The Indestructable Almond Tart

Sometimes I feel like I must be walking around with a sign on me that says…

“Even though it’s obvious from the way I’m holding it, I’m carrying a fragile dessert that I’ve spent hours making…

…But please feel free to walk right into me anyways.”

Yes, that was me trying to navigate Paris, tranversing the sidewalks and mètros of Paris, hoping to make it safely to the New Year’s party I was invited to with my Almond Tart.

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As those who read this blog regularly may recall, I’m a target for Parisians when carrying fragile cakes and tarts down the street. For some reason, they’ll just walk right into me.

But this time, I got wise to their antics and thwarted their efforts to derail me by remembering a favorite recipe from my past, Lindsey’s Almond Tart, one of the all-time great desserts that I made almost every day at Chez Panisse for years and years. Once baked, the tart is bullet-proof: and as anticipated, the disk of firm caramelized almonds successfully withstood both the Line #1 and #14 mètros.

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I made it safely to my New Year’s Eve fête with the tart. I did get body-checked by a Parisian in the Bastille mètro, forcing me to crash into the tile wall, and heard the loud “Thwack” of the porcelain cake plate it was resting on.

“Zut!, I thought.
But the tart arrived safely and after dinner, everyone nibbled on it happily along with the last of the cold Champagne along with the Chocolate, Sour Cherry, and Toasted Almond Bark that I made with fleur de sel, which was equally a big hit.

So here’s a few resolutions for my life in 2006…

-I’m going to avoid the black tar as much as I can…

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-I’m going to perfect my Madeleine recipe…

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-I’m going to cut back on the amount of chocolate I eat…

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(…not!)

-I’m going to get to work on my next cookbook…

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-And I’m going to become a true Frenchman and no matter how impeccably or fashionably dressed I am, I’m going to wear the wackiest socks I can drum up…

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I will avoid socks with images of Homer Simpson or Asterix, though, so popular with the men here in France, though. Even I have my limits.

The Morning Aprés

Sleepy-eyed after a very long night of wining & dining, I crawl out of bed and pour myself a steaming hot bowl of café au lait and toast slices of pain au levain

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The beginning of another year in Paris.

I bring the bowl to my lips and take a comforting sip.
MMmmm…

I slather butter on my warm toast. It melts and forms little buttery puddles in between the delightfully irregular bubbles revealed each time I slice and toast another slab from the hearty loaf.
I drizzle it with bitter chestnut honey. Delicious.

The sweet, creamy smear of butter and the sharp, amber honey pair feel just right this morning after a night scraping briny oysters from their shells and washing them down with endless flutes of icy Champagne. After we polished off several platters of les huitres, our next course was tiny roasted quails, expertly roasted with root vegetables, accompanied by the smoothest puree of potatoes, mounded alongside, bathed in a delicate sauce made from the savory pan juices.

Afterwards, a long sleep was in order while all of Paris closed up for the night. My re-entry to the world begins when the late winter sun peers out from behind the curtains. A few slow, tentative movements as I slide out of bed, and I find myself back into the world.

That wonderful luminosity of Paris!
The sun peering through the grey still of winter.
The heater buzzes softly in the corner, the only sound, except for the faint patter of traffic on the street down below.
The gentle quiet of a slow morning, as Paris begins to wake up. Curtains are tentatively opened in buildings across the way. A queu begins at the corner bakery, Parisians exiting with slender baguettes tucked under their arms and warm, buttery croissants enclosed in stiff bakery paper.

How wonderful to live in a city where breakfast inspires a photograph.
I finish the last, warm sip of my café au lait.

My clothes are draped carelessly over the sofa where I dropped them the night before. I gather them up.

Then I smell it.

That ever-present, overpowering smell.
Cigarettes.

My clothes reek of cigarette smoke.
The woman sitting next to me last night spent the evening chain-smoking. She went though an entire pack of cigarettes during dinner. No sooner did she finish one cigarette then she lit up another. The room became so smoke-filled that I had to get up several times during the night just to catch some fresh air in another room. My eyes burning with acrid cigarette smoke, at times I was barely able to breathe. Every so often, the room would clear of it’s grey, foul, heavy smoke…then someone else would light up, prompting everyone else to reach for their cigarettes and light up another.

My clothing will have to go to the cleaners.

I settle in at my desk to check my email.
My email doesn’t work, nor does my internet connection.
Click. Click…ClickClickClick….CLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICK
No email. No internet. Nothing.

I consider calling Noosnet Customer Service, then I remember the last time I tried that.

Four weeks later they re-connected me.

Brrrr…
I shiver and wonder why it suddenly feels so cold? Why does it seem so dark inside?

I switch on a light. Nothing happens. I try another lamp.
Nothing.

The heater has stopped buzzing and the metal feels cold to the touch.

My electricity is off.

I begin to get chilly, thinking a nice, hot shower will warm me up.

I run the water for a few minutes.
The pathetic spittle of water that comes from the shower nozzle is barely tepid. I let the water flow for a few more minutes. It’s still cold, the water just slightly warmer than the now almost near-freezing temperature inside my apartment. I shiver and think about getting in, then turn off the sad trickle, putting it out of it’s misery. I decide to get back into bed, burying myself under my fluffy down duvet and crisp linen sheets, where it’s all warm and cozy.

“Bienvenue à Paris…let’s give it another year.”…I sigh to myself, before dozing off.

2006: Happy New Year – Bonne Année

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I wish you all a wonderful New Year and Bonne Année.

My New Year’s Eve celebration will be filled with fresh oysters from Brittany accompanied by slices of fresh rye bread smeared with salted butter, a coupe (or two..) of rosé Champagne, and a nice wedge of caramelized Almond Tart for dessert, a delicious reminder of my days at Chez Panisse. It’s bubbling nicely now in my oven, filling my kitchen with the luxurious smell of caramelized butter and toasty almonds. I can barely wait until it’s cool and ready to eat!

Thanks to all of you for visiting my site and for leaving your comments on the blog. Special thanks to those of you who are the proud owners of one of my dessert books, have visited Paris on a tour with me, or attended one of my classes this past year during one of my cooking tours in the states.

I look forward to you returning here to my site, where I’ll continue to write about my chocolate and gastronomic adventures here in Paris.

See you soon…a bientôt…

Favorite Posts of 2005

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee Recipe

chopped chocolate

Something in Paris has turned horribly wrong. It’s called ‘the weather’, or to be more specific…winter has arrived.

Which means it’s gotten cold, gray, and dreary. In fact, it’s so cold that I refuse to go outside until spring. Believe me, all those romantic photos of Paris you see are taken during the spring and fall are very deceptive and although beautiful, it would take a mighty big levier (crowbar) to get me outdoors.

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So when to do when you’re stuck indoors for three or four months? Make candy!

If you’ve never made candy, this one is really simple and incredibly delicious so there’s no reason not to try a batch. And truthfully, doesn’t it make you feel happier just looking at it?

My recipe for Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee is easy: You chop nuts, you make a syrup, and then you pour the syrup over the nuts. Sprinkle some chocolate over it, spread it out, and finish it with more nuts. That’s it. There’s no fancy techniques and the only special equipment you’ll need is a candy thermometer; they’re easily found online, and in most supermarkets. (Yes, really. Take it from someone who lurks in supermarkets, searching for things like candy thermometers, late at night.)

I like to add a sprinkle of fleur de sel, French salt, which gives it a pleasant salty edge which is divine with the dark chocolate and toasty nuts (any coarse salt can be used). Although you can use chips, you can also chop up a block of chocolate, instead.

When making candy, here are a few tips that will help:


  • Read the recipe thoroughly before proceeding and have everything ready.

  • Make sure your thermometer is accurate. If you’re not sure, bring a pot of water to a boil. It should read 212 degrees if you live at sea level. I use a glass candy thermometer, although the digital ones work as well.

  • Be careful dealing with hot syrups. A good precaution is to have a large bowl of iced water handy. If you spill syrup on your hand, plunge it immediately into the water to stop the burn.

  • The best way to clean a caramelized pan is to fill it with water and bring it to a boil. Let stand until the syrup melts away.

  • Every once in a while, candy doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s too humid, or the sugar decides to crystallize (don’t encourage it by overstirring), or the planets aren’t aligned. Don’t get discouraged; it happens even to professionals.

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

  • 2 cups (8 ounces, 225 g) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped between 'fine' and 'coarse'
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 115 g) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • a nice, big pinch of salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips

optional: Roasted cocoa nibs and fleur de sel

1. Lightly oil a baking sheet with an unflavored vegetable oil.

2. Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle about 8″ x 10″ (20 x 25 cm) on the baking sheet.

3. In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the thermometer reads 300 F degrees. Have the vanilla and baking soda handy.

4. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.

5. Quickly pour the mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. (If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a spatula, but don’t overwork it.)

5. Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer.

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If using, sprinkle with a small handful of cocoa nibs and a flurry of fleur des sel. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them in with your hands.

Cool completely and break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container, for up to ten days.

Related Recipes and Links

Candy Thermometers

Chocolate FAQs

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch

Triple Chocolate Scotcheroos

Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups

The Great Book of Chocolate

The Simple Life: Paris

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“Adam knows what he did, and that’s all I’m ever going to say about it.”
-David ‘Paris’ Lebovitz

Watch David and Adam à Paris…

Happy Holidays from Paris

Yup, I’m back in Paris…home for the holidays.

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Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and a soon-to-be Happy Birthday to David!
(…it’s the 27th)


  • For a dose of hilarious holiday humor, listen to Xmas in Frisco (if you have iTunes, it’s under the Radio listings; click: ‘Holiday’ to listen). The songs are some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard and softens the edge from any holiday stress.

  • The Menu for Hope II has barely concluded and Pim’s highly successful fundraiser has raised over a whopping $21,000!. Funds are going to UNICEF to help the people of Pakistan affected by the natural disaster. Many thanks to the food bloggers and companies who participated and I look forward to meeting whoever wins the big scoop (or two…or three!) of glace Berthillon we’ll be sharing here in Paris.

  • You’ll find me a few places around the web:
    On NPR, I take Jim Fleming, host of To The Best of Our Knowledge on a tour of Paris chocolate shops. We explore the best places in Paris and you can listen to it by clicking on the link.
    (Warning: Shoving a microphone under my face mysteriously turns me into a dork.)

  • Be sure to read The Only 149 Chocolates You Need To Know About. It’s a very right-on take on chocolate; what’s new, what’s good (and what’s not…), and where to find them. It’s from Departures magazine, and I’m featured in the magazine, which the online article is excerpted from.

  • A certain amateur came to Paris recently for a whirlwind tour of the city. Armed with a video camera, a bit of jet-lag, some nibbles of dark chocolate, a carafe of red wine, and a certain amount of chutzpah, there may be a funny video in our future. I’ll let you know when (and if) it appears for public viewing.

  • Fox Television has agreed to pick up the pilot for my new reality show, An American Pastry Chef in Paris.
    In each hilarious episode, an American pastry chef is forced to search the streets and shops of Paris, looking for odd ingredients (cranberries, cream of tartar, real vanilla extract, or corn syrup) for the final competition to determine if he can stay in the city longer. The goal is to create a dessert that meets the stringent standards set forth by the nastiest chef in town. Along the way, each contestant learns to dodge les dames with their shopping carts, masters the most effective way to cut in line, learns to distainfully sneer at any special request, finds a café that will let them use the bathroom, avoids being ripped off at the market by vendors sneaking rotten fruit into their bag (bonus points given if they can avoid being short-changed…), and triumphs only when he or she gets the chef to actually enjoy something with peanut butter in it…or can successfully snap a photo for their blog at Le Grand Epicerie without being tackled by security.

Ok, just kidding on that last one. But that’d make a fun gift for me, now wouldn’t it?

Happy Holidays and Bonne Fête To All!

How to Prevent Cookies From Spreading

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Here are some helpful tips to prevent cookies from spreading:

Don’t Overbeat the Batter

Far too many recipes advise bakers to simply “Cream butter and sugar until smooth”. So many people just turn on the mixer and go check their e-mail.

When you beat butter and sugar, those little crystals of sugar create air pockets between the butterfat. The more you beat, the more air you incorporate (those trapped air pockets steam open and expand in the oven). That’s great for a nice, light cake…but not for most cookies. So when the recipe says, ““Cream or beat butter and sugar”, just mix them for about 30 seconds, until well-combined.

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Pecan-Brown Sugar Shortbreads from Ready For Dessert

Use Ungreased Baking Sheets

Unless the recipe says so, bake cookies on an ungreased or unbuttered baking sheet. You’re creating a slippery surface if you do, which causes cookies dough to slide. I use parchment paper, which has just enough friction for cookies to stay-put without sliding around, but they don’t stick.

Measure Ingredients Properly

I know this is a big duh!, but adding more liquid or less flour than a recipe indicates makes a big difference. When people tell me, “I can’t bake”, I never understand that. I mean, how difficult is “8 ounces of butter” or “3 large eggs”? It’s not like a piece of meat that you need to guess and adjust cooking times. Baking is a no-brainer.

Don’t change ingredients either. Using extra-large eggs in place of large eggs means you’ve added more liquid. Using anything other than all-purpose flour (or whatever is called for) can also be problematic.

Check Your Fat

Most butter is about 80% fat, meaning the rest is roughly 20% water. When used in a batter, that water liquefies, and voila!. You can use a ‘European-style’ butter, which has a higher percentage of fat and remains more stable when baked. Examples of this include Plugra.

Some recipes use vegetable shortening instead of butter, which is another alternative (although I don’t personally use vegetable shortening). Vegetable shortening is 100% percent fat, which means there’s little water so things stay in place better when baked (it’s why pie dough made with shortening is flakier…there’s little water to saturate and toughen the flour.)

If you choose to replace butter in your recipe with vegetable shortening, find one without trans-fats, which are now available.

Check Your Oven Temperature

Every oven is completely different. I had a someone call me at 11pm one night to tell me her Peanut Butter Cookies took 10 minutes to bake instead of 9 minutes, as indicated by the recipe. Buy an oven thermometer and check the accuracy of your oven.

If you put cookies in an oven that’s not hot enough, they’ll droop and spread before firming up.

You can find more tips at my post: Tips to Keep Cookies From Spreading



Related Links

Is sifting necessary?

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa powder FAQs

Why you should use aluminum-free baking powder (and how to make your own)

Recipes for using up leftover egg whites

American baking ingredients in Paris

French sugar

Tips to keep cooking from spreading