As a young family with a new baby, we think a lot about traditions. The traditions that each of us grew up with and the traditions we want to create on our own and the things that become traditions by accident or laziness.
Not surprisingly, most of our family’s traditions take place at the dinner table. Our family dinner is a nightly ritual we almost never skip, and one that we expect our kids to suffer through until they’re out of the house for good. Sunday suppers is another one that gives us the chance to while away the hours together, puttering around the kitchen, tending to a roast or baking a cake.
For years, I whipped up an all-American spread for my Vietnamese family at every Thanksgiving and Christmas. My cousins and I made a meal worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting – roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pumpkin pie. OK, so the stuffing came from Stove Top, the gravy from a mix and the pumpkin pie recipe from the back of the can. But it was our tradition. Beside the bird, we always had a Vietnamese dish or two, maybe fried rice or green papaya salad with shrimp. The next day, my grandmother would take the turkey leftovers and turn them into an Asian-style stir-fry.
More recently, we’ve started making this incredible and incredibly easy cranberry-pecan tart for the holidays. The recipe comes from the late, great Lever House Restaurant in New York City, a gorgeous dining room located in one of the most significant buildings of the 20th century. The cookbook itself is a beautiful piece of work. Despite the high-rent fare, most of the dishes don’t require a lot of ingredients. Just the best ones.
When you make this tart, you’ll see why it’s become our very favorite holiday dish. It’s a brilliant update on the standard pecan pie. Instead of gooey, sickening sweetness, you get pecans that actually taste like pecans, balanced perfectly by fresh, tart cranberries. The caramel smells and tastes like childhood. And it just looks like Christmas, all browns and reds.
It could easily become a tradition for your own famished family.
Recipe: Cranberry-pecan tart (adapted from The Lever House Cookbook)
Although you can use frozen or fresh cranberries here, we’ve always gone with fresh. Whatever you do, don’t substitute for the canned stuff. Reserve that for your cranberry relish.
14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into chunks
2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 large egg
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup almond flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 teaspoon salt
9 ounces pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
Combine butter and confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream together until it has the soft consistency of shortbread cookie dough. Add the egg. Once incorporated, add the flours and mix until just combined. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill for about 30 minutes, until firm.
Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface. You want a 12-inch circle about ¼ inch thick. Lay it inside a 10 ½-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the edges evenly into the sides of the pan and trim off excess dough. Chill for at least another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prick the tart shell all over with a fork. Bake until almost completely cooked, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the caramel: In a small pot, add the granulated sugar with 2 tablespoons of water. Stir until the mixture looks like wet sand. Heat over a medium flame until the sugar melts into a syrup, about 5-7 minutes. Keep cooking until the sugar begins bubbling and turns a medium amber color. Be careful not to burn it – don’t be tempted to step away at this point! Once the syrup reaches the right color, immediately take the pot off the heat and slowly add the cream, a bit at a time. It will sputter and steam, so watch out. When the bubbling has died down, put the pot back on the burner and bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring often. Don’t be alarmed if the sauce is clumped together. The caramel will melt as it heats up again.
Remove the caramel from the heat and combine with the cranberries, salt and pecans in a separate bowl. Mix thoroughly to get the caramel sauce evenly distributed.
Spoon the filling into the prepared tart shell. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the filling has set slightly and the cranberries have begun to pop. If you overcook it, the cranberries shrivel too much. Serve the tart warm with maple or vanilla ice cream, or crème fraiche.