved or sliced cherries on top of the crust (you can be fancy, if you’d like, but plopping them on works just as well), and serve.