When the now-famous Chez Panisse restaurant opened in Berkeley in 1971, pastry chef Lindsey Shere had an almond tart on the menu that has, in various forms, been offered ever since and has appeared in countless articles and blogs. The original version was quite simple but the recipe has become more complicated over the years (as seen in the updated versions in various CP cookbooks) and, I think, still needs some modifications.
For starters, their crust is hard enough to break teeth. I can recall seeing CP diners having to use their knife to consume this beast. My updated version has a softer, tastier tart crust flavored with citrus, which goes very well with the caramelized almonds. Also, the restaurant’s latest iteration of the recipe calls for repeatedly tapping the filling as it cooks and other time-consuming steps that really aren’t needed if the filling has some minor tweaks.
This tart is fundamentally so delicious that it deserves a place in your dessert repertoire — with my modifications, of course.
Chez Panisse Almond Tart Updated
Makes one 9- or 10-inch tart
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest from a tangerine or orange
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 (or more) cup sliced almonds
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2-3 teaspoons Grand Marnier liqueur
Cut a piece of parchment paper for the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch tart pan, making it stick by wiping some butter on the pan bottom first.
Blend powdered sugar, almonds and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and zest and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough comes together in a clump.
Press the dough evenly with your fingers into a 9- or 10-inch tart pan (the kind with a removable bottom). Any excess dough can be put in the freezer and used as part of your next tart crust.
Chill at least 3 hours or put in the freezer. (Can be made ahead and kept frozen.)
Before baking, put a piece of parchment paper and dried beans or pie weights on top of the crust to keep it from puffing up.
To bake the shell, preheat the oven to 375 degrees (convection setting, if possible). Bake it for 12 minutes, remove from oven and carefully pull off parchment paper and weights. Cover any darkened top edges of crust with little strips of foil so they don’t burn. Return the crust to the oven and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until slightly golden and set.
While the crust is cooling, make the filling.
For the tart filling
Heat the cream, sugar and salt in a large saucepan until the sugar is melted and incorporated into cream. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds, the almond extract and liqueur.
When the crust has cooled a bit, scrape in the filling, being careful not to damage the crust. Spread the filling evenly and if it seems like there aren’t enough almonds, add more carefully, stirring them so they’re coated with liquid. Put the tart on a cookie sheet to catch any filling that might spill over.
If the top edges of the crust are darkened, add more little strips of foil to the ones already there. Bake the tart at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes or until the filling is the color of coffee with a light touch of cream in it and caramelized.
Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack. Check and see if the tart has fastened itself to the tart ring. Slide a knife (or a curved vegetable peeler, which will slide nicely in between the ridges) between the tart and the pan to loosen it so the sides don’t come off when you remove the ring. The ideal approach is now to remove the ring, wearing oven mitts and making sure the ring doesn’t burn your arm. I call in my spouse to help during this step.
Once completely cool, run a long chef’s knife under the tart to release it from the bottom. The parchment paper will make this easier. Serve the tart slightly warm or at room temperature.