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6 recipes that capture the flavor of Chez Panisse

This almond tart, closely identified with Chez Panisse, is very firm, which makes it perfect for taking on a picnic.

Craig Lee/Special to The Chronicle

This recipe was adapted from “Mapie’s la Cuisine de France,” but became identified as the house dessert of Chez Panisse. This is very firm, almost candylike, so is best eaten with the fingers, which makes it a good picnic dessert.

Tart shell:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, not too cold
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Tart filling:

  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
  • 2 or 3 drops of almond extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup (about 3 ounces) sliced unblanched almonds

For the pastry: Mix the flour, sugar, salt and lemon peel in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch slices and work it into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until the butter is in mostly cornmeal-size pieces and the mixture is beginning to hold together.

Combine the water and vanilla and work it into the flour-butter mixture just until the pastry is blended and will hold together if you press it. Gather it into a ball and wrap it in plastic. Let it rest for 30 minutes so the flour will absorb the moisture more completely. At this point you can wrap the pastry in foil and freeze it for up to a month.

Pinch off a small piece of dough and set it aside for patching. Press the remainder of the pastry into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Do not use a black one; the shell might burn if you do. Make sure that you have a layer of even thickness over the bottom and the sides. If the thickness is uneven, some parts will bake too much before other parts are cooked. Wrap the shell in foil and freeze for 30 minutes or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap the shell and place it in the oven (you don’t need to fill the shell with weights because it doesn’t shrink much) for about 25 minutes, or until light golden brown and baked all the way through.

Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack while preparing the filling. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

For the tart: Mix the cream, sugar, Grand Marnier, almond extract and salt in a saucepan large enough for the mixture to triple in volume, stirring well. Heat until it comes to a rolling boil and bubbles thickly, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, stir in the almonds, and let stand for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, patch the tart shell if necessary. Use an offset spatula to smooth a small piece of very soft reserved dough over any crack that looks as if it goes all the way through the shell. Be careful not to break through the crisp top of the baked crust if you can avoid it; if the filling leaks through, it will caramelize on the bottom of the shell. This is a necessary step, well worth the time.

Fill the shell with the still warm filling, which will be quite liquid. Make sure the almonds float evenly in the filling. If they are gathered on the top of the liquid mixture, the finished tart will have a cornflake-like texture instead of the glossy surface you want.

Place a sheet of aluminum foil, dull side up, on the oven rack because the tart may bubble over. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Check the tart — it should be bubbly all over. If not, use the side of a large rubber spatula and gently break up the surface crust to allow the mixture to bubble all over. Rotate the tart and continue baking another 5 minutes. Check again, and break up the surface again if necessary. Bake the tart for a total of 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is a nice shade of creamy-and-russet caramel, rotating the tart occasionally to ensure even baking. The tart will continue to brown a bit after it is out of the oven.

Cool the tart on a rack, loosening the sides of the pan slightly every minute or two for 5 to 10 minutes, or until set. Remove ring from the tart, and return the tart to the rack to finish cooling. If you remove the ring of the pan too soon the sides will fall off the tart.

If you want to remove the tart from the bottom of its pan, carefully slide a thin sharp knife between pastry and pan white the tart is still warm, about 15 to 20 minutes after it comes out of the oven. Slide the tart off the tart pan bottom onto the rack.