Harvest Tart à la Russe

tart and sour cream

I love David Lebovitz. Reading his blog is the perfect way to relax and, sometimes, wish I were in France. It’s hard not to, when you’re reminded of all those great eats and beautiful scenery– like in this post, with a recipe for a Harvest Tart— basically a deep-dish, rustic fruit tart with lots of late summer/early fall fruit thrown in.

I hadn’t done any baking yet (usually I try to limit my time in my kitchen, and thus my time with Tanya and Valya… maybe not the most mature way to go about things, but everyone seems ok with the arrangement.)
(By the way, I found a new place to live…. and it’s totally awesome and perfect and not on Vasilevsky Island! But I can’t move for another month. Maybe I will even grow to miss this place? Or the chinchilla at least.)

So anyways, I decided to go for it, and surprise my co-workers with a slightly modified take on David’s recipe. After school we all like to sit down for tea and sweets– when there is no chocolate, no one is happy– and talk about who did what that day. Sometimes there’s still a kid or two hanging around that we’ve forgotten about.
On his blog, David describes an idyllic romp through Agen, where his friend Kate has a cooking school, pulling figs from the trees, drinking glasses of icy rosé, and buying fresh charcuterie and chevre from the market. I got to go to across the street to the produkty and visit a couple of the fruit stands that line the alley between the two main streets in my neighborhood. If I think to take some pictures, I will, so you can enjoy the contrast.

Well, it’s not glamorous, but it is cheap. And the fruits and vegetables range from decent to good–for the most part.

Of course, sometimes you get a bad apple.

bad apple

The filling calls for crème fraîche and Armagnac, or vanilla extract. If the ingredient has accents on it there’s probably no hope of finding it here. Unless you go to the basement of Stockman’s, the big, expensive department store on Nevsky, which apparently has this Basement of Wonders where you can find Tabasco sauce, peanut butter, and other luxuries.
But I was confined to the produkty. So I bought smetana– sour cream, which no Russian could leave off their weekly shopping list– and this 4 ruble packet of vanilla sugar.

vanilla sugar

Which tasted as fake as it looks, despite the “noviye retsepti”– new recipe– it so proudly advertises.
I also changed the fruits around to suit what’s widely available at all those little fruit stands– apples, the little oblong plums that will soon be gone, and cranberries, which you find everywhere here (and cranberry juice).

fruit and dough

David Lebovitz is a former pastry chef, now full-time food blogger and writer, and his crust recipes never fail. I use them exclusively, always to divine, buttery results.

I’m sorry I just used the word “divine.” I really don’t want to write like a food blogger. Someone please keep me in check.

I was seriously “rustic” about it and didn’t even roll out the dough– just pressed it into the pan. I find this works almost as well, unless you happen to have guests who are going to sneer at the slight uneveness in your crust’s thickness.

So you throw your crust together– lots o’ butter (actually all that I had in the fridge)– flour, an egg, a little bit of water. Cut up those fruits and mix ’em with sour cream, weird vanilla sugar, and normal sugar, throw ’em in that crust. A few walnuts on top, fold the extra crust over, and into the oven.
(I recommend following his recipe if you actually want to make this.)

The verdict? Well, the ladies at work were very pleased, and we polished off the whole pan. I wasn’t quite satisfied– the crust was div tasty as usual, but the cranberries really needed more sugar, which I had suspected. Maybe it’d be better to cook them on the stove with some sugar and water first? And I should have put some foil over the top earlier in the baking process, because the walnuts got a little too “brown.”

finished tart

So for a first Russian baking attempt, it wasn’t bad. For the next one,  I’ll be checking out the basement of Stockman’s. And in the meantime, reading David Lebovitz and clawing at the screen of my MacBook Air.

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