This lovely almond tart, compliments of David Lebovitz, one of the top pastry chefs on the planet, was a signature dessert at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ restaurant in Berkeley, California. Alice Waters is one of the early pioneers of organic, local, and sustainable foods. The recipe was actually created by Lebovitz’s boss when he worked at Chez Panisse, Lindsey Shere, who is the executive pastry chef and co-owner of Chez Panisse.
According to Lebovitz, he fought hard to keep the tart on the restaurant’s menu; but it was taken off due to its “difficulty” which included customers who did not find it easy to eat with a fork. Now that I’ve made it, I can see where it would be difficult and time-consuming for a restaurant with everything else they’ve got going on—but I honestly didn’t find it that difficult to make at home. As far as being difficult to eat with a fork—also not a problem. All I can say is those customers were wimps! The reason Lebovitz fought so hard to keep the tart on the restaurant’s menu was because he said it was probably one of the most delicious things he had ever had. Considering how many years he has been a top pastry chef, that is high praise indeed! It immediately went on my must-make list, and everyone in my family is so glad it did. I will be keeping my eye out for sales on sliced almonds because I definitely plan to make this again.
The crust was super easy to make using the food processor. You don’t have to roll it out but merely press it into place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with removable bottom. The filling is really simple as well—all it involves is boiling some cream with sugar, adding the almonds, and pouring into the crust.
If you have a special occasion—or even if you don’t—make this tart. It is rich, buttery, and absolutely frantastic!
One 9- or 10-inch tart
Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere.
For the dough
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cup (4 oz.) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
- 1 tbl. ice water
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp. almond extract
1. Mix the flour and sugar in a standing electric mixer or food processor (or by hand, using a pastry blender.)
2. 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.
3. Add the water and extracts and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together.
4. Press into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly. (I skipped this step and pressed dough directly into tart pan without chilling–worked great!)
5. 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. (See my comments above)
It takes some practice but don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect. Try to get the dough relatively flat on the bottom, and push it evenly up the sides with your thumbs. But once again, it doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do want to make sure the sides don’t collapse. If that happens, you can take it out midway during baking, and push the half-baked dough back up the sides. (As I expected, my sides shrunk down a bit. I did not attempt to push the half-baked dough back up, and the results were just fine.)
6. Put the tart shell in the freezer and chill thoroughly. (I chilled the tart shell for 30 minutes and then took out to bake.)
7. To bake the shell, preheat the oven to 375 F.
8. Bake the shell for 20-30 minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown. (My 10” tart shell was perfectly baked in 18 minutes.)
9. Remove from the oven and patch any holes with leftover dough.
For the tart filling
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 cup sliced almonds (Lebovitz prefers unblanched, but either is fine)
- 1/8 tsp. almond extract
- 2 tsp. Grand Marnier or Amaretto
1. To bake the tart, line the rack under the one you plan to use with a sheet of aluminum foil.
2. Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a big, wide heavy-duty pot (use one that’s at least 4 qts.) 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.
3. Pour 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. (My 10” tart pan easily accommodated all the filling.)
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.
4. After the first ten minutes, check the tart.
Take a heatproof rubber spatula, 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.
5. 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. (I checked and tapped at 10, 15, and 20 minutes. At 25 minutes, it was set and not “tappable.”)
6. 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, about 30 minutes. Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack. (My 10” tart was done in 28 minutes. A 9” tart will probably take a few more minutes.)
7. Check and see if the tart has fastened itself to the tart ring. Slide a knife (or a curved vegetable peeler, which will slide nicely in between the ridges) between the tart and the pan to loosen it so the sides don’t come off when you remove the ring. (I used a curved vegetable peeler, and it worked like a charm.)
8. To remove the ring, rest the tart on top of a solid object and gently coax the ring off. Slip a large spatula underneath it to return the tart to a cooling rack.
Once completely cool, run a long chef’s knife under the tart to release it from the bottom. If it’s stubborn, set the tart on top of a warm stove burner for a second or two and you should be able to pry it off.
Serve in small wedges either as a dessert, or as a cookie-like accompaniment to fresh fruit, bowl of ice cream or sorbet, or a compote.
Tips from David Lebovitz:
Unlike other doughs, this should be room temperature when you press it in the pan. I’ve tried rolling it but it doesn’t work. Plus this method is much less messy. Why mess with success?
Don’t overbeat the butter for the dough and be sure to save a nubbin which you can use to patch any holes once the tart shell is baked off.
If you forget to save a bit of dough…like someone did around here…just mix a bit of flour and water together to make a thick slurry and use that to fill in any and all gaps on the just-baked tart shell. And don’t be shy! If it looks like it might leak, it probably will. So fix it.
Use an old pair of oven mitts for handling the tart when taking it out of the oven. The caramel is a tad sticky and it’s likely to adhere to the gloves. So don’t use your new Barefoot Contessa Oven Mitts that you bought in the Hamptons.
Be sure to line the lower rack of the oven with foil to catch any leaks and spills.
At Chez Panisse, we used 9-inch (23cm) tart rings, but I used my 10-inch (26cm) and it worked fine.
Advanced Planning: The dough can be made in advance, and chilled (maximum 4 days) or frozen longer. The dough, once pressed in the tart pan, can be frozen. Wrap in plastic if you don’t plan to bake it within 48 hours. Once made, the tart should be kept at room temperature. If not eaten the same day, wrap in plastic wrap. The tart is best the first day but can be kept for up to 4 days.