When it comes to this tart, I don’t even know where to start. It is the best tart you would ever eat. It is so simple and yet so decadent. I have made it maybe 3-4 times so far, every time it has been gobbled up with the eyes popping open, but only now was it an absolute and complete success, that made this perfectionist jump with joy.
The tart’s recipe comes to you via David Lebovitz and then via Chez Panisse. You can now start singing David’s and Lindsey Shere’s praises. I have never loved making anything more than this. It is a somewhat special occassion tart, at least to me, maybe cause it’s that awesome, but life is short and we should celebrate and have it more often than we do!
The trick is the pastry. I don’t want to hear cut corners by buying ready-made pâte sablée/sucrée or god forbid tart shells. If you do, then don’t you dare call whatever will turn out as a Chez Panisse almond tart. It would be disrespectful, to the tart, and to the people who made it. Not only is the pastry part of it, it carries the almond flavours and seriously, when you use good butter and you make it yourself, does it compare to anything else? Does it, I ask you?
The trick is that you can’t roll out the pastry and then flip it in the tart mould. You need to work it in with your fingers as if it’s play doh. This would take some practice and patience. Patience and love. You might think oh dear, this will never be enough for the tart shell! You are wrong. You’ve got plenty. David says that it is ok even for an 11 inch tart. The one I used now it doesn’t say how big it is, but I am guessing it’s 10 inches, because I’ve done it with another one, which I think is slightly larger and there were some splits and spills and sticking involved. So for a 9-10 inch, you’re good. For an 11 inch, either I need to get better at pressing in the dough for it to not crack or I need a quarter more dough.
The reason I was beside myself when I made it this time, was that the dough had not cracked and therefore the filling had not spilled onto the shell and stuck. It came out cleanly, the way it should. So happy! Another thing is that you can’t line the shell with parchment paper. I want to see you do it and then try and press the dough like play doh inside. If you don’t stretch it out too thin in places, which would make it crack during the blind baking, there is enough butter in the dough to not make it stick. David advises to save a little nubbin to patch anything that cracks. You can. It has helped me sometimes. I do always save it, just in case.
Another thing you need to bear in mind, is that you need to babysit the tart while baking. So sorry. No running away from the oven. The cream bubbles up as it bakes, and you need to keep an eye on it and open the oven every 5-7 minutes to “puncture” the little bubbles, because as David says, you’ll get a cornflakes effect. The tart is too precious to let that happen.
For tart shell:
1 cup (140 g) flour
1 tablespoon sugar (frankly, I don’t remember adding sugar…)
1/2 cup (4 oz, 115 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar…. I didn’t want it to interfere with the almond flavour)
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (I never measure, & if I’m making it for myself, I always add a drop or two more :))
1. Mix the flour and sugar. Fold in the cold butter using your fingers until it’s the size of rice, don’t overdo it, it needs to stay cool.
2. Add the 1 tbsp of really cold water and bring the dough together. Do not add more water even if you want to. Keep bringing the dough together, 1 tbsp is all you need.
3. Somewhere when half done with the water, add the almond extract and vanilla (unless it was vanilla sugar, in which case it should be added with the sugar)
4. Wrap the dough in foil and chill thoroughly. I always let it rest over night.
5. Before putting it in the tart mould, let it come to room temperature. You won’t be able to do it otherwise.
6. Pull out a small nubbin out of the dough and save it just in case. Start pressing the dough in the tart shell using your hands. Go up the sides of the shell as much as you can. Be careful not to break the dough. It works like play doh, so if it breaks, just press around and fill the patch.
7. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C and place the ready tart shell in the freezer while the oven warms up. (I completely forgot to freeze the tart shell; apparently it didn’t hurt one bit!)
8. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. (David doesn’t say whether you need to use pie weights or prick it with a fork (I was afraid from it rising and started pricking it and then I feared it might make the filling leak, so forget it, DO NOT prick it!) but I did press it with my ingenious method of putting another tart/pie mould on top; don’t know if it helps or not) Since I had it covered, for the last 8 minutes of baking (30 mins) I took out the cover so it browns. Also, it might start sliding down the sides, so you can take it out and try pressing it along the sides, while it’s hot to bring it up a bit. This will be very hot and you have to be careful, because the dough has started to cook and dry and it might break. I try doing this, but I kind of give up and hope it won’t slide much more down….
9. If there are any holes, patch them up with your reserved nubbin.
For the filling:
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (200 g) sugar (I used 175 gr, I find 200 gr too sweet)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (80 g) sliced almonds
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Amaretto (I omitted this)
1. Heat the cream, sugar and salt in a pan until it bubbles and the sugar is dissolved.
2. When it starts to foam up, take it away from the heat and stir in the almonds and the almond extract (& liquor if using).
3. Pour the filling in the tart. If there’s too much, don’t pour it all in the tart and don’t throw it away. If the tart leaks, you can add it on. Or, as it happened to me the last time, the sides had slid down too much, so the filling was too much, but as it kept on baking, space was created and I could add it in. Not perfect, but what can you do. Make sure the almonds are evenly distributed in the filling.
4. Now, after the first 10 minutes, check the tart and see if there are any bubbles. There sure will be some, poke them very lightly with the side of a spatula. I checked the tart altogether twice, every 7 minutes. You will see when you come around to check it for the third time, the tart would’ve started to brown and there should be less bubbles. You let it be this time and let it set and finish baking.
5. Use a knife to break it from the tart ring if it had stuck. David suggests to set it over a warm stove top if the bottom is stubborn to release. I have never tried this. But if you were good, it shouldn’t have stuck! 🙂
And, as David says, be proud of your first Chez Panisse tart. And bhoy, would you ever be! 😀