Chez Panisse 40th: Lindsey Shere’s Almond Tart à la David Lebovitz

This tart did not inspire me when I first read about it. Then I nearly drowned my keyboard on discovering David Lebovitz’s write up of it.

Since then I have dreamt about this almond tart. It has a serious droolness factor. I kept having to go back to David’s write-up to practically lick my screen for its coffee-coloured toffee-like gooiness. Almonds encased in sweet chewiness on a light crumbly pastry base… Perfect slices that look like they’ve been cut with a laser… Although I’ll keep the location of such perfection to myself for a little while longer…)

It was not at all like the fluffy thing I imagined reading Lindsey Shere telling Thomas McNamee how to make it in his book Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Funny how with food the mind can conjure up something completely different to what it should be. It’s almost like Chinese whispers.

I love caramelized nuts that sparkle like jewels. I love toffee. I love caramel. I love chewiness. I love dense sweetness. And that’s what this tart has. Nothing else was going to get a look in as dessert for a Chez Panisse Tribute Menu.

And who better to take you through it than David Lebovitz, who fought to keep this tart on the menu at Chez Panisse during his time as a pastry chef there. Because it has a difficult reputation. Difficult does not bode well for a first attempt, especially when I realize he says that a 10-inch (26 cm) tart tin rather than the 9-inch (23 cm) they used at Chez Panisse is ok, and mine measures…30 cm. And is Pyrex rather than the svelte and classic metal one with removeable base he uses. So first challenge: to stretch a soft dough that doesn’t stretch the equivalent of 7 cms! I am such a pro at making things difficult for myself. Starting to adjust the quantities would only be permission to trip myself up.

And that’s where David’s take on it differs. The original method says to roll it out, but David “smushes” it into the tin by hand because it’s too soft. Hence method à la David Lebovitz. When I saw how soft the dough is I knew that if I started smushing it, as David said it took him hours in the beginning, I wasn’t get to work the next morning on time. So I chilled it as he says, but rolled it out until it got too soft and started sticking then managed to transfer the wilting pastry into the dish pre-lined with a circle of baking parchment on the bottom just in case…


And then I started smushing, working the pastry out to the sides. Or nearly. I found it easier to use a silicon dough scraper to smooth it over, working around turning the dish like the spokes of a bicycle and evening it out. And much to my surprise I managed to get skinny sides rather than the galette I thought I’d be resigned to.

And (barely) no holes when baking it blind. (Keep a small piece of dough to patch holes as it cooks.)

It did not overflow as warned, or leak as warned thanks to the pyrex dish (although I guess I didn’t need the sheet of aluminium on the shelf below).


And I did not have to push down or break up any lumpy bits as warned. Almost all by itself it cooked down into its dark and gooey and chewy and toffee-ish-ness.

A good sharp knife will give you David’s lasered edges.

                                            

That’s my kind of difficult.

Now you can go and look at David’s. How did I do?

And David’s also given an insight into the time he spent at Chez Panisse, just before attending the anniversary celebrations.

Lindsey Shere’s Almond Tart at Chez Panisse, à la David Lebovitz

(David Lebovitz’s version adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere)

The ingredients are as given by David Lebovitz:
For the dough
– 1 cup (140 g) flour
– 1 tbspn sugar
– 1/2 cup (115 g) chilled unsalted butter, cubed
– 1 tbspn chilled water
– 1/2 tspn vanilla extract (I used vanilla powder as my extract had gone into hiding)
– 1/8 tspn almond extract

For the filling
– 1 cup (250 ml) whipping (heavy) cream
– 1 cup (200 g) sugar (I used golden granulated)
– 1/8 tspn salt
– 1 cup (80 g) slivered (sliced) almonds
– 1/8 tspn almond extract
– 2 tspns Grand Marnier or Amaretto (I didn’t have either so used a Creme de Chaitaigne – chesnut liqueur)

Dough and base (can be prepared in advance and frozen, otherwise 30 mins chilling time, and another 30 minutes in the freezer once pressed into the tin)
1. Mix the flour and  sugar together.
2. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs, or rub in until that stage.
3. Add the water and extracts and bring together until it forms a soft dough.
4. Remove a piece to keep for patching. Flatten into a round, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour.
5. Remove from the fridge and roll out until it becomes too soft. Lift into the tin (it may tear).
6. Start pressing the dough into the tin and up the sides (use a pastry scraper or silicon spatula if you have one).
7. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.
8. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, checking after 10 for any holes. Patch with the reserved dough.

Filling
1. While the base is cooking, heat the cream, sugar and salt in a large wide saucepan until bubbling and frothy.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds, extract and alcohol.
3. When the base is cooked, pour in the filling, smoothing out around the base.
4. Cook at 190° for about 30 minutes, after 10 or so breaking up any lumps with a heat-proof spatula and smoothing out. (If using a tin with a removeable base put a sheet of aluminium on the rack below the one the tart is cooking on to catch any drips.)
5. Cook until it’s turned a caramelized colour.

Forget the fork and pick it up and eat it with your fingers. Just try not to have a When Harry Met Sally moment.

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