Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers June - Cherry Bakewell Tart

I adore almonds. Some things will never change. My love for almonds is one of those things. I love them all kinds of ways. I love them toasted whole for snacking, slivered into granola, and minced onto fresh fruit and pudding. I am the Bubba Gump of almonds. The list goes on and on.

Frangipane is a fluffy cake like batter made from ground almonds and butter. I am particularly fond of frangipane for its slightly granular and nutty texture, and the way it puffs up all golden brown, enveloping anything around it. Frangipane is sophisticated and homey at the same time.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

It is pretty rare to find frangipane pastries here in Chicago, a disappointment that I attribute to the dumbing down of the American palate. Ignorant sugar gluttons are still stuck on cupcakes, dried out masses of flavorless cake with greasy shortening based icings. Please, I beseech you, move on! Let the cupcake trend fade away, so that tastier, more qualified sweets can once again shine! There are other baked goods besides cupcakes, people!

This month's Daring Baker's recipe was a welcome challenge. Bakewells are traditional English pastries, and depending on which Brit you talk to, are called "tarts" or "pudding." Flaky pastry dough is filled with a layer of fruit jam and topped with a generous amount of frangipane. The cherry and almond combination makes me swoon every time, so I made a bing cherry jam according to David Lebovitz's instructions, adding a half of a Pink Lady apple for it's gelling power.

Normally I don't share an entire Daring Bakers recipe on Chocolate Doesn't Crumble, because one of the components usually falls flat. This month's Cherry Bakewell Tart overachieved on every level. The pastry crust, which I parbaked for 12 minutes before filling, was buttery and crisp, and I could actually see layers of fat and dough. I highly recommend trying this method of grating frozen butter into flour the next time you make pie dough, pate sucre, or any other pastry crust. I toasted and ground whole almonds, and the frangipane had an ample nutty flavor that couldn't have been achieved with store bought almond meal. In this instance, as with so many others, freshness counts for so much.

Call it what you will. The Bakewell Tart/The Bakewell Pudding is an excellent recipe to have in your arsenal. Master this simple crust and you'll never fret about pasty dough again. Change the jam to match what's seasonal and local in your area, or what you've canned from past seasons. Since frangipane is always a good idea, you'll have an outstanding dessert option all year round.

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Dock the dough with a fork, cover with aluminum foil, and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Parbake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Remove foil and beans/weights. Spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
1/2 Vanilla Bean
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Scrape the seeds from half of a vanilla bean into 2 egg yolks. Lightly beat to mix the egg yolks with the vanilla seeds, and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) powdered sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) freshly ground, toasted almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Monday, June 22, 2009


I've certainly been eating enough lately to warrant a blog post or two (or twenty), but nothing seems noteworthy, save the lovely little strawberry gems from yesterday's farmer's market. They were juicy and perfumed, and so red that any name other than L'Amour would be unfit. Check for them at your local market.

Last night's Greek coffee at Taxim, thick and heady with cardamom, was a remarkable end to a good meal. Brian's idea to launch a kiosk serving only Greek coffee might be the next million-dollar caffeine boom.

I'm off to stir my cherry jam a la David Lebovitz before it scorches in the pot. It's off to a pretty start, don't you think?