I work for a community magazine that includes a ‘Cooking Class’ feature in every issue. The recipe is developed by a local cooking school and the article provides pictures of each step in the process. Each recipe is tested by a home chef prior to the publication of the magazine so that we know that the recipe and instructions will result in success for the average chef. When I was asked to test a cooking class recipe my excitement and enthusiasm knew no bounds. When I learned that the recipe would involve making ricotta cheese from scratch I was even more thrilled. However, the execution of this recipe took over 3 hours so it is not for the faint of heart! If you want to see the actual article about this recipe go here. I think Nathan’s pictures of our tart are better than theirs, don’t you?
For the dough:
8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
For the ricotta:
4 cups whole milk*
¼ cup white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
For the ricotta cream:
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey (or more to taste)
For the tart:
2 pounds strawberries
¾ cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon lemon juice
*Milk cannot be UHT (Ultra-High Pasteurized) in order to make cheese successfully. Most large-scale, organically produced milk in the United States is UHT milk. Check your milk carton to make sure the milk is not “Ultra-Pasteurized” or “UHT” before proceeding to make cheese.
Make the dough:
1. Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer or by hand with a stiff whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and uniform, 1-2 minutes.
2. Add the egg and mix on low speed until it is completely incorporated, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the vanilla extract and mix on low speed until incorporated.
3. Sift together the flour and the salt.
4. Add this to the butter mixture all at once and gently mix until it is incorporated.
5. Take the dough out of the bowl and onto a clean table. With the heel of your hand, blend the dough into the table. This will make the dough more uniform and easier to roll out later. Do not use any flour on your work surface at this time.
6. Scrape the dough off of the table and wrap tightly in plastic. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour, or up to three days until needed.
Make the ricotta:
1. In a heavy-bottom pot, stir the vinegar and salt into the cold milk with a slotted spoon. Keeping the spoon in the milk, cook on low heat, stirring gently every couple of minutes. When stirring, scrape the bottom of the pot with the spoon to prevent scalding. Do not bring the spoon in and out of the milk or you will disturb the curds that will begin to form at the top. If no curds are forming by the time the milk starts to steam, add 1 tablespoon more vinegar and gently stir into the milk.
Just when the milk starts to simmer, remove the pot from the heat. Let the pot sit for 20 minutes at room temperature.
2. Gently skim the curds (ricotta) into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and drain for 1 hour in the refrigerator.*
*You have just made your own ricotta cheese! You can salt this cheese and use it in any savory or sweet recipe, just as you would store-bought ricotta. If the ricotta is too stiff, stir in milk or cream to loosen.
Make the tart shell:
1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Roll the cold tart dough on a lightly floured work surface until it is 1/8-inch to ¼-inch thick.
2. Line a 9-inch tart pan with the cold dough, pressing the dough into the corners of the pan and trimming any excess dough off of the top. Place the dough-lined tart pan back into the refrigerator for 15 minutes, or until the dough is cold and firm.
3. Place pie weights* in the bottom of the tart shell and bake until the edges of the tart shell are golden brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the weights and place the tart shell back in the oven until the bottom is baked through, for an additional 7 to 10 minutes. Cool the tart shell completely and store at room temperature until you are ready to use.
Make the ricotta cream:
1. Place the drained ricotta with ¼ teaspoon salt into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
2. Drizzle in honey, adding more to sweeten to taste.
Assemble the tart:
1. Spread the ricotta cream into the bottom of the cooled tart shell.
2. Rinse, dry, and hull the strawberries, slicing if desired. Arrange the strawberries on top of the cream, covering the entire surface.
3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the apricot jam, water and lemon juice. Bring this mixture to a boil and strain through a fine-mesh strainer to get rid of any solids.
4. With a pastry brush, spread a thin layer of the hot glaze on top of the strawberries to give them shine and keep them from drying out. If the glaze is too thick or gets too cool to brush on evenly, simply put it back over the heat and add 1 teaspoon more water, if necessary. The fully assembled tart will keep for 1-2 hours at room temperature, or up to two days in the refrigerator.
* If you do not have pie weights, you can line the pan with parchment paper or a large coffee filter and fill with dried beans or raw rice. Make sure to cut the paper larger than your tart pan for easy removal later on.