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
- Prep time 4 hours
- Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
- Makes one 9-inch tart
- For the tart:
9-inch unbaked short crust tart shell (see below)
tart pastry for patching (see note in step 2)
almond extract (3 for stronger flavor)
(3 oz./85 g) sliced almonds (blanched or unblanched)
- For the short crust pastry:
(140 g) all-purpose flour
(115 grams) unsalted butter, not too cold
- For the tart:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- For the short crust pastry:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.