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Today: A last-minute pantry tart that looks much fancier than it is -- a silver bullet year-round, and just what you need for the holidays.
During the holidays, more than ever, we need more things that give the illusion of fanciness, without effort or strife.
Like tastefully wrapped gifts and centerpieces that look as if they were dropped there by forest elves, this jam tart -- whose components are sitting in your pantry right now -- is one of those things.
She's not kidding. The dough is one simple shortbread that you use for both the crust and the topping (which will make you wonder why you'd ever make them separately). In between is a shiny layer of jam, and on top, a flutter of sliced almonds.
You can make the entire thing in about an hour, including clean-up, and yet somehow it comes out looking like a Byzantine mosaic.
Lori Galvin, the Cookbook Editor at America's Test Kitchen, who introduced me to this recipe, likes it in small wedges with tart whipped cream, so it feels even fancier. "Whenever I serve it to someone new, they ask for the recipe," she told me. "Never fails."
Here's how to make it, start to finish:
Cream your butter and sugar, then add almond extract, then flour (this looks like plenty of cookies and cakes you know, so far).
Flatten 1/2 cup of the dough onto a plate and put in the freezer while you do everything else. This will be your crumble.
Pat the rest of the dough into a tart pan in a flat-ish layer.
Spread jam around the top, leaving a pretty border area. It won't look like enough to go around, but it will be just right to seep into the cookie, and glue all its bedazzling on top.
Crumble on your now-frozen dough reserves, plus nuts.
Bake till it's golden and buttery and crumbly and the goo of the jam has melted into sticky painted glass. Cool a little, eat. Or make it ahead and tuck it away, if that's more your style. Baked, it keeps well for 3 to 4 days. Unbaked and frozen, you've got a whole month.
Even though it's perfect for holidays, you should entrench this in your repertory year-round. As long as you have butter, sugar, and flour, you can use whatever jams and nuts are in your pantry. Try pine nuts, walnuts, pecans; cherry in summer, marmalade in winter, rhubarb in spring, or mix them up at will -- it's just jam and sundries, unbound by season or time.
Holidays, you can't bring us down now -- not with this tart on our side.
Adapted slightly from Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style (Scribner, 2000)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup not too sweet apricot jam (or other jam of your choice)
1/3 cup sliced natural almonds
Photos by James Ransom