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21 June 2012

Vignola Cherry Brown Butter Tart and the Ancient Village of Pitigliano

When I had some fresh cherries a while back that I didn't know what to do with, Laura of Tutti Dolci suggested that I make some Cherry Brown Butter Bars that she did last year.  I checked out her site and looking at the recipe and the pictures convinced me to put my cherries into these butter bars that were too inviting to resist.   

However, I did resist and skipped it for a more kid friendly recipe which was my nutella and cherry pizza.   The kids were ecstatic and that was what mattered.  Never mind what I wanted.  What was important was to see gleeful faces of my little ones smeared with Nutella everywhere!   

I love cherries in general but the cherries of Vignola are the ones that keep me waiting in anticipation all year round.  For me, they are the perfect cherries.  Big, dark and too sweet to be true.  They are harvested in Vignola (a town in Modena), Italy from the end of May until the end of June.  Out of 150 varieties available in Italy, only 20 are considered excellent and this variery tops all of them. 

The cherry tree, originally from Asia, was brought to Rome in 68 A.C.  The continuing cultivation of cherries is owed to the careful tending of the fruit gardens of the monks during the Middle Ages.   So, if not for them, then we wouldn't be eating cherries in Italy.  Whew!  Thank God for the monks!

I got this recipe from Laura of Tutti Dolci, who in turn got it from Smitten Kitchen and who also got it from Bon Appetit's Brown Butter Raspberry Tart.   I traced back its roots because I had a 34 x 9-cm. tart pan instead of the 13 x 9-inch pan of Tutti Dolci and I was wondering if I can make it into a tart rather than bars.  Apparently, it was originally in tart form in a 9-inch-diameter tart pan.  With this in mind, I also put the crust on the sides as opposed to her recipe that leaves the crust only at the bottom.  Everything fit in my tart pan except for about a couple of tablespoons of filling.  

It came out beautifully!  And finally, I understood why Laura was so quick in telling me to put my cherries to use in this wonderful brown butter tart / bars.

What I learned though is that what is beautiful and delectable for me is not always agreeable to my 2-year old daughter.  While she and the rest of the family were cooling themselves off at the beach, I baked this tart to greet them when they come home.  

Yes, she said "Wow, Mommy!"  Yes, she sat down with us and asked for a slice of her own.  And no, she didn't like it.  She asked instead for a slice of bread with extra virgin olive oil on her plate.  Then my husband and I looked at what we were eating, so buttery & sugary while our daughter was eating something so healthy and opted out from the salt even.   Yes, that's how things are at home sometimes.  We are the kids and they are the adults.   

Pitigliano had been in my bucket list for a long time and when I went there a couple of years ago, I was rewarded with this fantastic panorama of the ancient village.   There are some villages in Italy that jut out from tufa rocks like this but Pitigliano was like a dream.  It was remarkable both inside the village and out.  Both at nighttime and during daytime.   This Tuscan town goes all the way back to the Etruscan times (about 800 B.C.) but only has an official mention in the records in 1061.  

Outside the town, we stayed at a wonderful agriturismo called Locanda Pantanello.  It's charming, relaxing and has a cozy atmosphere.   Dinners and breakfasts were prepared by the proprietors themselves in their living /dining room with the big fireplace.  It was like a real country house while we were entertained by our charming hosts.   A meal couldn't be as relaxing as what we had.  Did I mention that the food was extraordinary?

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Vignola Cherry Brown Butter Tart 
Adapted from Bon Appetit's Brown Butter Raspberry Tart

Serves 6 - 8 (in a 34 x 9-cm. tart pan)

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 190 Celcius / 375 Fahrenheit. 
  2. Using a rubber spatula or fork, mix melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl. 
  3. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated. 
  4. Transfer dough to the tart pan with removable bottom. Using fingertips, press dough evenly onto sides and bottom of pan.
  5. Bake crust until golden, about 18 minutes (crust will puff slightly while baking). 
  6. Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan. 
  7. Maintain oven temperature.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
  • 450 g. cherries, pitted

    1. Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl to blend. 
    2. Add flour and vanilla.  Whisk until smooth. 
    3. Cook butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until deep nutty brown (do not burn), stirring often, about 6 minutes.  Use a light-colored bottom to gauge the color of the butter.
    4. Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup. 
    5. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture.  Whisk until well blended.
    6. Arrange cherries at the bottom of cooled crust.  
    7. Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over cherries.  
    8. Bake tart until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. 
    9. Cool tart completely in pan on rack.  
    10. Remove tart pan sides. Place tart on platter. Cut into wedges and serve.