Make Ahead

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

December 14, 2016
5 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 4 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Makes one 9-inch tart
Author Notes

This tart has an infamous reputation as being difficult, but trust me that it's not, if you pay attention to the instructions. And it will be worth it: David Lebovitz wrote of this tart, “It’s the most delicious thing I’ve probably ever had.” I agree. Recipe adapted slightly from Chez Panisse Desserts (Random House, 1985). —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
  • For the tart:
  • 1 9-inch unbaked short crust tart shell (see below)
  • 1 piece tart pastry for patching (see note in step 2)
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
  • 2 drops almond extract (3 for stronger flavor)
  • 1 cup (3 oz./85 g) sliced almonds (blanched or unblanched)
  • For the short crust pastry:
  • 1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, not too cold
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 drops almond extract
  1. For the tart:
  2. Bake the shell in a removable-rim tart pan in a preheated 375° F oven until the shell golden brown all over, 20 to 30 minutes. It should be fully baked because the pastry will not bake much more once it is filled. (Note: I haven't seen this happen, but per David Lebovitz, if the sides collapse in the oven, you can take it out midway during baking, and push the half-baked dough back up the sides.) Mix cream, sugar, and flavorings in a large saucepan (it should have enough room for the mixture to triple in volume, just in case it bubbles up quickly), stirring well. Heat until it comes to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, mix in the almonds, and let the mixture stand about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, patch the dough if necessary. Smooth a small piece of very soft dough gently over any crack that looks like it goes all the way through the shell. (Note: If you forgot to save some dough, David Lebovitz recommends mixing a thick slurry of flour and water and smoothing that in, instead. It works!) Be careful not to break through the crisp top of the baked crust if you can avoid it. Fill the shell with the still warm filling, which will be quite liquid. Make sure the almonds float evenly in the filling. If they are gathered on the top of the liquid mixture, the finished tart will have a cornflake-like texture instead of the glossy surface you want.
  4. Set the tart into a preheated 400° F oven, the bottom of which has been lined with aluminum foil, dull side up—the tart may bubble over. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is a nice shade of creamy-and-russet caramel; remember that it will continue to brown a little more when you take it out of the oven. Cool the tart on a rack, loosening the sides of the pan slightly every minute or two for 5 to 10 minutes or until set. Then remove the tart from the ring and return it to the rack to cool. If you remove the ring of the pan too soon the sides will fall off the tart.
  5. While the tart is still warm (15 to 20 minutes after it comes out of the oven), remove the tart from the bottom of its pan: Carefully slide a thin knife between pastry and pan, then lift the tart off the bottom of the pan with a wide spatula and return it to the rack to finish cooling. (If you don't do this while the tart is still warm, it may stick stubbornly to the pan.)
  6. This tart is best eaten with the fingers; it is too hard to cut easily with a fork. It is good accompanied by a glass of Sauternes (but not too sweet, or too rare!) or Champagne—or a glass of milk, or coffee. Is is a good picnic dessert because it is virtually indestructible.
  7. This recipe was adapted from Mapie’s La Cuisine de France, and modified for a different texture. It immediately became identified, for better or worse, as the house specialty of Chez Panisse.
  1. For the short crust pastry:
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt. If you use salted butter, omit the salt. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch slices and work it into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until the butter is in cornmeal sized pieces and the mixture is beginning to hold together—the softer your butter is, the faster this will happen.
  3. Combine the water, vanilla, and almond extract and work it into the flour-butter mixture just until the pastry is blended and will hold together if you press it. Gather it into a ball and wrap it in plastic. Let it rest for 30 minutes so the flour will absorb the moisture more completely. At this point you can wrap the pastry in foil and freeze for up to a month.
  4. Press the pastry into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable rim, making sure that you have a layer of even thickness over the bottom and the sides. Do not use a black tart pan; the shell may burn if you do. (Or if that’s all you have, just watch it closely in the oven.) If at any point it gets too sticky and unmanageable, stick it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to until it's firm enough to press without sticking to your fingers. Before baking, set the shell in the freezer for 30 minutes or overnight, wrapped in foil. You don’t need to fill the shell with beans before baking: this pastry doesn’t shrink much.
  5. Note: About an ounce of this pastry is needed for each inch of pan size, so if you have an 11-inch tart pan you would need to make about two ounces more of pastry—or about a fourth again as much of this recipe. In another version of this dough, Shere adds 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel with the dry ingredients and omits the almond extract, which is a nice variation.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Little Piggy
    Little Piggy
  • asbrink
  • Dina Sindil
    Dina Sindil
  • Catherine Lamb
    Catherine Lamb
  • Idalu
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

40 Reviews

Elaine December 1, 2023
I've made this recipe 3 times in the past 4 days. I roll the dough between sheets of saran wrap: very convenient as I can slide it onto a baking sheet and place it in the fridge to firm up. I increased the dough ingredients by 15%--this way, I have a small nubbin of dough for potential patching--and I use a 10" two-piece tart tin. I also parbake the crust using parchment paper and weights: very little shrinkage and virtually no cracks in the crust.
I suspect the "corn flake" problem is NOT triggered by the bubbles; the culprit is surface portions that are NOT bubbling, because they are forming an early crust, they will darken and take on the "corn flake" appearance. In the last 15 minutes of baking, the entire surface of this tart should be bubbling all over. Wish I could attach photos..........
Little P. September 20, 2019
I made this last night. It was delicious!! However, the bottom crust stuck horrible to the pan. I couldn't get a clean slice of the tart :( There were some cracks in this crust after pre baking it. I tried my best to patch them with the remaining dough. I believe some of the liquid seeped down and adhered the crust to the bottom of the pan. I would make this again but maybe with a different tart crust. Did anyone else have a hard time with the crust?
Kristen M. September 23, 2019
Hi there, I'm so glad it was delicious, but what a bummer about the sticking! I'd recommend sliding the tart off the bottom of the pan while it's still warm next time (15 to 20 minutes after taking out of the oven), so that any leaked caramel doesn't have a chance to harden. I just updated the instructions to clarify this—it was optional before and I don't think it should be!
Little P. September 23, 2019
Hi there, oh thanks so much for getting back to me on this. I am a baker by trade and I just want things to be perfect all the time haha. Do you have any suggestions on how to get less cracks in the dough to begin with? There weren't any prior to the pre bake.....
Kristen M. September 23, 2019
That I'm not too sure about, other than being careful not to overwork it, which I'm sure you're already mindful of. The fact that David Lebovitz gives 2 options for how to patch cracks (leftover dough or flour-water slurry, if you don't have any left over) makes me think it's somewhat inherent to this delicate, buttery dough.
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.
Dina S. February 17, 2017
I've not made this recipe but I've made David's. So good every time. I've even stretched his dough to an 11 inch tart pan. As long as there are no holes where the filling can leak out, you're good. If you have extra cream / almond mix for what your tart pan can hold, don't pour all of it in. I think that every time I've babysat it with David's technique to avoid the cornflake top & it's worth it. If you see bubbles, open the the oven door & lightly burst them with the tip of a spatula. Trust David, it's worth the extra trouble.
stingle January 24, 2017
It will keep for several days wrapped in cellophane at room temperature. I made it for Christmas and was a huge hit! My husband even requested it be made again for his birthday. Enjoy!
Catherine L. January 24, 2017
hey kristen/anyone -- how long do you think this would keep at room temperature? Trying to get ahead for a weekend dinner party ...
Idalu January 13, 2017
A few things that worked for me, prepare a bit more dough (about 25% more to patch hole). I first worked the flour and chilled butter cut in small pieces by hand and then briefly with a hand mixer. Rolled out the dough between parchement paper before freezing for 30 mins. Then after rolling the dough in the tart form, I put it in the freezer again while making the filling. It is a good cake but maybe a tad too sweet for my liking. I'll make it again with less sugar.
katharinec January 11, 2017
I'm confused as to why anyone thinks this recipe is particularly challenging. It's not, and it turns out wonderfully--fantastic almond flavor, and very elegant and understated. I served it for Christmas with orange black pepper ice cream (which someone recommended in some comment or other--thank you!), and everyone loved it! Thanks.
hsiuda January 7, 2017
I made this for a Christmas dessert and it was excellent! I followed the directions exactly except I forgot to chill the short crust and baked it at room temp -but it came out perfect.
While it cooled, I made the filling in pot , stirred over Med heat (range top) until it started to boil and after 1 minute-it tripled in size so I immediately took it off stove, & added the almonds and stirred until the mixture returned to original height then let it set for 15-20 until it was slightly warm (enough to stick my finger in and taste w/o burning it (delicious!) .The baked crust was still slightly warm but I poured in the filling (stirred it slightly once in crust to make sure almonds stayed in filling VS top of it). Baked it at 400 for 30 min and took out-but color of filling was still light/clear so I put it in until filling turned a creamy light brown...this ended up being a total of 50min (?!?!) but the crust did not burn
at all ! Once cooled, I cut thin wedges and EVERYONE LOVED IT!!! The crust tasted like shortbread and the filling was a beautiful buttery caramel almond toffee-ish delight!!!
I loved the background of this dessert as well!
Iris December 26, 2016
Followed recipe to the tee and ended up with the cornflake top? Disappointing however it still tasted amazing. I'm gonna no to give it another shot. Hoping a shorter soak of the almonds will be the magic trick to get the perfect flat, shiny top!
Kristen M. December 27, 2016
Sorry to hear that! David Lebovitz had an interesting technique for preventing the cornflake experience (tapping the surface a few times during baking) but I never found it necessary. Might be worth trying next time—here are more details:
stingle December 22, 2016
Are you supposed to use a whisk or a hand mixer to triple it in volume, and THEN heat it?
Diane Z. January 5, 2017
I've seen several comments about the volume issue, and I'm not sure why it is confusing. The recipe says "Mix cream, sugar and flavorings in a saucepan large enough for the mixture to triple in volume." As in another response, it may not triple in volume, but any time you heat sugar it bubbles up a lot (think jam, for example), so you cover your bases by using a very large pan. That way nothing bubbles over onto the stove or your hands, etc.

Next it says, "stirring well." So before you heat the mixture, make sure you stir it so everything is combined.

Now "Heat until it comes to a rolling boil."

Dump. Mix. Heat. Use a large enough pan.
Kristen M. January 5, 2017
Thanks so much, Diane—I've updated the recipe to try to make it even more clear (check out my reply to Laura below).
stingle December 22, 2016
Help! I Mixed the cream, sugar, and flavorings in a saucepan large enough for the mixture to triple in volume, stirring well. Heat until it comes to a rolling boil, but it never tripled in volume. Should I start over? Can you please be more specific with what I was supposed to do to get it to triple? Thank you!
Kristen M. December 23, 2016
Hi stingle—sorry for not seeing this sooner. It doesn't actually need to triple in volume—you just need to use a pan that big as a precaution, since it can bubble up a lot (and quickly). Hope you were able to proceed and it came out great!
Laura January 5, 2017
I was intrigued by this recipe, but it's so badly written I'm not going to try it. Why would the cream, sugar and flavorings triple in volume *before* you put it over the heat? What level of heat? One thing I will give you credit for: Making me appreciate professionally written recipes, and how clear and complete most of them are. No one could follow this.
Kristen M. January 5, 2017
I've updated the recipe to try make this point even more clear—the filling mixture doesn't need to triple in volume, it simply needs a roomy pan so that there's less risk of it boiling over. I disagree that no one could follow the recipe or that it's not professionally written—it's perhaps a bit wordier and in a different style from modern recipes because it was published in 1985, but I wanted to preserve as much of Lindsey's voice and helpful tips as possible, while making sure that people are able to follow it if they read closely to avoid any potential mishaps. It's not the simplest recipe, but it's worth it!
Little P. September 21, 2019
HI Kristen. I was wondering if you had any input on this, I made this recipe a few days ago. After I pre baked the crust I noticed there were quite a few cracks along the bottom and some on the sides. I did my best to patch them up with leftover dough. I baked the tart as directed. Unfortunately, the tart stuck so hard to the bottom of the pan that when I tried to cut a slice, the rest of it pulled way from the bottom. I didn't use a dark pan either. I think some of the liquid must have leaked out during baking. I want to try and figure out what went wrong because the flavor the tart shell itself is so delicious. Please let me know your thoughts???? Thank you!!
Kristen M. September 23, 2019
Hi there, check out my note to you above!
suzygregory December 20, 2016
Would this work with a silicone tart pan (non-removable sides)? My removable sided pan is very dark, and I would be worried about it burning, but don't want to buy another tart pan.
Kristen M. December 20, 2016
I've never used a silicone tart pan, but if you've had success with other tarts, this one should be no different. The trick is to let it cool enough to be firm, but get it out while it's still warm enough that any spillover caramel will release easily. If nothing sticks to your silicone, that last part will be less of a problem. Also, I wouldn't stress too much about the dark tart pan if you'd rather use it—you'd just have to keep a closer eye on it in the oven so it doesn't go past dark brown, and possibly bake for a shorter time.
suzygregory December 20, 2016
Thank you :)
stingle December 20, 2016
Looks perfect for the holidays! How many days, if any, can this be made in advance?
Kristen M. December 20, 2016
It keeps really, really well tightly wrapped at room temperature—like a good shortbread. I'd say 3 or 4 days even would be fine, but then you'll have to avoid eating it!
david December 19, 2016
I was worried about the soft dough. I left the plastic wrap over the dough as I mushed it into place in the pan. Worked very well. Used a ramekin to make the inside edge square.
Kristen M. December 20, 2016
Great idea.
Jeff W. December 19, 2016
Possibly a mistake to even be thinking doing this, but I'm wondering if I lined a standard 9 inch pie plate with the crust, if this would bake up without the chance of a boiling over of the filling. Maybe I'm waiting to see if anyone else out there has done this, and written about the results.
Kristen M. December 20, 2016
That's a good thought, to avoid boiling over—the filling will be shallow so you won't want to try to extend the crust all the way up (and you probably won't have enough dough to do so anyway—there's none leftover when I make it in a tart pan). No matter what, it will be delicious. Let us know how the pie pan works out!
Kathy December 18, 2016
Can this be made as a pie?
Kristen M. December 19, 2016
I would recommend following the recipe as is the first time if you can. You could use a pie dough instead if you like, but it's a very shallow, rich filling, so a relatively low-sided tart shell works really well.
Jeff W. December 19, 2016
I did not see your question first....but I've posted the same query.
Rosalind P. December 18, 2016
when you say "short pastry" do you mean flaky like say an classic apple pie dough? flaky like puff pastry? or sandy (crumbly0?
Kristen M. December 19, 2016
It's not flaky like a pie crust or puff pastry—it's more in the buttery/sandy/crunchy family. It's delicious!
Rosalind P. December 20, 2016
Thanks. That's helpful. I am not highly skilled as a pastry maker, but have found recipes that work for me for each kind of pastry, so if I know the kind that's being used, I substitute my own recipe.
Kristen M. December 20, 2016
Smart thinking—sounds like it will work out great.
Rosalind P. December 22, 2016
Thank you!