Dessert

An Infamously Genius Caramel Almond Tart (+ A Call For Your Best-Loved Desserts)

December 14, 2016

I’ve been on an obsessive, rabid ferret-like hunt for genius desserts lately (I’ll get to that in a bit) and, in my sniffing, I found what might be my favorite dessert of all time—for many reasons. Let’s start there.

Ever since I sent myself a cryptic email at a book event last fall, no doubt mid-conversation with one of Food52’s smart community members, I’ve had “Alice waters almond tart Lindsay price” [sic—I blame autocorrect] sitting in my “Genius to Test” Google doc. But that doc is 14 pages long and organized, let’s say, “casually”—so until now, I hadn’t had occasion to dig deeper.

Fast forward to my ferret quest: Following up on that poorly-documented lead, I googled my way onto David Lebovitz’ blog post about the almond tart, which was developed by Chez Panisse’s brilliant executive pastry chef Lindsey Shere forty-some years ago. As he writes, “Her Almond Tart was the most infamous dessert at Chez Panisse for decades until too many customers apparently had a hard time eating it with a fork, so off the menu it went. I lobbied—hard—to keep it there,” adding, “It’s the most delicious thing I’ve probably ever had.”

Lebovitz described the tart as difficult, almost maddening, to make—while all but begging his readers to make it. As Shere wrote in the recipe in 1985, "It immediately became identified, for better or worse, as the house specialty of Chez Panisse." This all felt like a dare—I had to know for myself!

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Lemon tart is my favorite dessert and I’ve made many recipes - this is still the best, for 20+ yrs. It’s my Platonic ideal of a lemon tart (too dramatic?) No twists, just buttery rich, pure - almost puckery - lemon flavor. Its Pate Sablee crust is the perfect foil, like a big crunchy sugar cookie. Another P. Wells’ iconic recipe for me: The Apple Lady’s Apple Cake (Paris Cookbook.) The first time you make it, you’ll think you made too little batter until it’s baked – it’s like 80% apples held together by a delicate web of custardy cake. Elegant looking, though not difficult to make, apple perfection. Chocolate cake – recipe on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa tin. I’m talking straight-up, imprinting American chocolate cake, not a fancy variety. (Btw, cocoa powder makes the chocolatiest chocolate cakes.) Still the one to beat, no pun intended.”
— amysarah
Comment

I’ve since learned that there are inspired riffs on Shere’s recipe in the great pastry books of the 1980s and '90s. It’s so influential that when baking icon Nancy Silverton came through our studio for a Facebook Live, she recognized the tart on sight.

It’s the most delicious thing I’ve probably ever had.
David Lebovitz

And you know what? It’s truly not hard to make. There are a few ways you can tumble off track, but Shere’s recipe gives you the tools to glide through, if you pay attention. Yes, your filling could bubble up over the edges, but she warns you to put a foil catch-all underneath, just in case. Your tart could stick fiercely to the bottom of the pan, but she recommends loosening it while it’s still warm. With her help, I calmly navigated every pothole.

The only place I struggled (the first time) was in pressing in the infamously sticky tart dough, but anytime it got too messy, I popped it in the fridge for a few minutes, which firmed it up enough to smush into place without sticking to my hands.

But even better, I actually found Shere’s technique to have several hidden benefits and shortcuts. You don’t have to line and fill the crust with baking beans—straight from the freezer, it blind bakes without fuss, and without collapsing or deforming. (And I’m learning this might be generally true of blind-baking—shock!—stay tuned.) You don’t even have to make a caramel—you simply bring the sugary mix to a boil to combine it and then, after soaking it with the almonds for 15 minutes, it all bubbles down into a chewy caramel in the oven on its own.

In a particular holiday boon, once baked, the tart is almost indestructible. The caramel and almonds fuse, and the crust is sturdy enough that you can tote it to any party, or ship it to any far-off place, and it won’t crumble on you.

In my book, this tart has it all: taste, texture, looks, personality, durability, relative ease, surprise, and story. And I’m going to need a lot more desserts like it, because I’m working on Genius Desserts (the newest sibling to my firstborn, the Genius Recipes cookbook), which is slated to come out Fall 2018—and this is where you come in.

Just like I wouldn’t have known to ferret out my new favorite tart were it not for that generous community member at that book event (I wish I knew who it was! Was it you?), I won’t be able to produce the very best, most timeless, useful, delicious collection of dessert gems without your collective baking experience and expertise.

If you’re not sure if it’s a genius dessert, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Do you return to this recipe over and over? Do people demand that you bring it to parties?
  2. Or, the morning after you made it, did you feel the need to tell a coworker or call a family member about it?
  3. Does it call for relatively accessible ingredients and equipment for home cooks?
  4. Does it defy conventional baking wisdom, perhaps by using a surprising ingredient or sidestepping some of the normal protocol?
  5. When making it, did you ever think—this isn’t going to work—and then it totally did?

If you answered yes to any number of these, I want to hear about it! Either in the comments below or in an email at the usual place: [email protected]. Thank you from the bottom of my buttered, sugared, spreadsheet-papered heart. Let’s make this book!

Photos by James Ransom

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72 Comments

Paul G. July 1, 2018
I've got what some believe to be the best Bread Puddin' recipe. I've been a chef for forty years and this is what most know me by...served with Bourbon sauce....or raspberry sauce I make it about 4-5 ways. Always the best.
 
NancyFrom K. April 27, 2018
Have you guys tried David Lebovitz’s Banana Upside Down Cake? So awesome, made in a cast iron skillet and it makes it’s own caramel topping. Everyone thinks I am an amazing cook when I bring this visually gorgeous creation. Oh and bananas are available year round. And a snap to cleanup.
 
asbrink April 23, 2018
I love this dessert recipe, which I've made from David's blog, but what I love even better is the SUPER similar walnut tart recipe from Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen). It's conceptually and structurally similar--heavy cream-based caramel and chopped nuts resulting in a cookie-like tart. But it uses honey and brown sugar in addition to white granulated, and a pinch of salt, giving the caramel a much deeper and more complex flavor. It also subs orange zest for the almond extract, which is a great complement to the walnuts and the rich caramel. It's my husband's favorite and my go-to party dessert. Very much worth a try, if you enjoy this almond tart.<br /><br />https://smittenkitchen.com/2008/11/walnut-tartlets/
 
mimi December 22, 2017
https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/ginger-fig-and-cranberry-semifreddo-with-blackberry-sauce-104853<br />I don’t make a lot of desserts because I’d rather eat some great cheese than something sweet. And rarely do I even cook something for than once, except for this semifreddo. It’s absolutely incredible, loved by all, perfect any time of year and, can be made ahead of time. Please look into this!
 
mimi December 22, 2017
https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/ginger-fig-and-cranberry-semifreddo-with-blackberry-sauce-104853<br />I don’t make a lot of desserts because I’d rather eat some great cheese than something sweet. And rarely do I even cook something for than once, except for this semifreddo. It’s absolutely incredible, loved by all, perfect any time of year and, can be made ahead of time. Please look into this!
 
Angie May 3, 2017
I've been making this cake http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/banana-raspberry-cake-with-lemon-frosting for YEARS, the recipe doesn't have quite enough frosting so I 1.5 it. I've even made it as a three tier wedding cake that had zero leftovers.
 
Jessica G. April 19, 2017
Just made Melissa Clark's Chocolate-crusted Banana Blondies from the New York Times and it was genius indeed. There is a crisp chocolate layer topped with a blondie that is fudgy in texture and almost caramel-like from the brown butter. I used chocolate chips instead of walnuts.
 
Mackennea B. April 18, 2017
Definitely the Blondies from Alice Medrich's "Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy..." book! Use a cast-iron skillet to brown 1/2 cup butter first, add in 3/4 cup brown sugar, egg, 3/4 cup flour, 2tbs rum and baking powder. Top with chocolate chips and Maldon and take just to the verge of underbaked. :)
 
Fairmount_market January 1, 2017
Buckwheat Butter Cookies with Cocoa Nibs from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert (described here: http://orangette.net/2007/12/the-cookie-baking-part/ and here: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/nibby-buckwheat-butter-cookies-recipe.html)
 
mainecook61 January 1, 2017
The Dark Molasses gingerbread in Edna Lewis's The Gift of Southern Cooking. A slightly modified version (by Kim Severson) can be found via the Times Cooking app: <br />http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/464-cooking-with-edna-lewis
 
Rhonda35 December 24, 2016
I'd say you have to include Judy Hesser's Chocolate Dump-It Cake and, a recipe I love and don't make as often as I should, Amanda's Chocolate-Bay Leaf Tart with Apples from her first book, The Cook and The Gardener. The bay-infused chocolate ganache is out of this world. Someone else suggested David Lebovitz's Ginger Cake and I have to agree with that - it's fantastic!
 
Karen December 22, 2016
I rely on Chef Granger's recipe for Soft Centered Chocolate Puddings, published in Food and Wine, March 2005. It's super simple, touted a homey version of molten chocolate cakes, and my dessert choice when I don't have the time or creativity to think of something else. After they're baked, if you chill them, they taste like truffles. Alternatively, you can freeze them after cooking then zap for 30 seconds in them microwave.<br />One note, this is essentially a molten lava cake, but better than any one I'd ever been served in a restaurant. Although these may be passe, I've never had a guest turn one down or leave any of their ramekin uneaten. I have accidentally overcooked it, and my guests still loved the warm, individual chocolate cakes.<br /><br />
 
Carolyn F. December 22, 2016
Melissa Clark's Reversed Impossible Flan is a delicious science experiment: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017025-reversed-impossible-chocolate-flan Five star wow factor!<br /><br />And friends told me that Amy Chaplin's Green matcha custard tart was the best thing they'd ever eaten: http://amychaplin.com/2015/02/06/matcha-coconut-custard-tart/ I'm making it for Christmas this year.
 
CFrance December 21, 2016
One of our crowd's favorites is Bon Appetit's Best Key Lime Pie. A couple of "secrets" in it are using coconut oil along with the melted butter in the graham cracker crust, and hand-crushing the graham crackers so they are the consistency of wet sand rather than so finely ground. Another secret is the whipped cream topping, which has a cup of full fat Greek yogurt folded into real whipped cream and powdered sugar, plus a tablespoon or so of rum. It makes the topping very stable and tastes different in a good way. People who have never had this pie rave about it; those who have keep asking for another.
 
Joan H. December 20, 2016
Hazlenut torte from the cookbook from my Kitchenaid mixer, I have to make it each Thanksgiving. Francois Payard's flourless chocolate cookies. Shirley Corriher's tunnel of fudge cake. Ina Garten's outrageous brownies, NY Times cookbook brownies. Rose's cream cheese pound cake from Gourmet. Cranberry lime pie from November 2016 Bon Appetit. Molly Yeh's Funfetti Cake (but with real vanilla). Bernard Clayton's apple pie. Caramel Matzoh crunch from Marcy Goldman. Swedish Vanilla Cake from Susan Purdy. Sorry, too many. May be more.
 
Joan H. December 21, 2016
Chocolate enough cupcakes from the Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham, McCormick's Red Velvet Cake.
 
creamtea December 19, 2017
Agree about Susan Purdy's cake, but do you mean Anna's Swedish Butter cake or Swedish Sandkaka from her book (A Piece of Cake)? Both good!
 
MadeInMaine December 20, 2016
This caramel almond tart may be wonderful, but I'll have to go with quick and easy without all the fuss. The absolute BEST dessert (and I've also been known to have it with coffee for breakfast) is what I call Pam's Almond Torte, in gratitude to a good friend who supplied me with the recipe. Only seven ingredients (butter, sugar, eggs, flour, salt, almond extract, sliced almonds) and a KitchenAid, and it's the yummiest cake I've ever had ... crunchy on the outside and a little chewy in the middle. It gets RAVES from all who partake!
 
Kim K. December 20, 2016
Oh, that sounds amazing. Are you willing to share the recipe?
 
MadeInMaine December 20, 2016
Sure! Preheat oven to 350. Put in the KitchenAid bowl: 1+1/2 sticks softened butter and 1+1/2 cups of sugar; blend well. Add 2 (room temp) eggs, one at a time, and 1 tsp almond extract. Add 1+1/2 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp salt, and another tsp almond extract. Blend well again. Spread in a greased and floured 10" quiche pan (mine has a nice removable bottom). Sprinkle with some sliced almonds, pressing them into the batter a little bit. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes, til edges are starting to brown. Remove from oven and sift some confectioner's sugar over the top. HEAVEN! :)
 
Kim K. December 20, 2016
You are amazing! Thank you for the recipe. Mmmmm...<br />
 
MadeInMaine December 20, 2016
Let me know how you like it. Christmas breakfast, maybe? :)
 
WhiskyMead December 19, 2016
Every year (more than once) I return to Suzanne Goin's (via Smitten Kitchen) Hazelnut Brown Butter cake, mostly with chocolate ganache dripping off the sides but occasionally with roasted pears on top. To die for
 
Francesca December 19, 2016
This is the full link, which didnt paste properly, for my famous dessert. https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/apricot-almond-cake-with-amaretto-easy-frangipane/
 
Francesca December 19, 2016
I have a famous dessert. This one gets more hits than any other version I make. It uses apricots, although I swear by the pear version too. everyone who makes it tells me how much they love it. Its super easy too. Copy the link: https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/apricot-almond-cake-with-amaretto-easy-frangipane/. <br />Cheers Francesca
 
kswiley December 19, 2016
As requested below, the recipe for Sbrisolana, although Im not sure how the formatting will work.<br />**********************<br />ON RUE TATUN WITH SUSAN HERRMANN LOOMIS<br />www.onruetatin.com<br /><br />SBRISOLANA – GATEAU FRIABLE AUX AMANDES<br /><br />Note from Susan: This isn’t a cake, and it isn’t a cookie, it is both. Follow the directions exactly, then serve this lovely large creation whole, and have guests break off pieces the size that suits then. This can either be a mid-morning accompaniment to coffee, or an after the meal dessert with a glass of sweet Vin Santo. <br /><br />Note from Kim: I had trouble finding polenta not already cooked in Santa Fe, so used stoneground cornmeal. If you don’t keep vanilla sugar on hand, add 1 tsp of vanilla extract to the melted butter. I used a half-sheet, rimmed baking pan, and baked it for ~35 minutes.<br /><br />About 10 servings.<br /><br />Ingredients:<br />• 2 cups (300g) whole unblanched almonds, lightly toasted – setting aside 10 for garnish<br />• 2+1/4 cups (300 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour<br />• 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp (140 g) polenta or instant polenta<br />• 1/2 tsp fine sea salt<br />• 18 Tbsps (9 oz or 270 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled<br />• 3/4 cup vanilla sugar<br />• 1 large egg<br /><br />Directions<br />1. Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C)<br />2. Set aside the 10 almonds and coarsely chop the remaining almonds (by hand or pulse in food processor) – they will be of uneven size, which is fine<br />3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the chopped almonds, flour, polenta, and salt. Toss to blend and set aside.<br />4. In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, and egg; whisk to blend. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients and stir to combine until the mixture is homogenous. The texture should be like that of cookie dough.<br />5. Rub/crumble the dough between your hands and let it drop onto the baking sheet so that it covers the sheet without any spaces showing – this creates a gorgeous, uneven surface. Scatter the reserved whole almonds on the top, and lightly press them into place.<br />6. Place in the center of the oven and bake until deep golden and crisp, 20 – 30 minutes (I had to cook it about 35). Let cool before serving. Don’t be tempted to cut this with a knife – break off pieces of it with your hands.<br /><br />Notes (5/12/13): Used 16 oz (2 sticks) butter, and 2 C flour and 1 C cornmeal).<br />