A few weeks ago, I described the fairly epic meal I ended up cooking in trade for a blissful ninety minute massage. I still dream about that massage. But the whole involved affair, from handmade ice balls to truffled cheese, actually came out of a fairly simple request: something made with almonds. And so, in the midst of all of those courses, I actually did deliver as promised. With an amazing, crisp-yet-soft, rich-yet-light almond tart.
Going above and beyond the actual request is partly a result of my sporadically-manifesting perfectionism, and partly because I really, really wanted to make sure that this trade would be repeated. But honestly, I could have stopped with the tart itself. Because it's amazing.
This recipe comes from David Lebovitz, and was a favorite during his stint at Chez Panisse (favorite with the diners that is—I think the kitchen staff, like me, cursed its fussiness just a wee bit). It is like nothing you've ever had before: a buttery tart shell filled with an almost candy-like paving of almonds, bound with something that's sort of like caramel but without the overly cloying sweetness. And it's surprisingly simple: once you wrestle with the fiddly crust, you just simmer together equal parts cream, sugar, and sliced almonds, along with a dash of extracts to bolster the flavor. Pour it into your shell and bake it, giving a stir now and then as it sets to make sure things stay nice and pretty. As long as you actually place the tart on a pan to catch the drips, and have a false-bottom tart pan to make short work of any overflow-related-crust-adherence issues, it should be fairly easy (I failed on both of these counts, but please don't be like me).
And because, as stated, I can't leave well enough alone, I served it with a blob of lightly sweetened whipped cream, and a puddle of candied kumquats. The combination of the bright and punchy kumquats, soft cream, and crisp almond tart is truly special. Hopefully special enough for another massage...
Chez Panisse Almond Tart
adapted from the amazing David Lebovitz
I have made this tart twice, and once it behaved exactly as expected, whereas the other time it bubbled over wildly in the oven. I'm not sure why. Both were delicious, and as long as you (unlike me) place the tart on a pan to catch any drips, bubbling over shouldn't be too much of a bother).
1 cup flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup (aka 1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1 Tbsp ice water
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp almond extract
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1 cup sliced almonds (blanched or skin-on are both fine)
1/8 tsp almond extract
2 tsp orange or almond liquor (such as Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, or Amaretto)
optional: whipped cream and candied kumquats for serving (for the latter, just cut kumquats into thick slices, pop out the seeds (I find a skewer fairly helpful, but sometimes you can just squeeze them out), and simmer in a 1:1 sugar/water (or sugar/water & white wine) syrup until soft and translucent)
To make the crust: Mix together the flour and sugar. Using a food processor or pastry cutter, cut in the butter until it's reduced to rice-sized bits. Add the water and extract and work until the dough just comes together. Shape into a chubby disk, wrap with plastic and let rest in the refrigerator until chilled, about an hour.
After the dough has rested, remove and let come to room temperature. Using your hands, press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan until you form a thin-yet-relatively-even layer, pricking the bottom a few times with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up. Reserve a small bit of dough for patching any holes. Place the shaped crust in the freezer for about half an hour to chill thoroughly.
While the tart is freezing, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Bake the frozen shell until set and lightly golden, ~20-30 minutes (a bit of slumping is okay, but if it sinks too much, take it out mid-way and shape it back up). Remove and let cool slightly, patching any holes with the reserved dough (or just sort of smushing the partially-baked dough around to cover—it's fairly forgiving). Leave the oven on.
To prepare the filling, place the cream, sugar and salt in a large saucepan or pot, and bring to a boil over a high heat. When it foams up, turn off the heat and add the almonds, extract, and liquor. Stir to combine.
Pour the filling into the par-baked crust, and place it on a baking sheet. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes until golden, with no remaining gooey white bits. After the first 10-15 minutes, tap the surface of the top a bit with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon, to keep it from forming an unattractive top crust. Repeat five minutes later, and again until the tart begins to set and become golden (if your tart happens to be bubbling over wildly, you needn't worry about this). Remove, and let cool for a few minutes. Remove from the ring and base—this may be a bit difficult if the tart has bubbled over and glued itself to both of them, but slip a small knife in until you can loosen it easily. Serve with whipped cream and candied kumquats, if desired, or enjoy as-is.