Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

I really love a challenge in the kitchen, particularly in the dessert arena, so I'm always happy to bring dessert to a dinner party or potluck. Last weekend I was invited to a friend's for a French-themed dinner and wine tasting, and she suggested I bring some sort of tart. I wasn't inspired by anything I found in my cookbooks, so I turned to some of my online favorites.

As usual, David Lebovitz came through. I have (and love, and have heavily bookmarked) his Ready for Dessert but his blog is also a major source of inspiration. When I read his recipe for the Chez Panisse almond tart, I couldn't resist it. Chez Panisse was founded in Berkeley in the early 1970s and is credited with kicking off California cuisine - locally grown food cooked expertly to let the flavors of the food shine. I ate there twice while I lived in the Bay Area, and while it seemed like I had a shot at producing similar food in my kitchen, I've never actually tried one of their recipes before. David was their pastry chef for several years, but does not take credit for inventing this recipe.

The crust was easy: mix it, chill it, warm it, pat it into the pan and bake it empty. I questioned the chill it/warm it steps - couldn't I just mix it and pat it? - but I tend to slavishly follow recipes for baked goods and am not a confident crust-maker, so I did as instructed. My baked crust looked great, no serious cracking, but I did take his advice and patched any possible holes with some reserved dough. I also added some height to one of the sides of the tart, as you can see at about 8 o'clock in this picture:
The filling is just cream, sugar, almonds, and a little almond extract. You're supposed to include some amaretto but I seem to have gotten rid of that in my move, so I punted and used Drambuie (which I could not taste in the finished product, for better or worse). Then you bake it. Part of what makes this recipe a little demanding is that you have to break up the setting surface every ten minutes or so, to maintain a smooth appearance. Here it is mid-bake:
 It was bubbling like MAD! I decided to bake the leftover topping in a ramekin, as you can see - my fatal mistake was not putting foil  under it, because guess which dish bubbled over? Oh yeah. Sorry, new oven!

His directions say to bake at 375 and pull it when it looks like coffee with some cream in it - unfortunately I baked it a bit low, and pulled it too soon:
I was getting nervous about the browning edges, and basically just lacked the courage to leave it any longer. I was able to detach the tart from the ring, but was not brave enough to pry it off the bottom of the tart pan (which unfortunately got a little hacked up in the cutting/serving process).

However, it was delicious. I was proud of the amazing flaky crust, and the surface was really perfect, not clotted at all. Next time, I will cook it a bit hotter, leave it in til it's browner, and make a more concerted effort to get it off the tart base. Still: major success!

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