Sweet Cranberry-Orange Ricotta Tart

More and more, I have been driven to take ingredients and throw them together to see what happens - and not just in cooking, where that kind of method is generally embraced. No, lately, I have been inspired to apply this same experimental approach to baking, despite being all-too-aware of the chemistry I would need to combat head-on. I just feel as though, as great as recipes are, I need to do this on my own, and flop and maybe even flounder until I figure out the ratios and proportions that work. Don't get me wrong, I don't just plunge into a cookie recipe blindly - I do my research, but it's still very hit or miss.

This tart is, in my opinion, both a hit and a miss, in fact. My qualms come mostly from what I've discovered is a distaste for such a large mouthful of virtually pure ricotta at one time, and some kinks in the preparation process: with just ricotta as the filling, it was thinner and flatter than I had imagined it would be; the crust was a little too chewy and not quite crunchy enough; and the orange overpowered the cranberry (though, in my research's defense, I strayed spontaneously from the ratios I had originally decided on, and undoubtedly should not have). It was a valiant attempt and not bad for a first attempt sans-recipe, and you can't beat the simplicity of the ingredients list, but I will definitely be taking the basic flavors and ideas behind this recipe and revamping the tart the next time I come back to it.

As it stands, it is a sweet, simple tart with a very prominent ricotta texture (though not flavor) and citrus flavor, with a not-quite-thick-enough cranberry swirl running throughout, perched atop a pecan crust. See what I mean, hit and miss? Even as I'm writing this I'm thinking that all of those flavors sound like they'd be pretty darn awesome together, but I (or perhaps one of you wonderful, more experienced foodies!) have some tinkering left with the actual logistics and, as I should have known all along, chemistry of it all. For now, I leave you with the base recipe that I created - feel free to try it if you're a ricotta fan, or play with it if you see the same potential in it that I do.

Sweet Cranberry-Orange Ricotta Tart
Yield: 1 9-inch tart

The Ingredients
for the crust:
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cranberry juice (not cocktail)

for the cranberry swirl:
1 cup cranberry juice (not cocktail)
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons water
1 scant tablespoon white sugar

for the filling:
1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 orange, zest + juice
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

The Method
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the pecans, oil, and 1 tablespoon of cranberry juice together and press into the pie plate, using a spatula to press it down. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes, then remove and set aside to cool.

Prepare the cranberry swirl: bring the rest of the juice to a boil. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or dish, make a slurry out of the water and corn starch. Once the juice has been boiling for a couple of minutes, whisk the slurry vigorously into the juice and continue whisking for about 3-4 minutes at a slightly reduced heat. Continue to let the juice simmer for another 7 minutes, whisking sporadically. Remove the juice from the heat, whisk in the white sugar, and let cool for approximately 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling: whisk the ricotta, orange juice and zest, and powdered sugar together and pour over the cooled crust. When ready, top with the juice and swirl around with a knife, being careful not to stir up the crust. Cover and chill for several hours.

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