As I don’t trust myself to make a positive first impression, I often bring a baked treat when meeting new people. Usually, it works out. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Once I went apartment hunting with a box of cookies, they took the cookies, but didn’t want to become my roommate.
This caramelized almond tart is an old staple, but I tend to underestimate how much time it takes. The dough has to be chilled, allowed to come to room temperature, and then frozen to prevent it from falling. I’ll let you in a secret. If you don’t care about falling crusts, you don’t have to freeze it. However, chilling it the first time allows the dough to come together. It’s too crumbly otherwise and won’t roll or press out properly. If you’re making this in one sitting, give yourself three hours. If you’re going somewhere else, up the time to four. The tart has to cool a while before transport. I don’t know if moving a hot tart has any adverse effects to the tart, but it sure does to your hands.
You’ll notice there aren’t that many deviations from David Lebovitz’s recipe. I’ve cut down the sugar and eliminated the fancy extracts. The cooking time is shorter, and you’ll have a bit of dough left over. I tend to throw it in the freezer and a few tarts later, I’ll have accumulated enough dough to make an extra tart from scraps. Scrap desserts are the best!
The success of this recipe depends on watching the filling and making sure it bakes as evenly as possible so don’t expect to be doing anything productive while this baby bakes.
ADAPTED from David Lebovitz
YIELDS one 8 inch tart
INGREDIENTS FOR CRUST 1 cup (140 g) flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 cup (4 oz, 115 g) chilled unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon ice water, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
INGREDIENTS FOR FILLING 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream, 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 cup (80 g) sliced almonds
DIRECTIONS FOR CRUST Mix the flour and sugar in a standing electric mixer or food processor (or by hand or a whisk.) Add the butter and mix or pulse until the butter is in very small pieces, the size of rice. It should be pretty well-integrated with no large visible chunks. If you do this by hand, I like rubbing the flour mixture and butter between my fingers until it has the texture of rough sand. Add the water and extracts and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together. Don’t worry if it’s a little crumbly. A trick I like to use is to be put a large piece of saran wrap over the food processor (be sure to remove the blade attachment first) or bowl and flip it over. All the dough — crumbly bits and all — should land in the saran wrap. Then its relatively easy to wrap in a flat disc in the plastic and chill thoroughly.
To put the pastry in the pan, let the dough come to room temperature and press the dough into a tart shell using your hand. Try to get the dough relatively flat on the bottom, and push it evenly up the sides with your thumbs.
Put the tart shell in the freezer and chill thoroughly. To bake the shell, preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Baked the crust for about 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius, rotating every ten minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown. Remove from the oven and patch any holes with leftover dough.
DIRECTIONS FOR FILLING To bake the tart, line the rack under the one you plan to use with a sheet of aluminum foil to catch any spills and drips. Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a big, wide heavy-duty pot until it begins to boil. Continue to cook and when it starts to foam up, remove it from the heat and stir in the almonds and vanilla extract. Scrape the filling into the shell. If there’s a bit too much filling, don’t toss it; in case the tart leaks, you can use it to add more.
Make sure there’s no clumps or piles of almonds and that everything is evenly distributed, then put the filled tart shell into the oven. Bake the filling in two 10-minute session at 190 degree Celsius, followed by one 5-minute session at 160 degrees Celsius, rotating the tray 180 degrees after each session. I used a piece of tin foil to protect a rapidly browning spot. Parchment paper works as well.
After the first ten minutes, check the tart. Take a heatproof rubber spatula or a plain metal spoon, holding it diagonally and with a tapping motion, break up the surface of the tart. Doing this is very important since it avoids the top of the tart getting that ‘corn flaky‘ look. Be sure to give the filling a good series of ‘taps’—not enough to break the tart shell pastry underneath, but it’s important to break up the surface crust that’s forming.
Continue to cook, checking the tart every 5-8 minutes, and break up any dry crust that may be forming, getting less aggressive as the filling sets up. As it begins to caramelize, stop tapping it and let the tart do its thing. Remove the tart from the oven when the filling is the color of coffee with a light touch of cream in it and there are no large pockets of gooey white filling. Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack.
And that’s it. If you used a fancy-pancy tart tin with a removable bottom, go over to David Lebovitz’s site and he explains how to release it.