Five or six years ago I didn't even know candied ginger existed, let alone where to find it in the supermarket.
Ginger, sure. Any foray into Asian cooking requires a nub of this amazing root to always have a home in your kitchen somewhere, countertop or freezer. But candied ginger? Sounded too sweet to my taste — a bit like those sugar-encrusted jelly candies I never liked as a kid.
Then I tried a recipe that melded finely chopped candied ginger with cream cheese and sugar and turned it into a giant flag-shaped Fourth of July berry tart. It was amazing.
I haven't looked back at the recipe in a while, but I still love the memory of the subtle heat of the candied ginger, the familiar tang of the cream cheese and the juicy bite of the berries, all atop a puff pastry base.
I won't send you off to the hardware store for a sheet of plywood to support the four-quadrant extravaganza suggested in the recipe above — unless of course you are dying to, then off you go — but here is a stripped down version that yields a smaller tart or series of tarts for your family dinner or barbecue party.
And don't worry about the type of berry — try whatever is in season and that you enjoy. Warning: Unless ginger just isn't your thing, you will start applying the candied ginger-cream cheese mix liberally to just about anything you can think of, from blueberries to carrot-zucchini cupcakes.
Any seasonal berries (strawberries and blueberries are perfect here)
Frozen puff pastry
Cream cheese (in brick form, not tub)
Let one 8 oz. package of cream cheese get good and soft.
Finely chop about about a 1/4 cup of candied ginger. You want it fine enough so there aren't any big chunks of ginger to bite into, but not too fine that you lose all the ginger taste. A whiz or two in my mini-prep food processor is usually perfect, but I've also done it by hand.
Mix the cream cheese and ginger and about 1/4 cup granulated sugar to taste. I'd start with 1/8 cup and work up. You may prefer it on the less-sweet side.
Refrigerate and get started with your puff pastry:
Poke lots of holes into the base of thawed puff pastry with a fork so it doesn't puff up too much while cooking and bake in whatever shape squares or rectangles you'd like (or any shape, I guess) according to package directions. The more complicated recipe above has you create a shelf or ridge, go ahead if you'd like but it's not mission-critical.
When your puff pastry is cooled — and you can definitely bake-off beforehand — spread a medium (to taste) layer of the cream cheese mix on the pastry and top with whatever berries you'd like. Strawberries sliced in half are absolutely perfect, as are whole blueberries (hence the flag theme in the original recipe) but be as creative as you'd like.
For a more polished presentation, you can thin some berry jam with water and heat slightly to glaze the fruit with a pastry brush.
Double recipe for more tarts or if you want to attempt the flag!
Don't toss that fresh ginger yet — not that you would! — here's a recipe that combines blueberries and fresh ginger in a perfect seasonal pie. Bring to your next BBQ and report back. (Or better yet, share your go-to recipe for a berry pie.)
My container-growing strawberries, pictured with this column, are doing OK, but not nearly as well as our arugula, romaine and jalapenos, which are shooting up, so we definitely have to supplement with a trip to area U-pick farms.