Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

I have been on the Chez Panisse kick lately.  Maybe it is all the ridiculously upscale recipes from Alice Waters books or my fascination with David Lebovitz and his blog, but I have been imagining myself a fancy pastry chef in a world famous restaurant (read - my kitchen).  As usual I decided to start with one of the more complex recipes, so complex in fact; it was taken off the Chez Panisse menu for being too much hassle.  I mean, you need to babysit this thing like an infant.  And in the restaurant they probably had to make dozens of these tarts each day, so as I imagine the returns were not worth the headaches.  Although it was one of the most beloved items on their menu, but really how much can you charge for a piece of cake? (Don’t answer that!)
Honestly, it is possibly the best desert on the planet.  Caramely, buttery, nutty and chewy, it is devilishly tricky to make.  The dough sticks and doesn’t roll no matter how chilled it is.  An exact oven time cannot be given as you have to check the tart every few seconds for just the right doneness.  A minute too late and the caramel is burnt, a minute too early and it is underdone.
I made this tart twice now, first time I overcooked it slightly and the second was slightly undercooked.  Until I get it just right, I actually prefer the overcooked version as it made the filling chewy and more cookie like.  Here is the recipe from David Lebovitz ( who used to work as a pastry chef in Chez Panisse by the way) with my comments.
Ingredients for the dough for a 9’ tart pan ( See note)
1 cup  flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz,) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract -  I added more, because how do you really measure out 1/8 of a tsp?  It will not spoil the party
Note: Now if you are like me, you may want to make a 12’ tart as you figure you can never have too much of a good thing.  In that case double the recipe.  You may have some dough left over, but it better than to run out without covering the form.
Mix the flour and sugar in a standing electric mixer or food processor.  Add the butter and  pulse until

the butter is in very small pieces, the size of rice. It should be pretty well-integrated with no large

visible chunks. Add the water and extracts and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together.

Press into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly.  I actually found this particular dough before

covering the tart pan is much harder than with the soft dough.  You need to butter the tart pan very

well. Press the dough into a tart shell using your hand. 

The shell does not need to be perfect, just make sure it evenly distributed on the pan bottom and sides and that you do not have any tears.  Put the tart shell in the freezer and chill thoroughly. To bake the shell, preheat the oven to 375F. Bake the shell for 20-30 minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown.  Do not be tempted to cover with foil and fill with pie weights to blind bake.  This particular dough will shrink mercilessly from the steam.
For the tart filling
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup  sliced almonds
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp Amareto ( optional)
To bake the tart, line the rack under the one you plan to use with a sheet of aluminum foil or place the tart pan on a cookie sheet covered with foil.  This thing bubbles like crazy in the oven before the caramel sets so any leaks will be very unpleasant.  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, the almond extract, and the liquor. Pour the filling into the shell.  It will look very liquid and like it will overflow.  Don’t panic, it will turn into deliciousness soon enough. Make sure there are no clumps or piles of almonds and that everything is evenly distributed, then put the filled tart shell into the oven. Every 10 minutes tap the top of the tart with a rubber spatula held diagonally.  This breaks up the uneven clump of sugar forming on the top.  Stop tapping as soon as the caramel starts to set.
From this point on, you need to check this tart every 2 – 3 min until the caramel is the color of coffee with milk and there no large pockets of white filling.  You may need to rotate it a few times so it browns evenly.

Good luck getting this thing out of the tart pan!
The tart is best the day it is made, however I stored mine covered with plastic on the counter for 2 days and it was just fine.


Sasa said...

Despite the battles it looks beautiful! Hate it when tarts are hard to remove from the pan though, so disappointing - I dropped an entire cake just recently which was rather gutting!

The Procrastobaker said...

I made this recipe the other day and used your post as a kind of reference to help me along a bit :) Just thought id drop by and say thank you (and if anyones reading this thinking they should try it, DO! Its well worth it :) )

Heres my post about it if you are interested, thanks again!