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Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta)

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

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.

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Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52

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.

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Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52

It comes from Chez Panisse alum Cindy Mushet's Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style. In Veneto, it's called fregolotta but, as Mushet says, it's "really more like a big cookie." 

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. 

More: You'll like this tart too. It's like cheesecake, but with labneh.

You can make the entire thing in about an hour, including clean-up, and yet somehow it comes out looking like a Byzantine mosaic.

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52

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).

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52  Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta)

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52  Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52  Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52

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.

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52.

Pat the rest of the dough into a tart pan in a flat-ish layer. 

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52.  Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52.

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.

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52.

Crumble on your now-frozen dough reserves, plus nuts.

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta) on Food52.

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.

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta)

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta)

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]


Tags: holiday, baking, shortbread, tart, Cindy Mushet, dessert, how-to & diy, pantry, last minute, entertaining, dinner party