August 29, 2013 | By johannah | Comments
Returning from Italy a few weeks ago, I had one thing on my mind, and one thing only: how to get my hands on some Swiss apricots. You see, the drive from Turin to Copenhagen would take us right through the heart of Swiss apricot country and I wasn’t going to pass up this chance to stock up on one of my very favorite fruits.
“Apricots in Switzerland? Really?” you might ask, and I wouldn’t blame you. Having lived there for years, I can attest to the fact that it seems unlikely that a country almost entirely made up of craggy peaks, glaciers and high alpine pastures should be able to grow sun- and heat-loving apricots. But you’d be wrong. The southern region of Valais, known for some of the world’s best skiing and iconic alpine peaks—hey, Matterhorn, I’m looking at you!—is also home to the verdant Rhone valley and many sun-soaked, south-facing slopes ideal for growing everything from summer berries to wine. In early Spring, impossibly steep hillside apricot orchards come into bloom, covering the mountains in a riot of pink and white. Come summer, roadside fruit stands start popping up across the region and the lovely blushing fruits make their entry at local markets.
Our timing was terrible. When we crossed the border into Switzerland, situated on the Great St. Bernard pass (home to the famous dogs of the same name), the sun was already dipping below the mountain ridge to our right. The roads were deserted. Also, it was Swiss National Day, which means everyone in their right mind is too busy eating bratwurst and raclette, dancing and preparing for all-night fireworks to stand by the side of the road, hoping for apricot-loving Danes to pass by. As we descended further and further from the pass, my heart sank. Once we hit the town of Martigny, just a few miles down the valley, we would get onto a highway, with little chance of finding a supermarket still open at this late hour, and definitely no roadside apricots for sale. Then we turned a corner and I immediately spotted the tell-tale wooden shack ahead. Apricots! 10 minutes later we were on the road again, two 5-pound baskets of fruit safely tucked in the back seat.
Back in Copenhagen, to celebrate our find, I made a traditional Swiss custard tart. It’s the kind of tart that you will find in every hotel, restaurant or cafe across the country, baked up with whatever fruit is in season. I love it best with apricots, but you could make this tart with raspberries, cherries, plums, apples, pears or any other fruit you like. Swiss apricots are quite firm and a little tart. Once baked, they turn into little pools of barely held together, jammy goodness, a perfect complement to the rich custard. I infused the custard with cardamom. You could use vanilla instead or skip this step altogether. The tart will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge, though the pastry shell will soften a bit over time.
Swiss Apricot Custard Tart
Adapted from Saisonküche, a Swiss food and travel magazine and recipe site.
160 g (1 1/4 cups) flour
50 g (1/4 cup) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
95 g (7 tbsp) butter, cool but not cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2-3 tbsp ice water
Butter a 10-inch pie dish or tart pan.
Whisk together flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or a knife, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a mix of coarse crumbs and small chunks. Add 2 tbsp of ice water and working quickly, bring the dough together with your hands. If it doesn’t quite come together, add another tablespoon of water, a little at a time.
Pat into a flat disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the custard.
2 1/2 dl (1 cup) whole milk
50 g (1/4 cup) sugar
5-6 cardamom pods or 1/2 vanilla bean, split down the middle and seeds scraped out (if using)
Note: To infuse the custard with cardamom or vanilla, simply heat the milk together with crushed cardamom pods or the vanilla. Before the milk comes to a boil, remove from heat, then pour the mixture into a glass cup measure and place in the fridge to cool while you prep. Once cooled, strain through a fine mesh sieve before adding the remaining ingredients.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs and sugar.
To assemble the tart:
750 g (1 1/2 pounds) apricots, halved and pitted
2 tbsp ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to fit your pan. Carefully transfer to the prepared pan and gently press the pastry into the pan, making sure that it does not crack or tear. Cut away excess dough, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for another 10-15 minutes.
Sprinkle the pastry shell, which should be cold and firm, with ground almonds. Place apricot halves in a circular pattern, cut side up, in the shell. Squeeze as many apricots into the shell as you can fit—the more, the better! Pour the custard base over the apricots. They should only be about half covered in custard. Carefully transfer the tart pan to a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the custard has completely set. Cool completely and serve plain or, even better, with a large dollop of whipped cream.
Makes one 10-inch tart. (I used a 9-inch pan since that’s what I have, and had leftover dough, custard base and apricots.)