Every Spring, there is a moment when we can all relax into it. The last episode of freezing temperatures has come and gone, and all around us, green leaves are unfurling like slow motion fireworks. The plants have been waiting patiently, ready to make up for all those dormant months. The landscape changes from greys and bare trunks to every shade of green, leaves rolling out like clouds, softening all the harsh angles.
Welcome to Spring in Minnesota.
It has warmed up enough to get my seeds in the ground, and I eagerly survey the turned soil as I make my way on the backyard path. Even if I just walked past an hour ago, you never know when that spinach might pop up!
Every year, as I sprinkle my little packets of seed into furrows, I think about our local farmers. Here I am playing at it, while they are betting their livelihoods on a decent Spring. I have to salute them. It’s hard work, and often easily wiped out by unpredictable weather. Spring hail might knock all the blossoms off the stone fruit trees, or a dry spell could cause all the herbs to shrivel and bolt.
It’s a tough business. So it is with great anticipation that we look to our local harvests.
In fact, I am so looking forward to the day when my local farmer brings Spring berries to market that I worked up this recipe for a vegan fruit tartlet. You can use just about any fruit to fill it, although berries are the easiest, since you don’t even have to cut them. California berries are on sale right now, but this will really sing when I can stuff the little crusts with just-picked little juice-bombs.
I like to make the tartlet crusts in a muffin pan, so that you don’t need specialized mini-tart pans to do it. I don’t know how many people even own those. The kitchen cupboards are overcrowded as it is. This is an easy, press in the pan crust, that bakes up sturdy and crunchy. I’s also flexible, I used whole almonds, but you can use just about any nut you choose.
I opted to use maple syrup in the crust, and palm sugar in the filling. I wanted a liquid sweetener to help hold the crust dough together, and the flavor of maple gives it a depth of flavor as well as sweetness. Palm sugar, if you haven’t tried it, is a fantastic sweetener. I call it the maple sugar of Thailand, because it is tapped from the sugar palms there, and boiled down, in a process that seems to be the Tropical equivalent of syruping here.
Palm sugar is a wonderful whole sweetener, with all the minerals left in. It tastes like caramel and brown sugar at the same time. It’s also low on the glycemic index, if you are watching out for carbs.
A simple pudding, thickened with starch, provides a creamy filling. It’s just there to nestle your precious berries in. If you want a richer pudding, use canned coconut milk. Almond milk is more neutral in flavor, but both taste lovely with a little vanilla and lemon zest.
Let the Spring berry season begin! I’ll be ready, with my berry tartlet recipe.
Blackberry and Kiwi Tartlets
1 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
coconut oil for the pan
2 cups plus 1/4 cup almond or coconut milk
2/3 cup palm sugar
3 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
Assorted berries and fruit, I used 1 cup of blackberries and 2 kiwis
apricot jam, if desired, for glaze (I didn’t bother this time)
lemon zest for garnish
Make the crusts: preheat the oven to 375 F. In a food processor, pulse the almonds a few times to chop them coarsely. Add the oats and grind to a mince. Add the pastry flour and salt and pulse to mix, then add the coconut oil and maple syrup and process to mix. You may need to transfer it to a bowl and knead it by hand.
Generously grease the cups of a 12 cup muffin pan. Scoop 2 tablespoons of the dough into each cup, and if there is some left over, divide it evenly between them. Dampen your fingers and press the dough evenly into the cups. Press it up the sides, almost to the rim. Poke the bottoms of the crusts with a fork a few times, then bake for 15 minutes. The tops will be golden brown. Take out and cool on a rack. Use a paring knife to pop each of the shells out, carefully.
For the filling, combine 2 cups of almond milk with palm sugar in a 1-quart pot and warm over medium heat. Whisk to melt the chunky sugar. Once the lumps are gone, whisk the arrowroot or cornstarch with the remaining almond milk and then whisk into the hot liquid in the pan. Whisk and cook until thickened. Whisk in the zest and vanilla.
Let the pudding cool, then chill. When cold, assemble the tartlets. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the pudding to each crust, then press fruit into it to cover. Have fun arranging the fruit in each tart a little differently. If desired, mix a couple of tablespoons of jam with a tablespoon of water in a cup, and use a pastry brush to glaze the fruit. Garnish with zest.