Pear and Almond Frangipane Tart
Frangipane tart was in my dreams for longer than I can remember... Maybe it's the name, which reminds me of a beautifully scented tropical flower that brings fond memories of summers in Tel Aviv. But most likely, it's the seductive, velvety appearance of the dessert's middle layer, partly concealing the fruit in the most seductive of ways...
When passing by a bakery in Paris (May 2009) that had a similar apple tart in their window, I promised myself to get a slice when I return to the apartment where I was staying... By than it was closed, of course. And the next mornings, I passed by it too early in the day before it opened. So there was my chance to have a frangipane tart Parisienne... It's actually a specialty of the region of Bretton, where it is traditionally baked with apples. The variations on this theme are countless - usually almonds, but sometimes other nuts (pistachio, hazelnut...) and most commonly the fruit is from the rosacea family (apple, pear, apricot, plum, cherry...).
Fortunately, I found a great recipe with a crust that is super easy to make - Dessert First' adaptation of Dorie Greenspan's recipe. So, I got myself a tart pan with a removable bottom for the first time in my whole life. From this point, there was no return. Unlike many other frangipane tarts, you don't need to roll out the dough (which is the single most intimidating part about tarts: the dough is always full of butter, which must remain cold and not be over worked for the pastry to turn out flaky and light). It's difficult to roll cold butter (try it!) and I find it quite frustrating. Besides, you end up with a counter covered in sticky dough and flour...
The other think I love about this recipe is its efficiency in using up all the materials. The dough requires one yolk. There is nothing I like less than wasting half eggs after working so hard to separate them... So I was excited to discover that in this recipe, since the frangipane part (aka the almond cream) requires one whole egg and one egg white, the extra egg white remaining from the crust will not go to waste. Phew...
Begin by poaching the pears (previous recipe).
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
9 tablespoon very cold salted butter*, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
Mix the flour and powdered sugar.
Cut the butter in and blend with a manual pastry blender until tiny crumbs form.
Add the egg yolk and knead as little as possible - just until it can form a ball of dough.
Press the dough into a 9" tart pan (with a removable bottom). Excess dough will be used later to patch up the crust after the 1st round of baking...
Freeze for 30 minutes or until the almond cream is ready and you're ready to bake the tart!
When you are ready, preheat the oven to 375F. Cover the tart dough tightly with a sheet of buttered aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes, until the crust becomes dry and slightly golden.
Take out of the oven, remove the buttered aluminum foil, and let cool completely before adding the frangipane cream filling...
And while the crust is chilling in the freezer or out of the oven - make the almond cream (which is the Frangipane itself!). This is actually the easiest part of the whole thing (aside from eating the tart...). By the way, it is named after the Italian marquis Frangipani, after whom the flower is named as well (the reason for that being, that the Frangipanis worn the first scented gloves of that particular combination - containing a large amount of orris, by the way... When the flower (Plumeria alba) was found, it reminded its discoverers of that same Frangipani perfume, and named the flower after it... Frangipani in Italian means "Breadbreakers". So... If you can't find bread, eat frangipane!
(Almond Cream Filling)
6 tablespoons salted butter*, at room temperature
2/3 cup raw cane sugar
100gr ground blanched almonds (which, fortunately, is the entire bag of blanched ground almonds you get in most grocery stores).
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
1 egg white (remaining from making the crust!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
Blend all ingredient with a mixer. Fill the partly baked crust only after its cooled down completely to room temperature. If the crust needs any patching with more dough - now is the time to do it.
Fill with the almond cream (it should be a little on the firmer side, but still easily spreadable evenly within the tart shell. Slice the poached pears into 3/8 thick slices. Place on a flat spatula and transfer 4 halves of pear in total onto the frangipane filling. Press a little so that the slices separate nicely atop the tart.
Bake the whole tart until the almond cream filling is golden and puffy. Watch your oven closely, and listen to your nose to check the tart before your timer goes off! Mine took only 30 minutes to bake, instead of the 40-45 minutes the recipe anticipated it would take. You may want to garnish it with powdered sugar, or brush with a light coloured jam (i.e.: peach or apricot) but I find either unnecessary. This tart is sheer perfection just the way it is!
Serve the frangnipane tart in room temperature (if you don't think you'll finish it within 2-3 days, store on the fridge, but you MUST bring it back to room temperature before serving. It's also delicious while still warm and fresh from the oven, which is how I enjoyed it for the first time around 9pm on September 28th... It's not really that complicated, but it does have quite a few stages and a fair amount of waiting and cooling - and since I was doing other things that day, it took me the entire day to complete this dessert. At the end of the day, I found it to be more satisfying than other layer cakes I've baked in the past (Gianduja, Tiramisu, Black Forest Cake...). Certainly a day to remember!
* A little note about the butter: most recipes for pastries and sweets call for unsalted butter. Which is really clever, except that they always add more salt in the end... If only unsalted butter was not twice as much as the salted, I'd say go for it. But since the recipe asks for salt anyway in the end, why not save the time of measuring and save a few dollars, and opt for the salted butter... That's what I keep on hand anyway for miscellaneous butter uses.