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I visited some friends in Venice recently and after a delicious lunch of pumpkin soup, grilled vegetables, and persimmons at Skye McAlpine's Venetian home, we took a walk through tiny laneways to a small, nondescript bakery on the corner of a canal in search of a torta di mandorle. They weren't on display, but having lived in Venice almost her whole life, Skye was in the know. They keep them in the back—you just have to ask for them.
I got two. One was for afternoon tea and the other was a gift for a friend who lived on the other side of Venice, which we shared (really, devoured) with her five-year-old. It disappeared. Light and fluffy, somewhere between brioche and delicate, layered pastry, and filled with a frangipane-like almond paste, we couldn't stop eating it by the slice.
Inevitably I began searching for a way to re-create this irresistible Venetian almond cake. The problem is there are so many almond cakes, and although I trawled through recipes and searched through my Venetian cookbooks, I couldn't find the exact one I was looking for. Still craving the flavor of that delicious almond paste, I decided to make a tart—the most common version of a torta di mandorle, with "torta" translating to both cake and tart—inspired by a Carol Field recipe using a sweet shortcrust pastry filled with a whipped, creamy batter of mostly butter and blitzed almonds.
Carol Field's The Italian Baker is one of my favorite Italian cookbooks. I turn to it for celebration cakes, like panettone and pandoro, but also classic focaccia, breadsticks, and every day cakes (the kind Italians like to eat for breakfast).
Use your favourite shortcrust pastry (mine is this one), make this incredibly creamy almond filling, smooth it into the pastry, and bake. Carol Field doesn't blind bake the tart shell, but because it's such a buttery, moist filling, I think it's a good idea to bake first and avoid an undercooked pastry base (here's Erin McDowell indispensable guide to par-baking).
The tart is so simple, and the good thing about simple things is they're wonderful on their own for being unfussy (or even plain, which is so underrated), but they are also easy to dress up, when need be.
If you wanted to embellish it, scatter the tart with chopped or sliced almonds, dust it with powdered sugar, or serve it with unsweetened whipped cream on the side. This tart works very well with fruit added to it, too. Try poached pear slices, fresh apricot halves pushed into the almond batter before cooking, or even some jam spread onto the bottom of the tart shell (go with something on the tart side like sour cherry or raspberry).
One whiff of this almond tart as you pull it out of the oven, combined with the coffee brewing in the background, and you're on your way to Venice.
- 1 9-inch unbaked tart shell, chilled (see note for link or choose your favourite sweet shortcrust pastry)
- 7/8 cup (125 grams) whole, unpeeled almonds
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 1 cup (225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (or a splash of amaretto liqueur)
- 3/4 cup (100 grams) roughly chopped blanched almonds (or a mixture of almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts)
- Optional: powdered sugar for dusting or whipped cream for serving
Have you made an almond tart, like the one above, before? Let us know in the comments!