I’m sitting on an airplane as I type, heading to California. When I first plopped down in my seat just thirty minutes ago, I, like everyone else on the plane it seems, immediately fetched my phone out of my bag, hoping to pass the minutes catching up on social media until the doors finally closed and the plane took off towards remarkably cloudless skies.
I had only been Instagramming for a few minutes (leaving an unreasonably long-winded comment on Alana’s amazing spam croissant photo, I might add) when the woman to my left, a thin middle-aged woman with an auburn pixie cut and harsh eyes, turned to me, looked down at my phone somewhat longingly, and said, “I just lost my phone, you know. It was an iPhone 6.” A little perplexed but also oddly comfortable with striking up random conversations with perfect strangers, I looked up from my device and offered a plain, “Oh, really? Where?”
“In this airport. Right here,” she motioned with her right hand and pointed down towards the seat. Her left hand was holding a tall McDonald’s soft drink cup and she slurped its contents from a straw. I doubted she’d lost the phone right here because, well, it wasn’t anywhere in sight. She filled the silence I had left open to her and preceded to tell me about how she’d actually left it in a bathroom stall earlier in the week when she was flying into PDX. Another slurp. And then she said something profound, something that really hit home with me, “You know, I’ve just been so….” Again, she motioned with her hands, but this time holding them both next to her ears and shaking her head as if to convey a sense of craziness. “I need to be more centered…more in the moment.”
I smiled towards her and let out a half laugh, trying to convey as much gentleness as I could muster since she seemed to need it: “You and me both.”
It was funny to me that she said those exact words: I need to be more in the moment. That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately and it was exactly the topic I’d intended to write about once we’d reached cruising altitude and I was finally granted permission by the airplane gods to light up my laptop. The universe is so strange like that!
Yes, things have been crazy lately. Beyond crazy, really. It’s been a series of weeks where work keeps piling up no matter how much I put into it and chip away at it. I’m grateful for the progress I’ve made towards finally finishing my dissertation and for the food-related work that’s come my way. But I’ve also found myself feeling overwhelmed and just a bit frantic with the pace of things lately.
This is just one reason why I decided to take last week off from blogging. I needed to regroup. To use the few minutes I had in the kitchen cooking just for me again. Not for the blog. Not for visitors. Just selfishly, for me.
And so, I started with jam. A lot of jam. The strawberries first caught my eye at the market–for some reason, jam always reminds me of life at a slower pace. Like topping fluffy layers of buttermilk biscuits on lazy Sundays or spooning over thick vanilla ice cream on muggy summer nights. It’s just one of those things that seems to sing: Calm down. Calm the fuck down. (For the record, when jam drops the f-bomb, it does so oh-so eloquently.)
But after this decision to slow down, I ended up with nearly full two pounds of jam on my hands (and stuck to my countertops, my fingertips, and my apron, I might add!) I knew I needed to find a happy home for it. And unless I wanted to eat four-dozen jam-crested biscuits, I’d need to get a bit more serious with my jam-pairings. Fortunately, I happened to stumble across a jam tart recipe in Renée Erickson’s A Boat, A Whale, and a Walrus, which called for a full pound of strawberry jam, and I knew it was destiny.
Renée calls for pouring store-bought strawberry jam, which is much thicker from the added pectin, directly into the unbaked tart. But since homemade jam is less well-gelled, I decided to par-bake the tart shell first and then pour the jam in before finishing out the last few minutes in the oven. I also added a Vanilla Ricotta Cream to the tart because sweetened ricotta and strawberries go together like gravy and rice (plus I still had ricotta leftover from last week’s gnocchi and this seemed like a perfectly reasonable use for it.)
The end result was not the cleanest thing I’d ever created for the blog. Jam is messy. But it was exactly what I’d hoped it would be. The cornmeal crust blended in with the homemade jam to create the most rustic, almost farmlike, tart experience. It begs to be eaten in heaping spoonfuls on a big, wide porch while rocking methodically in a wooden chair, or, at the very least, cozied up in the backyard with people you love. That’s where I ate mine. And I savored each bite as it melted in my mouth, relishing in the rare moment of slow(-er) living.
- 1 stick and 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons total) of unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup of granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- ¼ teaspoon of almond extract (or vanilla extract)
- 1 ½ cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dough rolling
- ½ cup of cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (or ¼ teaspoon of regular salt)
- Fresh strawberry jam (see below) or 16-20 ounces of jarred strawberry jam
- Special equipment: 1 9- or 10-inch fluted tart pan
- 3 pounds of strawberries, hulled and cut in half vertically
- 2 cups of granulated sugar
- 1 lemon, juiced (at least 6 tablespoons)
- 1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons of half and half (or cream), depending on taste
- Add the butter and sugar to a stand mixture with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add whole egg, the egg yolk, and the almond extract. Combine on medium for 30 seconds, or until blended. If you notice it sticking to the sides, wipe them down with a rubber spatula and continue blending.
- Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl and then add ½ of the mixture to the butter mixture in the stand mixer, on low speed. Once blended, add the second half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the stand mixture, again on low speed until combined. Don’t overmix here, only mix until you notice the flour streaks in the dough disappear. Form the dough into a disc, about 6-8 inches wide, and remove ⅓ of the dough and set it aside. (See notes for uses of this third.)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the other ⅔ of the dough disc in the fluted tart pan and press it into the sides until it goes all the way up to the top of the pan’s edges. The bottom part should be about ¼-inch thick. Bake tart in preheated oven until just starting to turn color, about 10-15 minutes. Pull the oven shelf out and pour homemade strawberry jam into the parbaked shell, even it out with the back of a spoon, and then push shelf back in and bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Spoon ricotta cream (see below) over tart, and serve.
- In a large saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. Cook over medium-high until the jam is very thick, about 20-30 minutes. It will be bubbling rapidly as it cooks so stir frequently.
- In a blender or food processor, combine ricotta cheese, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar, and half and half (or cream) to taste, and puree until smooth. Spoon over tart.
Renee’s recipe calls for halving the tart crust dough and using half for the shell and the other half for turning into discs and topping the jam portion with. Because I use homemade jam and thus parbaked the crust (see intro), I made some changes with the dough. I used ⅔ of it for the shell and then baked the other ⅓ in a sheet, which I crumbled and sprinkled onto my tart just before eating (not pictured.) However, I like my tart crusts thicker, especially this one since the jam is so—jammy. So, though I haven’t done it, I’d imagine using the entire amount of dough for the shell alone would actually be delicious, though it would, obviously, be significantly thicker than your average tart shell. If anyone tries it this way, please let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
You can make the tart dough in advance and freeze it (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap) for up to 2 months. Before using, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight.