Chez Panisse Almond Tart Recipe

Last week, when I had to go into my local France Telecom office, instead of the usual dread, a thought flashed through my mind: “Well, at least this might make a good story for the blog.”

blogalmondtartchezpanisse

But I want to spare you all that stuff so you can concentrate on the glories of Paris rather than the indignities that we citizens of the state must suffer under a regime that seeks to oppress the masses of the working people, who pay exorbitant prices for mobile phone service (and scallions…but that’s another story), who under the guise of state-run socialism are actually in cahoots with the only two other service providers that France Telecom will allow them to compete with themselves (yes…you read that right) so that we can pay 35 centimes a minute to make a call.

I don’t know what one has to do with the other, but thanks for letting me vent. Oh, after I left their office I stepped a big mess on the sidewalk…the first time in three years.

Mais oui.

However I’d like to stay focused, if I can, and talk about the Chez Panisse Almond Tart.


I was going to call it the ‘Infamous’ tart, but someone sent me an email recently: “Why is your Fresh Ginger Cake “infamous” ?? (famous for being BAD?)…”

And I’m reading this at 8am, thinking, “Good lord. Who on earth would send someone a message like that?” I mean, do those people talk to their friends like that? Do they talk to strangers like that? If they need to go to the grocery store, I can’t imagine how they treat the cashiers and other shoppers. Do they have jobs?

Come to think of it, if the message was in French, I would have sworn they worked at my France Telecom office.

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

Speaking of nice people, on to a justly-famous recipe; one that’s anything but BAD. It comes from Lindsey Shere who was the executive pastry chef and co-owner of Chez Panisse since its inception. Her Almond Tart was the most infamous dessert at Chez Panisse for decades until too many customers apparently had a hard time eating it with a fork, so off the menu it went.

Almond Dough

I lobbied—hard—to keep it there.

Really, I did. But in spite of my best efforts, it only made rare appearances, sliced-thinly, on an occasional cookie plate downstairs in the restaurant. I’m sure the people who were there after I left breathed a sigh of relief, since it was one of the trickiest things to make and they didn’t have to bother anymore. Yet in spite of it’s difficulty, it’s the most delicious thing I’ve probably ever had. And I’ve had a lot of things that were delicious

Since making one last week, I’ve been passing out wedges to friends and people are blown-away by it. No one could believe how good it was…and it certainly isn’t infamous, or even merely famous, around here.

When I started in the pastry department at Chez Panisse, it would take me hours to get the dough pressed into pans properly and considered bringing them home with me since I was so lame at it. Unlike other pastry doughs, this one is soft and needs to be pressed into the pans: it’s quite sticky and too challenging to roll. To make a long story short, I eventually mastered it, smushing the dough just-right into the tart ring, which I can now do in 30 seconds flat.

This is a tricky recipe but really worth trying and although it was an ‘unauthorized’ substitution at Chez Panisse (I was the rebel…which is why I’m here instead of there nowadays…), I often would replace the almonds with chopped up macadamia nuts, which kept the tart slightly-softer due to the high oil content. And was utterly delicious. Other nuts can be substituted as well, although when all is said and done, this classic is best made with sliced almonds.

A couple of tips for tackling this tart:

  • Unlike other doughs, this should be room temperature when you press it in the pan. I’ve tried rolling it but it doesn’t work. Plus this method is much less messy. Why mess with success?

  • Don’t overbeat the butter for the dough and be sure to save a nubbin which you can use to patch any holes once the tart shell is baked off.

    Holes in Dough

  • If you forget to save a bit of dough…like someone did around here…just mix a bit of flour and water together to make a thick slurry and use that to fill in any and all gaps on the just-baked tart shell. And don’t be shy! If it looks like it might leak, it probably will. So fix it.

  • Use an old pair of oven mitts for handling the tart when taking it out of the oven. The caramel is a tad sticky and it’s likely to adhere to the gloves. So don’t use your new Barefoot Contessa Oven Mitts that you bought in the Hamptons.

  • Be sure to line the lower rack of the oven with foil to catch any leaks and spills.

  • At Chez Panisse, we used 9-inch (23cm) tart rings, but I used my 10-inch (26cm) and it worked fine.

    Almond Tart
    One 9- or 10-inch (23-26 cm) tart

    Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere.

    For the dough

    • 1 cup (140 g) flour
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1/2 cup (4 oz, 115 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
    • 1 tablespoon ice water
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

    1. Mix the flour and sugar in a standing electric mixer or food processor (or by hand, using a pastry blender.)

    2. Add the butter and mix or pulse until the butter is in very small pieces, the size of rice. It should be pretty well-integrated with no large visible chunks.

    3. Add the water and extracts and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together.

    4. Press into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly.

    Pressing Tart Dough

    5. To put the pastry in the pan, let the dough come to room temperature and press the dough into a tart shell using your hand.

    well-pressedshell

    It takes some practice but don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect. Try to get the dough relatively flat on the bottom, and push it evenly up the sides with your thumbs. But once again, it doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do want to make sure the sides don’t collapse. If that happens, you can take it out midway during baking, and push the half-baked dough back up the sides.

    6. Put the tart shell in the freezer and chill thoroughly.

    7. To bake the shell, preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

    8. Bake the shell for 20-30 minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown.

    9. Remove from the oven and patch any holes with leftover dough.

    Tart Dough in Pan

    For the tart filling

    1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
    1 cup (200 g) sugar
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    1 cup (80 g) sliced almonds (I prefer unblanched, but either is fine)
    1/8 teaspoon almond extract
    2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Amaretto

    1. To bake the tart, line the rack under the one you plan to use with a sheet of aluminum foil to catch any spills and drips.

    2. Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a big, wide heavy-duty pot (use one that’s at least 4 qts, 4l) until it begins to boil.

    Boiling Cream & Sugar

    Continue to cook and when it starts to foam up, remove it from the heat and stir in the almonds, the almond extract, and the liquor.

    3. Scrape the filling into the shell. If there’s a bit too much filling, don’t toss it; in case the tart leaks, you can use it to add more.

    Unbaked Almond Tart

    Make sure there’s no clumps or piles of almonds and that everything is evenly distributed, then put the filled tart shell into the oven.

    4. After the first ten minutes, check the tart.

    Tart Bashing

    Take a heatproof rubber spatula, holding it diagonally and with a tapping motion, break up the surface of the tart. Doing this is very important since it avoids the top of the tart getting that ‘corn flaky‘ look.

    Be sure to give the filling a good series of ‘taps’—not enough to break the tart shell pastry underneath, but it’s important to break up the surface crust that’s forming.

    5. Continue to cook, checking the tart every 5-8 minutes, and break up any dry crust that may be forming, getting less aggressive as the filling sets up. As it begins to caramelize, stop tapping it and let the tart do its thing.

    6. Remove the tart from the oven when the filling is the color of coffee with a light touch of cream in it and there are no large pockets of gooey white filling, about 30 minutes. Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack.

    7. Check and see if the tart has fastened itself to the tart ring. Slide a knife (or a curved vegetable peeler, which will slide nicely in between the ridges) between the tart and the pan to loosen it so the sides don’t come off when you remove the ring.

    Releasing Tart

    8. To remove the ring (hey, no one said working at Chez Panisse was easy…) rest the tart on top of a solid object and gently coax the ring off. Slip a large spatula underneath it to return the tart to a cooling rack.

    Once completely cool, run a long chef’s knife under the tart to release it from the bottom. If it’s stubborn, set the tart on top of a warm stove burner for a second or two and you should be able to pry it off.

    Voilà!
    Be proud of your first, infamous Chez Panisse Almond Tart.

    Serve in small wedges either as a dessert, or as a cookie-like accompaniment to fresh fruit, bowl of ice cream or sorbet, or a compote.

    Caramelized Almond Tart

    Advanced Planning: The dough can be made in advance, and chilled (maximum 4 days) or frozen longer. The dough, once pressed in the tart pan, can be frozen. Wrap in plastic if you don’t plan to bake it within 48 hours. Once made, the tart should be kept at room temperature. If not eaten the same day, wrap in plastic wrap. The tart is best the first day but can be kept for up to 4 days.

  • 54 comments

    • That is gorgeous. And for dealing with les cons chez France Telecom, you deserve to eat the whole thing. Enjoy.

      (And thanks for sharing. I make no promises on making it, but I enjoyed the ride!)

    • David,

      I will happily come and deal with all those nasty little French life details as long as I get one of these tarts … Happily!

    • …….!

      You are killing me, I have to make this! Like, today!

    • Miam, that sounds good as a tart.
      I’m a fan of the French-German version with a pound-cake or pain de Genes base and the same top. Yours seem less etouffe-chretien. I’ll make it for guests.

    • Oh my. I shouldn’t read this blog before I’ve had breakfast. Want it. Now.

      I just finished reading the Alice Waters bio by Thomas MacNamee, which makes me really want to try this (he sings Lindsey Shere’s praises), and your instructions are so clear and nicely illustrated. Adding it to my list. Thanks!

      (I think your correspondent is referencing the fact that infamy means “famous because of a bad quality,” like Pearl Harbor Day. So maybe the tart is infamous for being difficult to make, or bad for your arteries. But clearly very very good for your taste buds!)

    • Looks awesome. I’ll be making this today.

      I’m guessing you used all purpose flour. Would pastry flour be acceptable, or is the filling too dense/heavy?

      Thanks!

    • I am SO Making that. I know now, I NEED to spend my Sunday playing with ‘nubbins’! I would make it right now if I had heavy cream, because I have everything else. I am still in my pyjamas so I can’t nip out to the corner shop just yet.

      infamous just sounds so much better than famous. It would probably come across as a little arrogant to describe one of your own things as famous, but by calling it infamous it gets more street cred. I think. What the hell do I know?

    • timhenk: I used all-purpose American flour. (In France, the closest equivalent would be Type 65.) I wouldn’t mess with the recipe too much since it’s very specific.

      Sam: Well, you can only call something ‘famous’ if it truly is. That Ginger Cake is pretty well-known, but I wasn’t the one who called it famous (or infamous)—she was!

      Rˆveuse: Oh, those France Telecom people! Thankfully they give me plenty of ideas for stories.

    • it’s so funny that you posted this this week. janet and chris have been talking nonstop about this for the past ten days, and janet’s made it twice. it’s now on our menu at the restaurant. so good!

    • I was hoping you were going to say that this tart was the secret to getting good – nay, any – service at France Telecom. But I suspect that even your almond tart wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

    • I’ve had this tart, but not at Chez Panisse.

      I will never forget the time Mary Jo made it at Jojo (for those who don’t know, Mary Jo and David worked together at Chez P). It is a fantastically good dessert.

    • Sounds delicious – but I have to lose 1 kg before I even think about making this!

    • David, you DID refer to your Fresh Ginger Cake as infamous. I think the emailer was just surprised at your word choice, not telling you your cake is bad!

    • David,
      This is also the “indestructible almond tart” of your post over a year ago, yes?

      Thanks for the step-by-step report on making it – it is a fabulous dessert – I’ve made it AND I have one in the freezer for the next impromptu need (or craving).

    • Ah david if i could only taste a slice…

    • Hey David

      I am now thinking of making this for a dinner party next week. Please my I be so bold to as you for an ice cream pairing recommendation? Preferably one from the Perfect Scoop.

      you really don’t have to answer this query if you can’t be arsed.

    • I am SO making this TOO!!
      Thanks for sharing and for all the little tips along the way, you are fabulous! Mwaaah!!

    • David, thank you for all your suggestions on the must foods of Paris. We followed them and Eric Kayser’s breads were just wonderful.

      Do you think you can get the recipe for this tart that was a combination of pistachio and raspberry. It was bright green with raspberries and they sold it in cut up squares. It was so delicious that we were wondering if it would be a possible tart to bake at home.

      Macarons from Laduree were heaven!
      Thanks, your web site is terrific!

    • David

      Just have to say I love your food porn photos. Do you take them yourself, or do you have a stylist?

      It is something that TGL (The Good Lady) says I should do more of, but yours are so much better than my efforts.

      Any truly unmissable advice?

      S

    • This looks so beau-ti-ful!!!! so nice Gloria

    • This looks so beau-ti-ful!!!! so nice Gloria

    • It’s a very short crust. Do you have hot or cold hands, David?

      I think Austin is your last stop on your Texas tour. Would you like to party/go out to eat/hang out with goofy food lovers?

      Let me know.
      Jane

    • Looks yummy. What about Zigzaggin’ some melted bittersweet chocolate across the top??

    • Hi David,
      I remember the first time trying this dessert, we gilded the lilly and added lemon curd and candied violet, it was the 80′s! I thank you for sharing it, when I worked at the Drake Hotel moon years ago, we made a similar concoction of Swiss orign! Engadine Walnuss torte, double crusted carmel walnut cake, served with vanilla ice cream so decadent, but so good!
      Oh yeah, I sent Hillary the link of your Dr. Gupta and CNN story on health care, you know the media is part or most of the problem, they own all the radio and television and make news what they want you to hear!

      Ciao

    • Quel Formidable! Vous avez plus de la chance que moi, parce que vous habitez en France!
      If my french is ungrammatically correct, please correct me. Anyway-how do you know when you have made something “infamous?” Is it the result of making something many times? Looks good. I like your sarcastic sense of humour, chocolate-and your books. Merci!

    • Okay, this looks amazing and I cannot express my gratitude enough that you’ve posted the recipe, but in truth, I’m still hung-up on your drive-by emailer and the Ginger Cake. Are you kidding me? That thing is Deliciousness Incarnate.

    • Most of the food I eat is raw, but amazing desserts like the Chez Panisse Almond Tart make me welcome the occasional digression… even if it’s only a mouthwatering fantasy at this moment. Great post.

    • Thanks, David!

    • My wife and I remember having this tart (by a Chez Panisse alumnus) at Bay Wolf when we started dating many years ago. You should have seen the look on her face when I said “honey, I have a recipe for _that_ almond tart…”

      You have certainly made our day. :)

    • That. tart. looks. sublime! I’m printing out the recipe. I have got to make it!

    • orange and schezwan pepper ice cream? please tell me that will work. I have a sack of oranges from a fellow blogger’s tree.

    • Flor: Isn’t his bakery terrific? His book of tart recipes is now available in English: Eric Kayser’s Sweet & Savory Tarts. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that recipe isn’t in there.

      Sam: That would be a great combo, although it’s also nice with a sorbet, such as tangerine or pear.

      Mindy: You could try it, although it’s a bit slick up there and it may slide off! But wouldn’t that be good?

      Charles: Well, since you live with the master of this tart, I’d say if anyone deserves a slice—it’s you.

      CM and Andrea: Darn those search engines! You can dig up anything on me!

      Thank goodness I’m not running for President : )

    • you CRACK me up!!! I was laughing so hard this morning reading this (and I am not a morning person..) please come to crete and make me laugh in person!!!!
      dominique

    • it’s funny cause there’s a bakery in Tours which make a pastry called “Le Pave de la Ruche” and it’s exactly the same thing that yours. and I love that !

    • The tarte looks gooey and lusious. Much more appetizing than cell phones charges.

      In France, 60 minutes of communication for 20 freakin’ euros when I remember in the states you get a couple of hundred minutes for $20 and you can share it with the family!! What a rip off in France. That’s why we do not have a cell phone in France. Too damn expensive. It seems that everyone around us has one. We hear in the news that everyone is spending less and watching their wallets. Maybe they should get rid of their cell phones to protest the monopoly of high price cell phones!!

    • Barbara: I don’t know how people here can afford to jabber on their cell phones like they do. I had Mobicarte, but just switched. Still, I rarely use my cell. Was thinking about getting a Skype mobile phone, since I use it at home.

      Saperlipopote: Interesting!

      Indeed, Lindsey said her inspiration for this tart is one from Mapie’s Toulouse-Lautrec’s cookbook, although I haven’t seen the original recette. So it’d be reasonable to find one in France.

      I’d love to see a picture if you can snap one!

    • David, thank you for yet another excellent recipe. L

    • That’s a gorgeous tart! Thanks for sharing this awesome recipe!

      Cheers,

      Rosa

    • Lovely!

      Also, really enjoyed your appearance on Diary of a Foodie this past weekend. You are truly charming. Can’t wait until you have your own show on PBS. ;)

      Just a technical question — since I’d be using agave nectar, should I use parchment paper and pie weights to prevent the tart shell from slumping down? Thanks!

    • OMG!! That is a hot looking tart!!
      France Telekom reminds me of MTS – Manitoba Telecomunications System in Canada…

    • Oh my GOD, I miss that tart! Now I have to make one. How many did you have to make to get the pictures of that perfection?

    • Deb: Since the tart shell is baked without the filling, I’d recommend doing it as advised. I don’t know about using agave in the filling; does it caramelize?

      Lynut: That was the first one! But believe me—there’s gonna be more…

    • That Fresh Ginger Cake certainly is famous! References to yourself came up when I was searching for a ginger cake recipe several years ago and led me to your site. Now I read your site daily and have all of your cookbooks!

    • Thank you for the suggested book on Eric Kayser. I will get it when we get back to the states.

    • “And I’m reading this at 8am, thinking, “Good lord. Who on earth would send someone a message like that?””

      She is probably the type of charming lady you usually encounter at la poste :p Carefully trained in making your day miserable!

      Tart looks delicious :)

    • Oh that looks divine. Will try it soon.
      I love that you said ‘in cahoots”…the best expression…

    • That looks gorgeous!! Thanks for this delectable recipe!

    • Hi, and I love this site. I just posted some of my Country Cajun Recipes on my blog and wanted to let you know. I’m doing this in conjunction with my project, The Beatitudes Network-Rebuilding the Public Libraries of New Orleans. I am donating all of the royalties from the sale of my book, The Beatitudes, directly to the New Orleans Public Library Foundation. I’m 100% Cajun and food brings people to the table to eat and talk about books! Enjoy the recipes, like Pain Perdu (Lost Bread) that kept the Acadians alive during their trek from Canada to Louisiana. Merci mille fois- thanks a million. Lyn LeJeune

      http://www.beatitudesinneworleans.blogspot.com

    • wow, that looks intensely amazing. if i didn’t have to make doughnuts tonight to get in under Tartelette’s deadline, i would totally be making this.

      i firmly believe that adding a drop of almond extract to almost any baked good will make it better.

      Us vs. Food

    • I just made this last night – Exquisite! The crust was so buttery and flaky; the caramelized almonds, lovely. Thanks, David.

    • This has been my standby dinner-party tart for years (thanks Lindsey!) But actually in my experience you can skip the ‘tapping’ step without getting the cornflake top if you just make sure the almonds are well-distributed before you put it in to bake. It isn’t gooey at all. Grated orange peel in the tart and/or crust also adds something special. DELICIOUS.

    • David, for what it’s worth, my family and I took a Skype phone with us to Paris in December 07 and January 08. I set it up in the United States before our trip and it worked perfectly with my laptop in France.

      The apartment we were renting had wireless internet and the phone base plugs into a USB port on the laptop. I had to get a “skype out” account for calls back to the US, but in over a week, I spent a total of $3.00 for about 20+ calls.
      Look for them on e-bay.

      That’s where I got mine for $25.00 upon the recommendation of a well traveled friend.
      Good luck

    • Scallions: You could easily grow your own. If you get some onion sets and plant them in a flower pot close together, you’ll soon have green onions. If you can’t get onion sets, plant onion seeds and eat the thinnings. If you can’t get seeds, try using a regular onion – plant it or just let it spoil and it will grow green tops which are good to eat and they’ll be even more tender than scallion greens!

    • This tart certainly does get around! Thanks for the always amusing and informative blog, David.