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Frangipane tart a classic fall dessert
As announced in the previous columns, I will be focusing for the next few weeks on recipes for the holiday season. This week’s recipe is my wife Anne’s version of a simple tart for those who prefer less sweet desserts. Traditionally, frangipane is a filling made from almonds or pistachios that could be used in a variety of confections and baked goods. These days it is often made of butter, sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, gradually beat in the eggs and fold in the ground almonds. Using only one cup of sugar, the result is pleasantly balanced when served after a sizable winter evening meal. We served this tart after hors d’oeuvres of pesto and fresh mozzarella cheese on toasted baguette, a first course of roasted butternut squash soup, and a main course of cassoulet made with duck leg confit, Andouille sausage, beef, and white beans. It was perfect! I was delighted when our French guests raved on this dessert. The three main elements of the dessert were perfect – the crust was light and flaky, the filling puffed up around the fruit, had a perfect cake-like texture and nutty-buttery flavor, and the poached pears were soft, fragrant, and flavorful! I always taste my desserts the next morning when the palate is clean to evaluate its sweetness. After a big meal, the palate is less sensitive to sugar; in fact, sugar is the perfect foil for a rich meal. If you plan to serve this tart after a rich meal, I would make it exactly as described. If, however, you are pairing it with a lighter meal, a salad or soup main course, I recommend reducing the sugar by 1/4 cup to 3/4 cups total. This variation of the frangipane tart, using poached pears thinly sliced and fanned over the filling, is a classic fall dessert. You can substitute the pears for stone fruits thinly sliced, such as peaches, plums, or apricots, or whole berries. I found the pears at a local produce stand. They were very firm, so don’t be afraid if your pears are not ripe – they will poach beautifully. For me, the holy grail of tarts and pies is a perfectly light and flakey crust. It is the secret to a successful tart. I always thought a crust recipe with egg yolks and cream would be flakier than one with water but this recipe convinced me otherwise. This recipe will yield a perfectly flakey crust if you allow time to refrigerate it, both before and after rolling it out. Resting and refrigeration allows air pockets to form in the dough, which results in the flakiness you want. The coldness of the water and butter are also a factor. And, I rolled the dough very thinly because I was making individual tarts in small spring form pans. With crust all around the filling, I didn’t want it to overwhelm so refrigerating it before rolling allows for very thin result. You will love this crust.
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water, very cold
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 5 tablespoons (10.5 ounces) unsalted butter, very cold
Put a couple of ice cubes in your water and set aside. Cut the butter into one-inch pieces and sprinkle over the flour. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and the butter is still in pieces the size of peas. Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor.
Remove the ice from the water and pour out all but 2/3 cup. Add the salt, stir to dissolve, then add the saltwater mixture to the food processor and pulse for few seconds until the dough starts to form a ball. You should still be able to see stripes of butter in the dough.
Form the dough into two disks, wrap with plastic, and refrigerate for 2 hours. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough discs to one-eighth inch thickness and line your 9 or 10-inch tart pan, trimming the overhanging dough. Reserve the second one for another use.
For 12 individual tarts, divide each of the two discs into six balls and roll each out and line your mini-tart pans. I did not flute or crimp the edge because I wanted minimal crust but you can decide to do it either way to your preference. Refrigerate the crusts until ready to fill and bake.
Bring 3 cups of Japanese plum wine (or any red wine plus 2 tablespoons sugar) plus 3 cups of water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and poach 8 peeled and cored pear halves until tender. Remove pan from heat and pear halves from the liquid and cool them until you are ready to fill the tart.
2 cups sliced almonds
1 cup sugar
1/ 4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons brandy (or substitute whole milk if you don’t want to use alcohol)
2 large eggs
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, combine the almonds with one fourth-cup sugar and process until finely ground. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and mix. Add the almondsugar mixture and beat until combined. Add the salt, brandy (or milk), and 1 egg at a time until incorporated. Mix until light and fluffy.
Remove the tart crust from the refrigerator and fill with the frangipane filling, smoothing the top with a spatula. Top with the poached pear halves, thinly sliced but still intact and fanned out over the filling. Bake in the lower half of the oven until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set, about 60 to 75 minutes. If the crust or filling brown too quickly, reduce the heat to 350 or 325 and continue baking until done.
Salim Ben Mami is head chef and owner of Café Collage restaurant in Oregon House, Calif. Contact him at 530-692-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is cafecollage.net.