French almond tart

French almond tart I came across this tart two years ago in a small village in Provance called Eze. I was just studying French in Nice and when Nice with its almost 900 000 inhabitants and pretty many turists became too busy for...

French almond tart
French almond tart

I came across this tart two years ago in a small village in Provance called Eze. I was just studying French in Nice and when Nice with its almost 900 000 inhabitants and pretty many turists became too busy for us, we used to escape to small towns around, discovering the real spirit of France and new gourmet experiences. Tiny patisseries with authentic recipes usually proved to be the best ones. These, when entered, were visibly full of locals, all the people knew each other but still they were very welcoming to us, mainly after we tried to compose some meaningful sentences as our French at that time was not even close to fluent. However our vocabulary involving food was very strong. So even though we didn´t know how to express ourselves in conditional, we knew the names of different exotic fruits, types of dough, meat, spices and so on. When using them, French were impressed which felt pretty good to us. We tried many extraordinary dishes, but you know how it goes, when you eat at restaurants for more then a week, always trying something special, you just get the desire to have something simple. That is how I got to this simple recipe.

This tart is composed of very few ingredients, but the well known saying „The greatest things are the simplest“ talks totally on its behalf. However, don´t let this recipe fool you, it is quite easy to mess up the both parts. Behind the pastry crust there is a great deal of chemistry, I will decribe the main processes, which when understood are complied with make crust-baking easy-peasy again. The second part, filling, may go wrong because of caramelization, that takes place there and I guess that every cook had at least one bad experience with caramel during their „cooking career“. Burnt caramel, sugar stuck to the bottom of pan, coagulated caramel after adding some fat. Are you also smiling slightly now?

slices-of-butteralmond-slices

For the dough

140 g all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ tsp of salt

115 g chilled unsalted butter

1 tablespoon ice water

For the tart filling

1 cup (200 ml) heavy cream

100 g sugar

40g vanilla sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup (100 g) sliced almonds

1 tbl spoon of Amaretto or hazelnut liquor

 Directions:

  1. In a bowl mix the flour, salt and sugar, add the chilled butter and pulse with your fingers until the butter is in very small pieces.
  2. Add the water and knead just until the dough is smooth and comes together. Do not over knead.
  3. Press into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly.
  4. Then let the dough come to room temperature and press into a tart shell using your fingers. You must work quickly as the butter melts. You may also use a glass to flatten the dough precisely.
  5. Put the tart shell in the freezer and chill again.
  6. Pierce the shell with for and bake at 180°C  for 15-20 minutes, until set and light golden-brown on the edges.

For the Filling:

  1. In a heavy-bottom pot heat the cream, sugar, and salt until it starts to boil, when the sugar melts, put away from heat and stir in the almonds and liquor.
  2. Pour in the prebaked crust. Don´t fill it to the top as when the filling starts to boil in an oven, cream starts to foam up and it may leak easily. The foaming may cause the top to stay white not transparent so it is important to tap the top a few times in first minutes of baking. With caramelisation, the cream finally sets. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden and cream caramelised with just few white spots. Do not overbake, the filling will still be soft, but it hardens when cools down.
  3. Let the tart cool completely and serve with creme fraiche of yogurt ice cream, as the tart itself is quite sweet it makes a nice match with sour creams.

French almond tart
French almond tart

Short Dough

Although composed just from few ingredients, short dough is very easy to mess up, let´s look deeper inside. "Shortness" when talking about dought we refer to its tenderness which is influenced by the amount of fat as well as sugar

Butter or Shortening

butter - contains about 80% fat and 20% water, the fat particles harden when in a cold fridge and melt while baking, making the dough crumbly and tender. The water particles evaporate during baking making the dough flaky and kind of layered when trying to „escape“ from the crust

- shortening on, the contrary, is 100% fat, and so causing only the tenderness, it also lacks the so irresistible buttery flavor

- shortening may be sustituted by lard, which is also 100% fat but brings a little bit more of flavor, for me not as pleasant as butter

Fat and also sugar minimize gluten development, this causes tender result.  Glutenin (providing strength) and gliadin (providing elasticity) are two substances that link together forming gluten, when we spread the fat particles it the dough, glutenin and dgliadin are coated with fat and gluten development is avoided.

Soft & Sticky

- Because of very high ratio of butter present, short dough becomes sticky after too much kneading, or when kept at room temperature instead of refrigating

- It is best to refrigerate to firm up the fat rather than add flour as the flour simply dries it out

- Be careful when adding water, if you accidentally add too much, with additional flour add also some extra butter (or even better shortening this time due to reason above), otherwise, too much gluten would develop making the crust too firm

Toughness

- is determined by handling, when flour gets in touch with moisture, the gluten starts to develop, the more kneading, the more gluten, the tougher the dough is about to be

- if your dough is too sticky you add flour, which dries it out so it is good to add some butter either, preventing it from dry of tough result

Sugar makes the dough tougher as it caramelises when exposed to heat

Why chill your dough?

- many recipes call for chilling the dough before working with it, the reason is that it needs some time relax so that the flour particles can absorb the moisture, after that the dough will be easier to process

- the other reason is that the crust won´t shrink while baking, that´s why this recipe calls for freezing the crust already fit into pan