It was on a summer holiday to Alsace this year, that I came across ‘Tarte aux Myrtilles’ featuring on menus and was tempted to try this most attractive of desserts. Well, why not?
As well as growing in the Vosges mountains, bilberries are found in the Savoie region ofthe French Alps and other areas of France and Sweden. My friends with relatives in Finland also tell me that bilberries are a popular dessert there too. Although I remember picking bilberries as a child, sadly they seem quite difficult to find in the UK nowadays. Local knowledge of places to pick them is often kept secret to protect this highly prized fruit.
Bilberries – not to be confused with blueberries
Bilberries are often confused with blueberries, but the latter are a different plant genus altogether. Bilberries are quite small, a little tart in flavour and a much darker blue in colour. They can leave a trace of blue on your lips, so we often got found out if we’d eaten too many when picking them!
If you are fortunate enough to find any bilberries, here’s a French family recipe to make your mouth water (or turn blue!).
Tarte aux Myrtilles
200g flour (plain)
100g butter (cubed)
75g caster sugar
1-2 tbsp milk (or water)
50g granulated sugar
50g ground almonds
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp crème fraiche
Icing sugar to decorate
You will also need a handful of dried/baking beans for pastry
How to bake
Sift the flour and sugar together in a bowl and add the butter. Mix until it all resembles breadcrumbs. Add the milk or water and mix into a dough. Wrap and place in a cool place or refrigerate for an hour.
Meanwhile, cook the bilberries and granulated sugar in a pan on a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Strain the bilberries and remove from the pan. Continue to cook the juice until it has thickened. Then place the bilberries back in the pan and allow the mixture to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Roll out the pastry and place in a 22cm tarte tin. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill. Bake blind for 15 minutes, by pricking the base, covering with greaseproof paper and dried beans. Remove the greaseproof paper and dried or baking beans and allow to cool.
While the pastry is baking, combine the ground almonds, flour and 25g of the caster sugar. Spread this over the base of the tarte and then add the bilberry mixture on top. Whisk the eggs, crème fraiche and remaining caster sugar, then pour over the bilberry mixture. Place in the oven for 20 minutes until it is set or firm to the touch. Allow to cool and sprinkle a little icing sugar on top before serving.
If you can’t find any bilberries or don’t want to use blueberries as an alternative, then go blackberrying instead. Blackberries are in abundance in the hedgerows just now so there’s always blackberry and apple pie to enjoy.