Maraschino Cherry Meringue Tart

A cherry curd-filled tart using Luxardo's amazing Maraschino cherries and syrup

It was our 3rd wedding anniversary this week - and as usual, if there's any reason to celebrate something, that means there's a reason to fill our faces.

This recipe, which I did briefly think of calling "toothpaste tart", uses Luxardo's Maraschino cherries. If you've never tried them, you really need to; they aren't the normal bright pink Maraschino cherries that companies like Opies make (a baileys and cherryade please Mike) - instead they're prepared in their natural juice with lots of sugar. The result is a massive cherry flavour. You can grab some from The Whisky Exchange.

While they're great in cocktails, I'm using a whole jar to make curd. Stay with me here, I know they cost about 7 quid - but the curd they make is unbelievable, especially as a treat. Use the recipe below to just make that - or go the whole way and turn it into a tasty dessert to share. Or not.

Ingredients (makes one pie, serves one pie to 8 standard people)

For the filling

  • 1 jar of Luxardo Maraschino cherries
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 210g caster sugar

For the tart case

  • 250g type 45 flour [Buy] (or just plain if you don't have any)
  • 140g unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 90g icing sugar
  • 1/2tsp almond essence

For the Italian meringue

  • 165g egg whites
  • 450g caster sugar
  • 113g water
  • Red paste food colouring (Wilton make a good one)
  • 1/2tsp almond essence

Equipment required

  • 24 cm flan ring
  • Stand mixer
  • Thermometer
  • 1 baking mat (Fibrelux, Silpat etc)
  • 1 heavy tray
  • Baking beans or equivalent
  • Plastic piping bag and large piping head

Make the curd

The first job is to strain the cherries from their syrup. Just use a fine mesh sieve and pour them through into a bowl beneath. Try to agitate the cherries, but don't mash them as they'll be quite soft.

Now prepare your bain marie - bring water to a simmer in a pot, and place a clean bowl over the top. Pour in the syrup, sugar, butter and let them melt together, stirring occasionally. Beat the three eggs until they are homogeneous, then pour that into the juice. Make sure the water stays at a simmer or you'll get scrambled eggs.

Stir slowly until combined, then keep it on the low heat and stir every few minutes. Eventually - and that might be 15 or more minutes in this case - the eggs will start to thicken up as they cook. When you reach a texture that coats the back of your spatula, remove from the heat and strain again into a clean bowl. Note that as it's hot, it will look more "liquid" than curd normally does. If you want to test the thickness, take a teaspoon out and leave it on the side for a few minutes; if it's thick enough you're done. Leave to cool to room temperature, then cover with cling film and place in the fridge for a few hours to firm up.

Make, bake and fill the tart case

This tart uses pâte sucrée.

Attach a whisk to your stand mixer, and add the butter. Whip until the butter has been creamed, then add the almond extract, icing sugar, ground almond and eggs. When completely combined (i.e. no butter lumps), tip about 1/3 of the flour in. It should be combined in a few seconds, so repeat with the next 1/3 and then the final amount of flour. Stop the mixer when the mixture looks combined and a bit like wet sand, making sure you don't overwork it.

Turn this out onto your work surface and press it all into a smooth ball. Place the ball on some cling film, then flatten slightly with the palm of your hand. Wrap it in the cling and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

When the pastry has rested, take your baking mat and place it on a tray, then the flan ring on top of this. Give the mat and ring a quick spritz with baking, 1cal spray or just grease with butter.

Remove the pastry from the fridge, and unwrap from the cling. Stretch the cling film out, dust the pastry with icing sugar, then place back in the middle. Working really quickly while it's cold, roll the pastry on the cling film to a thickness of about 3mm. Check the width by putting the flan ring on top - you'll need some excess around the edges.

Since the cling is underneath, you should easily be able to pick up the pastry, invert it and place over the flan ring. Push the pastry into the corners - again, now that the cling is on top, you should be able to do this all by hand without further dusting. When you're happy, carefully peel the cling film off. Make sure any excess pastry is bent and folded over the edges of the case, and that no metal is visible on the upper rim. If it is, cut off some excess dough and push it into place. Sugar pastry is more forgiving than many other types, mainly because you can quite neatly blend any holes with extra pastry.

Turn your oven on to 170C.

To help stop shrinkage, freeze the tart case instead of just putting it in the fridge. Leave it in there for about 30 minutes (not much more - you don't want it to completely solidify) until nice and cold. When you're ready to blind bake, remove the case from the freezer and place some silver foil (matte side down) into it. You will probably need two pieces going in alternate directions to cover the whole ring. Scrunch it down over the top edges of the case so it's completely covered in foil, then gently pour in your baking beans.

You need to add a bit of extra cooking time due to the frozen case, so bake for about 20 minutes. After this time it should look anaemic but be solid - so remove the foil and beans, then brush with a beaten egg and return to the oven for a further 5 to 10 minutes until golden.

Remove and leave to cool to near room temperature, then use a sharp paring knife to trim the outer edge. Carefully remove the ring, then brush out any pastry crumbs. Take your curd and spoon it into the case. Use a palette knife to even the filling out, then scatter the reserved cherries evenly over the top. Cover with cling film, then place in the fridge to firm up again.

Italian meringue and putting it all together

Place the 165g of egg whites into your stand mixer with the whisk attachment fitted. Pour 113g of water into a heavy bottomed pot, add the 450g of sugar, and place over a high heat.

Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the sugar - when it hits 115C, start to whip your egg whites. When it hits 118C, remove from the heat, and trickle the syrup over the beaten egg whites. Once it has picked up a bit of volume, add the almond essence. Leave this to whisk until completely cool.

While this is happening, prepare the piping bag with the food colouring. This kind of thing has become really popular recently, probably due to the Meringue Girls - I'll describe what to do, but they've got a great video showing you the technique if you get stuck.

You want to take your piping bag, then turn it inside out, except for a tiny bit where you'll put the piping nozzle. Place this over any tall bottle, then grab your food colouring paste and paint 4 evenly spaced vertical slines from the top to the bottom of the bag. Remove from the bottle, place your piping nozzle in, and invert back the other way.

Now the meringue should have cooled down to near room temperature, so stop whisking and fill the piping bag. If you've used a thick enough food colouring paste, the lines will stay as they are. Try to remove any air bubbles from the bag by pressing the meringue from the outside.

Remove the tart from the fridge and snip the top off the piping bag to reveal the nozzle.

Pipe a few test meringues to get the food colouring into place. When they look good, start piping the meringue around the edge of the tart. Pull upwards on the meringues to make them tall as you pipe each one. Once you've finished the complete circle, carry on with the next inner layer, and so on until the entire tart is covered.

When you're happy, fire up your blow torch. Normally I'm up for hardcore meringue toasting - but since you've gone to the trouble of making them look good, a gentle browning will do.

Serve immediately.
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