This buttery almond tart was served on opening night of the fabled Chez Panisse, the Berkeley restaurant that’s credited with inventing California cuisine and considered the forebear of the modern farm-to-table movement. You’ve heard of Alice Waters? Of course you have. But have you heard of Lindsey Shere?
Lindsey was Chez Panisse’s pastry chef for the better part of three decades, and she’s without a doubt the baker I admire most. Her desserts are, to my mind, perfection: seemingly effortless (though not always simple to make), seasonal, French-inflected, rustic, restrained. You can keep your fussy pâtisserie towers and your cutesy cupcakes; I’ll have what Lindsey’s baking, thank you.
Her elegant almond tart, a signature dish, bears a sophisticated contrast in textures: the candy bar chew of a caramelized filling, the crunchy snap of toasted almonds, and a flaky-crisp, buttery tart shell. It’s just sweet enough to signal it’s a dessert: I had a slice with my coffee for breakfast (research purposes!) and didn’t feel the need to brush my teeth again.
And I know. It’s resolution season, and we’re all reigning in the calories. I certainly don’t want to undo anyone’s good progress, but believe me when I tell you this tart is worth the effort in both the kitchen and the gym. Besides, anyone can cheat on their New Year’s diet with cheap junk food (Alice Waters would be so very disappointed), but why not do it with some style?
Chez Panisse’s Almond Tart
adapted from Lindsey Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts
for the tart dough:
- 1/2 C butter (one stick or 4 oz), cold and cut into small pieces
- 1 C all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- pinch of salt
- 3-4 drops pure vanilla extract
- 3-4 drops almond extract
- 1 Tbsp cold water
for the filling:
- 1 C heavy whipping cream
- 3/4 C sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 Tbsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau
- 2 drops almond extract
- 1 C sliced almonds
In a food processor, add the flour, salt, sugar and butter. Process in one-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with some pea-sized bits, or about 10-15 pulses. In the now-empty cup measure, mix the cold water and extracts. Remove the lid of the processor and sprinkle the liquid over the dry mixture. Replace the lid and process until the dough just barely comes together. (When the noise your processor makes changes pitch, stop.) Pat together on a piece of plastic wrap and smush into a round disc. Wrap and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the cool-but-pliable dough and press into a 9″ tart ring, about 1/8″ thick at the bottom and peeking out over the edge about 1/8″ (I tucked in the edges, like you might for a pie shell, to get my 1/8″ of dough to stand up over the edge; the dough will shrink down some when you bake it.) Reserve any extra dough. Prick all over the bottom of the shell, lightly with a fork. (At this stage you may refrigerate or freeze the dough.)
Pre-bake the shell at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until it’s set. Cool to room temperature and patch any holes with the leftover dough.
Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.
Prepare the filling: in a heavy saucepan, bring the remaining ingredients (except the almonds) to a full boil. Cook for about 5 minutes; the mixture will be bubbly and glossy and will want to boil over, so watch carefully. Remove from the heat and add the almonds, allowing to steep for 15 minutes. Pour the almond filling into the tart pan, spreading the almonds out evenly.
Bake on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (in case of spills) about 30-40 minutes, rotating the sheet periodically, and more frequently in the last 10 minutes of baking so that the filling browns evenly. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely and serve.