I was an almond skeptic. But I have been won over.
There are very few foods I won’t eat; I eat just about everything with great joy and abandon. But I confess that almond things have been on my very short won’t-eat list.
I don’t mean almonds; I love them and munch them by the handful. But things made with almonds, or, worse, almond flavoring, tend to taste yucky to me. Marzipan is the chief offender here, along with those heavy-handed almond creams that American pastry chefs slather inside “almond croissants” (the brilliant American pastry chef at Tartine bakery in San Francisco and the French one at Saint Michel here in the Washington suburbs are worshipfully excluded here).
So my enthusiasm was somewhat, um, subdued when Chef Claude announced at the beginning of our third session of L’Academie de Cuisine‘s pastry techniques class that we would be making frangipane tarts. This was apparently the end game for the pâte sucrée (sweet pastry dough) we had made last week.
Trying to imitate what Chef showed us moments before, we students worked our chunks of cold, hard dough into flattened disks so we could roll them out like good old pie dough.
Chef had this great trick of using an offset spatula to gracefully trace a circle from the dough, so he wouldn’t have too much excess bogging him down as he eased it into the little 4-inch-wide metal ring that was serving as a mini tart pan. A bit overwhelmed with just the rolling, the students pretty much skipped over that part and prayed to the pastry gods that we would just get the damn dough into the little metal rings without wrecking it.
The little metal ring was a neat approach. I had always used pans with bottoms–what a revolutionary idea, yes?–or at least with removable bottoms. Now we were baking a tart in a little bottomless metal ring, on a piece of parchment paper. When it was done, it was super-easy to ease out of the ring.
We eased our rolled-out dough into the rings and shaped it with our fingers. We spread a thin layer of raspberry jam inside them, and then piped in the frangipane (when, you were probably wondering, was she going to get back to the damn frangipane??). We started at the center of the tart and worked outwards in a spiral like a coiled snake, until the entire bottom was covered with a nice thick layer of almond filling.
We sprinkled slivered almonds on top of the frangipane, then the tarts were whisked off for baking (350 for about 15 minutes).
So what is this frangipane filling made of, you might ask? Equal parts butter, sugar and almond flour, and lots of eggs, with a little lemon zest, vanilla and rum. You cream the butter and sugar in a mixer, dump all the almond flour in at once, add the eggs gradually, picking up the mixer speed a bit to get it all blended. You add your flavorings toward the end. And there you have it.
When the tarts were baked, we brushed them with a glaze made of apricot jelly warmed with a bit of water. It gave them a gorgeous sheen.
And they were wonderful! I was so full of Paris-Brest that I thought I wouldn’t finish mine. But I had no trouble polishing it off by the time I came home and tumbled into bed.
We made brioche dough yesterday, too, a rather involved process that will finish next week, after the dough has had its second rise. I’ll tell you all about the brioche in another post sometime soon.
But for now, I leave you with our little frangipane friend, all dressed up in real presentation style: