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.

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.


Chez Panisse 40th: Duck with Olives (Canard aux Olives)

Bon anniversaire Chez Panisse! Today’s the day, 40.

Apparently this weekend they’ve been cooking Werner Herzog’s shoe again. Or rather a beautiful pair of pigskin shoes. Alice Waters literally cooked the original when Errol Morris finished his film, Mr Herzog having said he would eat his shoe if he did. Morris held him to his word.

Incidentally Chez Panisse was named after a character in Marius, Fanny and César, the trilogy of films by French filmmaker Marcel Pagnol, set in a bar in the Old Port of my favourite bolt hole, Marseille.  As part of a Pagnol retrospective, they’re showing his The Baker’s Wife today.

I did not want to cook shoes for a Chez Panisse tribute menu main course, but a version of the dish served on the evening of August 28, 1971, exactly 40 years ago today: Canard aux olives, a bistro classic. (Former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz has published some photos of the Chez Panisse menus over the years.)

Apparently Chef Victoria Kroyer spent three days on the sauce, making a fond brun which became sauce espagnole which became a demi glace (and no that’s not ice cream) yielding a superb sauce to be mixed with the olives, served over braised ducks. She had never made any of them before. (Me neither.)

As I was never going to spend three days making a sauce for this dish, I started looking around for a recipe for Canard aux Olives. Some were cooked on a stovetop, some in the oven. Some used stock, some didn’t. Some used fresh tomatoes or paste. Mine doesn’t.

To go with the duck, I love sautéed potatoes, and it’s great to sauté them in the duck fat you’ll pour off. That’s typical bistro style, just duck and potatoes, no veg, but serve some steamed broccoli or something if you’d like some.

To follow I served a mesclun salad for Alice, who loves to prepare a salad of young fresh salad leaves. (Note: Only add the dressing at the last minute, else the leaves will “cook”.)

It feels almost strange to think that I’m serving this meal to my French family, 40 years to the day Chez Panisse served it. And around a French heirloom table – one that leaves barely enough room to get your knees under, and that is so high you have to almost lift your cutlery up as if you’re conducting an orchestra.
I think Alice Waters would approve.

Duck with Olives (Canard aux Olives)

(adapted from a recipe by L’Atelier des Chefs, Paris)

Serves 6

– 3 large duck breasts (magrets) (or 6 small ones)
– 1 large onion or 2 small onions, roughly chopped
– 1 tbspn olive oil
– 200g green olives, stoned
– 3 garlic cloves, crushed
– 250ml dry white wine
– 1 bouquet garni
– 1 tbspn flour

Plus About 1.5 kg potatoes (Charlotte are good), sliced and parboiled, if you wish to serve sautéed potatoes with the duck.

1. Sear the duck breasts (skin side down), or pieces (all over) in a large casserole, about 10 minutes each side. Beware because they will spit and splutter and release a lot of fat, which will be hot.
2. Remove.
3. Pour out the fat into a frying pan to sauté the potatoes if serving.
4. Add a bit of olive oil and brown the onions.
5. Add the crushed garlic.
6. Add the olives and the duck.
7. Pour in the dry white wine.
8. Add the bouquet garni.
9. Sprinkle in a tablespoon of flour.
10. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.
11. Sauté the parboiled sliced potatoes in the duck fat.
12. Remove the bouquet garni and serve the duck breast with the olives and sauce poured over with the potatoes on the side.

French 75 and Franglaise 40 cocktails

A girl walked into a world-famous bar in Paris and sat down alone at the expanse of zinc. “Je vous sers?” (What’ll it be?), said the barman.
She said, “I’m 40 tomorrow. Something that will see out the last hours of my thirties with a bang.”

Today is the longest day of the year, and the streets of Paris are filled with music. but I’m here rewinding back to the night before my 40th birthday on 11.02.2011 (a palindrome in British). The night I was planning to start writing this…

All week I’d been sat at work thinking about what it will be like to be 40, still not grasping how had I’d got to be 40. The countdown started way back. 40 weeks became 40 days, then 4… It felt like I was stuck fast forward and had lost the remote. Altough in my head it feels like someone hit the stop button at 28. Now would I found out what a grown up feels like?

But as I was repeating what had become a mantra for the umpteenth time – “OMG, I’m going to be 40 on Friday, OMG, I’m going to be 40 on Friday”, it hit me that the night before was to be my last as a thirty something. Panic set in. Oh merde (and some), How was I going to get through that? How about an enterrement de vie de trentenaire (burial of my thirty-something life)?

So after having been pampered with a massage and chocolate (what else) facial to try and relax and got my nails polished for the big day at the bizarrely named no appointment necessary “Hype and Hairy” salon on rue Taitbout, I pushed though the saloon doors of Harry’s New York Bar, on Sank Roo Doe Noo just down the road from the Opera Garnier, to toast the enterrement with a cocktail. Or two.

It fit the occasion because:
– I’d spent my 30th birthday in New York (but decided I would never get home if I had a Manhattan cocktail).
– It’s Estb. 1911 so it’s also celebrating a big birthday this year, at Thanksgiving in November.
– Harry’s is kind of how the French pronounce my last name (minus the H).
– It was a haunt of the likes of writers Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Ian Fleming, my grandmother’s grandfather’s grandson, so maybe some of what they had might rub of on me in getting into this.

Gin Martini

The first choice of cocktail was James Bond’s favourite drink, a Vodka Martini. A first, having always wondered what why they seem so popular. (Remember the Martini ad from the 70s and that jingle? An amazing piece of now kitsch marketing).

But as the second cocktail I wanted to try was the French 75, a champagne cocktail with gin, lemon juice and sugar, the barman, in his white lab-like coat (well they do mix potions of sorts) suggested having the original Martini made with gin,  before the longer French 75.

The Martini was…wince-making. Don’t drink Martinis if you don’t want wrinkles. The dry side of cocktails is obviously not my thing. But at least I got to drink out of the sleek, don’t-I-look-cool-and-stylish cocktail glass.

So, to the French 75. The real celebratory drink, as it’s got champagne in it. The barman did his mixology thing:  mixaslugofginwithlemonjuiceandsyruppouritinatallglasstopupwithchampagnefinishoff-withashotofasecretingredientandstickastrawinit. I think I blinked and there it was. I guess with champagne you think delicate flutes, but no, the F75 gets a ugly brute of a glass with a straw. The gin and the secret ingredient seemed to be the real bruisers.

French 75

Surprisingly the French 75 was not named for Paris being in département 75, Ile de France, but because when you had one, you felt like you’d be hammered by a turn-of-the-last-century-but-one 75 mm artillery piece – the modern canon of the time. They got that right, and somewhat more than I’d envisaged, I saw out my thirties with a bang as the F75 hit me… (Ok so I might have forgotten to eat…)

The next day I got on with being 40, shellshocked in more ways than one, with a 12-course tasting lunch at the two-starred Le Bigarrade in the 17th arrondissement, followed by dinner at Kathmandu, a Nepalese restaurant in the 5th with friends and family, with the digestif of the day being a boogie for nostalgia’s sake at the Carwash disco night at the Wagg night club in the 6th. The day went by in a flash, with my mind stuck in slow-mo. But all that’s another story.

Epilogue: Thing is, I only grabbed 3 photos while I was at Harry’s Bar, as the battery on my point-and-shoot ran out on me. So Friday night, I went and did it again (minus the Martini. And with half a baguette in my tummy.)  And this time at the piano bar downstairs.

So just in case you didn’t catch the mixing part it looked something like this:

The recipe is apparently copyrighted, so although the waiter kindly wrote it down for me (then got pulled up by the barman), I won’t be writing it down here for you after all. If you look you’ll find it, but minus the secret ingredient. For that you’ll have to go and get whumped by a French 75  at Harry’s Bar to find out what it is. (Just eat beforehand).

As they say life begins at 40, and so, apparently, do blogs. Although for a first post on a food blog, I’m yet to get to the food… Watch this space.

Zoe h., aged 40 and a third.


Harry’s New York Bar
5 rue Danou
75001 Paris


I couldn’t do a first post up without putting up a recipe, so have decided to come up with my own cocktail of my own for the occasion (especially as I didn’t get to the Alcazar after the birthday dinner as planned to have them make one just for me). Where do you start?

It has to be sparkly as it’s for a special occasion, so I decided on Prosecco as the long part, that I’d brought back from a trip to Germany. Where I was visiting my great friend Karin, who was my German exchange in the 80s. I certainly never got very far with speaking German, but she did in English and we  shared a cocktail or two at the time at the “Happy Future” nightclub near her home in the Black Forest… Today she’s a real inspiration in the kitchen, and no doubt made a major contribution to my fascination with food.

Karin also contributed to this cocktail in that she made the rose liqueur that I also decided to use, with the rose petal confit and syrup coming from Lebanon. Plus Karin’s husband Alex, who’s one year and one day older than me, always makes great cocktails when I go to visit so this is as much for him and his repertoire (he made me a proper James Bond martini last time, maybe a tad less dry).

The result is a demure ,slightly blushing sunset-at-the-end-of-a-perfect-day kind of drink without a hint of dryness.

So, here’s to what it is to be 40 and the birth of this blog with:

The Franglaise 40

Pour 20ml (2cl) of rose syrup into a pretty glass
Add 15ml (1.5cl) of rose liqueur
Add a spoonful of confit rose petals
Top up with 200ml of Prosecco