I suppose I must really like a challenge because, on the night that I made the bouillabaisse, I also attempted a famously difficult dessert: Lindsey Shere’s Almond Tart.
Lindsey Shere, in case you don’t know, helped open Chez Panisse in 1971 and stayed there as pastry chef until 1998. I first heard about her famous almond tart on my trip to San Francisco in 2007; I think it was at a place called Jojo in Oakland, with my friends Derrick and Melissa, that I first heard tell about it. The word “legendary” might’ve been applied.
I filed it away in my brain and at various points in my life considered making it. But two factors held me back: (1) the making of the tart dough, which sounded tricky; and (2) the fact that this filling, made with cream, might bubble over and ruin my oven.
Then David Lebovitz blogged about it and I gained courage. Turns out the tart dough doesn’t need to be rolled, you can press it into the pan (after refrigerating and letting it come back to room temperature):
Then you bake it–no need to add weights–and it comes out looking nice and brown:
David warns that if the sides collapse, you should push them back up mid-baking but I didn’t do that (I was scared to ruin the crust) and with my slightly collapsed sides, there was danger of the filling running over (which I think it did–but turns out it didn’t really matter. Except in detaching, as you’ll see in a moment.)
The filling is pretty incredible. You heat cream and sugar:
And when it starts to foam up, you add a cup of slivered almonds, almond extract and Grand Marnier (or Amaretto).
Pour that into your tart crust:
And as you can see, I placed the tart on a foil-lined cookie sheet to deal with any bubble-up (to protect my oven). It worked like a charm. Here’s the finished tart:
The only problem I encountered, after the tart cooled and I removed the sides (by pressing up from the bottom) was removing that bottom piece which was stuck on like glue. (So that’s why you want the sides of the tart built up, so the filling doesn’t bubble over and create a sort of caramel cement on the bottom.)
That may look disastrous but worry not! When flipped back over, no one knew the difference. Everyone “ooohed” and “ahhhed” when I brought this to the table:
And the taste! Like the most sophisticated, refined candy bar you can imagine: a buttery crust, a crispy, caramel interior with almond crunch and flavor. The cream keeps things gentle–you don’t wind up with brick (as once happened when I attempted a similar tart here).
There’s a reason this tart is legendary: it lives up to the hype. And even if you have to unhinge the bottom with a blowtorch, it’ll be well worth it.
Recipe: Lindsey Shere’s Legendary Almond Tart
Summary: From The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by way of David Lebovitz.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar PLUS 1 cup for the filling
- 1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 tablespoon ice water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract PLUS 1/8 tsp for filling
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Amaretto
- First make the tart using a food processor. Pulse the flour and 1 tablespoon sugar together; then add all of the butter and pulse until it looks like coarse meal or grated Parmesan.
- At that point, add the ice water, the vanilla extract and 1/8 teaspoon almond extract. Pulse a few times until it starts to come together. If it doesn’t, open the top of the mixer and grab a fistful: if it holds together, you’re ready. Dump the contents on to a floured piece of plastic wrap and use the wrap to shape the dough into a disc. Wrap the disc and refrigerate for one hour.
- After an hour, remove the dough and allow it to come to room temperature. When it’s there, press the dough into a tart pan using your hands. I find the back of my hands worked best to flatten the dough on to the bottom; thumbs work well for pushing the dough up the sides. David Lebovitz recommends conserving a little dough in case you need to patch things up later–and that’s a smart idea.
- Put the tart shell in the freezer and chill thoroughly (about an hour).
- Heat your oven to 375 F and bake the shell for 20 to 30 minutes until it’s light golden brown. Remove from the oven and patch any holes with that leftover dough.
- Now make the filling: heat the cream, 1 cup sugar and salt in a big pot until it begins to boil. Keep cooking until it foams up, then immediately remove from the heat and add the almonds, almond extract and liquor.
- Pour the filling into the shell–being careful not to pour over the height of the crust (in case your crust shrank during cooking). Place the tart on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and bake about 30 minutes (it took mine longer) until the tart is the color of coffee. David recommends you tap the top of the tart with a rubber spatula every 10 minutes or so to avoid the “corn flaky” look–but stop as the filling sets up.
- When the tart is done (and color really is the only way to know), remove it from the oven and cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack.
- Use a paring knife to detach the crust from the sides of the tart pan and then press up from the bottom. Allow to cool completely and just before serving, flip the tart upside down and remove the bottom. If you have trouble like I did you can use a bench scraper or chef’s knife to detach it or do as David suggests and set the tart on top of a warm stove burner for a second or two and it should come right off.
- You can serve this with ice cream or creme fraiche, but we enjoyed it just by itself.
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8