I live just outside Washington, DC (seriously, it’s a 5 minute drive/Metro ride) – so I have a front row seat to our Cherry Blossom Festival, in March/April, long before cherries hit our grocery stores at reasonable prices. And all the Festival does is make me wish that cherries were in season, because I love them more than just about any other fruit (except raspberries, because they’re the best). Finally, finally, it’s time to celebrate cherries being in season. These Cherry Blossom Bites are an excellent way to use the cherries that are abundant this time of year, especially if you’re like me, and you’ve been buying more than you can reasonably consume on your own.
Cherry Blossom Bites were inspired by a similar hors d’oeurve that was served at the cocktail hour for my wedding last October. They were simple puff pastry, with goat cheese and a sweetened cherry compote on top, and they were lovely. For this recipe, I’ve kept the puff pastry, but I’ve used cream cheese instead of goat cheese. Cream cheese is less expensive, and more useful to have extra of. You don’t really notice a difference between the two when they’re packed into these little bites. I don’t know exactly what went into the cherries for the version at my wedding, but I used fresh cherries, softened and reduced with a little orange juice, and cloves. If you don’t take anything else away from this post, know that a pot of cherries, orange juice, and cloves heating on the stove smells like absolute happiness.
To add some sweetness and extra crunch, I created a streusel topping using chopped up bits of the leftover puff pastry, combined with sliced almonds and brown sugar. It really takes these bites to the point where they’re a perfect combination of sweet, salty, and tart. They’re a little chewy and plenty crispy, and the overall impact is what I imagine it would be like if you took a really good cheese board and captured all of its best parts in a single bite. I’d dare to say these are actually better than the ones from my wedding.
Figuring out how to bake these was something of an adventure, because I don’t usually put puff pastry into mini muffin pans. Puff pastry needs room to expand, so it doesn’t end up too chewy or over-cooked. After some trial and failure with a silicone mold, I found that the simplest method was also the best: I cut the puff pastry into 1 1/2 inch squares and just pressed them into the mini muffin pans. No cutting circles or trying to squish them in neatly, which is always a bonus in my book.
The rest of the process for making these is fairly quick – the cherries only need to cook for about 15 minutes, and the streusel can be prepared in the meantime. I made my own puff pastry, but you can speed up the process even more by buying it in pre-made sheets. These would be a perfect, unexpected treat to bring to summer parties and barbecues. They’d also make a great quick breakfast or snack that you can whip up ahead and then munch on throughout the week. They taste like dessert, but don’t have very much sugar added at all – it’s only in the topping – so they still fit into a healthy lifestyle. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself.
Cherry Blossom Bites
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup very cold water
- 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter (do not soften)
Cherry Blossom Bites
- 28 fresh cherries, pitted and halved
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water - divided use
- 2 Tbsps orange juice
- 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2 1/2 Tbsps brown sugar
- 2 Tbsps slivered almonds, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped puff pastry bits
If you are making the puff pastry: Stir together flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the bowl. Pour in water gradually, while stirring the mixture - add just enough water to get everything combined into a rough dough. You don't want the butter creamed into the flour, you want it to stay in chunks - this is what causes the dough to form those beautiful, flaky layers in the oven.
2. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface. Form it into a rectangle, and gently roll out until it's about a half inch thick. Fold the bottom third up into the middle, and fold the top third down on top of that. Turn it 90 degrees, add more flour to prevent sticking, and roll it out again. Repeat this process three more times, adding flour as needed. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the filling. You can also freeze it for about 10 minutes before using, if your filling is already made.
Note: While making this dough, you need to work quickly, with very cold water and butter, to prevent the butter from melting into the dough.
3. Pit the cherries and cut them into halves or quarters - a mix of both is good. Place in a small sauce pan over medium heat with 1/4 cup water, orange juice and cloves. Stir occaisonally, until the cherries have gotten soft and released a lot of juice. Combine 1 Tbsp of water with the cornstarch, and add to the pot of cherries. Continue stirring until the cherry mixture has thickened, and then remove from heat.
4. Soften cream cheese in the microwave in a small bowl, so that it's soft enough to be piped, but not melted. Transfer to a piping bag.
5. Roll the puff pastry out into a sheet, about 1/4 inch think. Cut 1 1/2 inch squares and place them into two un-greased mini muffin tins. Refrigerate the pans while you make the streusel topping - there should be a decent-sized section of puff pastry left over to use for this.
5. Spread the brown sugar out on a cutting board, and add a 3 inch piece of the puff pastry. Coat it with brown sugar, and then start chopping it into tiny pieces. The brown sugar keeps it from sticking to itself, and becoming impossible to work with. Keep working until you have 1/4 cup of chopped puff pastry. Scoop this into a bowl with the excess brown sugar. Chop slivered almonds into small pieces and add to the mixture. Stir until well combined.
6. Assemble the tarts: Pipe about 1/2 tsp of cream cheese into the center of each square of puff pastry. Top with 1 tsp of the cherries, followed by 1/2 tsp of the streusel topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the puff pastry turn a golden brown.