Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rustic Citrus Almond Tart


I'm lucky to have a friend like Amelia. She's the kind who brings you hand-roasted macadamias from Hawaii, and duck eggs from her own ducks in Santa Cruz. The kind who knits you a scarf on tiny needles, hand-sews you an apron and a set of coasters, and throws you a pair of ceramic bowls. She's the kind of friend who will drop everything and let you talk it out over the phone in the middle of the day when you're supposed to be at work but instead you're sitting on the sidewalk in tears, thanking your lucky stars that you have a friend like her. She's the kind who, when you ask her what she wants for her birthday, tricks you into giving yourself a gift, too.


She's a keeper.


When I asked Amelia what she wanted for her early March birthday, she requested a chapter from a novel that I started working on five or so years ago and haven't touched since I launched this blog. Ever the procrastinator, I popped open my laptop a few days before her big day and started tapping away. But as I emailed the chapter to Amelia, I realized that the gift that she had requested had really been a gift for me – I've written four chapters since.


I thought I'd try again, so I asked if I could give her a blog post. She said that she had made the Marmalade Tart from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, and loved the concept, but thought that the recipe could use some streamlining for the home baker. I myself have spent many a late-winter's day gazing at local food photographer Sara Remington's mouthwatering photo of this particular tart. 


The recipe is no walk in the park. It calls for a citrus-kissed sweet tart dough, a slick of good marmalade, a layer of almond cream, a topping of peeled and sliced citrus rounds, and finally a dousing of butter and sugar. I never have marmalade around, and felt that I should really make my own, except that I would always seem to find something better to do, something involving fewer steps. And another citrus tart-free year would go by.


So I grilled Amelia about her thoughts on the recipe. She wasn't thrilled with the dough, which cracked when rolled, leaving gaps for the filling to leak out. Additionally, the recipe makes more dough than you need for one tart, but not enough for two. She assured me that the marmalade could be done without. And she recommended adding slices of kumquat to the other citrus rounds, and advised using more citrus than the two fruits asked for in the book.

I had half a recipe of flaky dough left over after my recent pie-making, which I rolled into a rectangle (which is easy to do with dough that has been folded in the manner of puff pastry, as it wants to become a rectangle). I made the almond cream as directed, which is similar to a frangipane: butter, egg, sugar, a bit of flour, and finely chopped toasted almonds. The frangipane gets additional flavor from citrus zest and almond extract, and I added some vanilla bean seeds, too. The citrus rounds go on top (cara cara and blood oranges, tangerines, and kumquats), forming a pretty mosaic, and bits of butter and a sprinkling of sugar keep the fruit from drying out in the oven.


As the tart baked, it gave off a smell so delicious, I almost gnawed off my own arm in my impatience to eat it. The crust inflated in a manner quite like puff pastry, its bronzed layers coated in sparkles of sugar, and the rim contained the slab of almondy goodness studded with juicy rounds of winter fruit. To compensate for the lack of marmalady sweetness, I drizzled some honey over the top.


When I pulled the creation from the oven, I realized that this, too, was a gift to myself. The first bite was a revelation - it tasted like a warm almond croissant kissed with citrus, and I sank to the couch and ate a piece with my hands, shards of crust showering my lap. I gave a piece to my friend Kelly, who wrote: "That tart is delicious and so unusual. I don't think I've ever had anything like it. Sweet and buttery and then refreshingly acidic and tart. And, it's beautiful!" (She should know; she has impeccable taste in (most) baked goods.)


The flavors of almond and citrus together are just exquisite; particularly the blood orange and kumquat, whose hints of bitterness play off the bitter almond notes. This tart has a quality that I love in food: it tastes classically familiar, yet new and exciting at the same time. The kumquats are a brilliant addition; since they don't contain much moisture, they add flavor and beauty without making the tart soggy, and they fit perfectly into the corners of the larger citrus rounds. Next time, I'll cram even more in.

The bright flavor of the sunny citrus rounds is a godsend during the dark months of winter, and this is a great dessert to make if you, like me, find yourself craving something akin to a fruit pie in the dead of winter. The drizzle of sticky honey takes it over the top, and gives the tart a pretty sheen, too; I used a blackberry honey that tastes like a million flowers. I like that it can be sliced into whatever sized squares you like and eaten out of hand – great for a party. I'm looking forward to making this throughout the seasons, with cherries and apricots in the spring, plums and peaches in the summer, and apples and pears in the fall.


Amelia: wishing you all the best in the coming year! Thank you for giving me the gift of this tart - it's a keeper.


Tart Tarts:
Blood Orange Curd Tart
Lemon Mascarpone Tart
Strawberry Rhubarb Crème Fraîche Pie

Almond Joy:
Chocolate Almond Olive Oil Cake 
(Gluten-Free) Nectarine Plum Almond Upside-Down Cake 
(try with the topping from this Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake)
(Gluten-Free) Meyer Lemon Almond Cake 
 
Rustic Citrus Almond Tart

Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

I particularly like blood orange and kumquats in this tart, but use whatever flavorful citrus you can find. See my tutorial for making super-flaky, all-butter pie dough that's almost as flaky as puff pastry; you'll need half a recipe (enough for a single-crust pie) and you'll want to do the fraisage and folding options so that your dough flakes as much as the one shown here. If you're gluten-intolerant, try this gluten-free puff pastry from Helene instead. 

The tart is best shortly after being baked, when the crust is crisp, the filling warm, and the citrus meltingly tender. (Though people who got two-day-old slices still begged for the recipe.)

Makes 10-12 servings

The Almond Cream:
3/4 cup sliced (or whole, or slivered) almonds (blanched or unblanched), toasted and finely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, sifted
seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean
grated zest of 1 small orange or blood orange
1/2 teaspoon fine sea or kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

The Crust, Citrus, and Finishings:
1/2 recipe flakiest, all-butter pie dough (fraisaged, then folded and rolled for maximum flake, chilled for at least 30 minutes)
several citrus fruits (such as 2 blood oranges, 1 cara cara orange, 2 tangerines, and 6-8 kumquats)
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
a few tablespoons flavorful, runny honey, for drizzling (such as blackberry or orange blossom)

Prepare to bake:
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400º. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Make the almond cream:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla bean seeds, orange zest, and salt on medium speed until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the almond extract, then add the egg little by little, beating until incorporated. (It's ok if the mixture looks curdled.) Add the flour, beating on low until smooth, then beat in the chopped almonds, scraping the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula, and stirring to combine.

Prepare the crust:
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 12x16" rectangle about 1/8" thick. Trim the edges. Spread the almond cream evenly over the dough, leaving a 1" border. Fold the border over the almond cream to make a lip (this will hold in the filling), and press to secure. Chill the tart base in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Prepare the fruit:
Use a small, sharp chef's or paring knife to slice the ends off the oranges and tangerines. With a cut-side down, follow the curve of the fruit, cutting off the peel and all white pith, going around the fruit until all the skin and pith are removed. Slice the fruits into 1/4" rounds, removing any seeds. Slice the ends off the kumquats, and cut them into 1/4" rounds, removing any seeds.

Arrange the citrus rounds on top of the almond cream, placing them as close together as possible without overlapping. Brush the edges of the crust with the beaten egg, and sprinkle the entire tart with the sugar, going heavy on the crust. Dot the citrus with tiny chunks of butter (this will keep them from drying out in the oven).

Bake the tart until the crust is golden and puffed, 25-30 minutes. Drizzle with the honey; just enough to put a pretty sheen on the tart, and cut it into pieces.

The tart is best served warm from the oven, but it will keep at room temperature for 24 hours, or in the fridge for a couple of days.

11 comments:

  1. What a gorgeous tart! I love the combination of almond and citrus — it always reminds me of Italian cookies (which I will eat a pound of straight to my face if left alone with a box). And your description of it tasting like a warm almond croissant kissed with citrus — oh man, I die. This post is also making me wonder why I don't make free-form tarts all that often. They seem like the perfect solution to the fact that an entire pie will often go to waste when I make it, simply because there aren't enough mouths to finish it off quickly.

    Also, I must try that fraisage technique the next time I make pie crust. I love learning new things like this! I just discovered recently that buttermilk makes pie dough awesome, and I couldn't believe I hadn't done it before. (:

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    1. Thanks, Carey! Yes, it tastes very European to me, too. :) Free-form tarts are so fun, and great because you can make them whatever size you like. This is the first rectangular one I've made, and I am sold!

      I love how the fraisage method brings the dough together, though I avoided doing that step for a long time. And the buttermilk seems to really help with tenderness and flakage, too - though you can also use sour cream, creme fraiche or yogurt, lacking buttermilk. Cheers. :)

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  2. Just stumbled upon your blog and I gasped at the beauty of this tart! What an incredible dessert. You've got a new follower in me :)

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    1. Thanks, ahu! Your sweet comment positively made my day. :)

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  3. Well...gosh. I know what speechless feels like now. And I know I've never been given a gift as sweet as this post and the love therein. I've tasted things as sweet, lots of things, endlessly inventive and artfully crafted things, full of love, made by my friend Alanna, who also happens to be my biggest inspiration in my own food crafting practice. I have endless thanks for you, Alanna. And love, lots of love.

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    1. D'awww. Thanks for the super-sweet comment, A. :)

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  4. This is so completely gorgeous. I love how the citrus rounds look like jewels, and I love the unusual (to US pastry, at least) combination of almond cream and baked citrus. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

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    1. Thanks for the sweet note, Elizabeth! I'm totally digging your blog. :)

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  5. What a wonderful combination of delicious taste and beautiful colors! I'll definitely try this recipes either in my own kitchen or during a cooking class I signed up for a few weeks ago. To put it more precisely, my husband gave me a special gift on this year's Valentine's Day - he booked a cooking class organized by Zac’s cooking school in our native Vancouver called - cooking classes for couples so we're now collecting interesting recipes to come up with during that course and this one will definitely be part of our list. :)

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Nice comments make me warm and fuzzy!