Wednesday, 21 March 2012
When I decided to leave Cordon Bleu early, I erased the marks on May and June. I created two fresh, blank pages.
Just before I made my final choice, I compared diaries with mum. She discovered a chunk of holiday sandwiched between the winter and summer seasons. So we decided to go on a trip.
California quickly established itself as the destination.
So you'll find us on a flight to Los Angeles at the beginning of May. Seven weeks later, we fly out of San Francisco. At the moment there's no fixed route or timetable - just a scribbled list of places to eat, people to meet, sights to see and a general direction for our little rented campervan.
Have you got any must-not-miss suggestions? We'll eat almost anything as long as it's not very spicy (and I have an irrational dislike of anchovies).
One of the places that I want to visit in California is Chez Panisse. I've had one of their signature recipes - this almond tart - bookmarked for years. It seemed like the perfect time to finally give it a go. It's an unusual recipe - you press the room temperature pastry into the tin with your hands. At the start it looks like it'll never be even and neat (see above...) but it does smooth out in the end.
The result is a crumbly, buttery, almost shortbread-esque bottom layer of the tart. The filling - described beautifully in the book as "creamy-and-russet caramel" - perfectly tightropes the line between chewy and gooey. It surpassed my high expectations.
There's no need for cutlery, cream or fruit. This is something to eat with your hands. It would be perfect for a spring picnic - the pastry might delicately crumble around the edges but otherwise it travels well.
You can find the recipe in Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsay Shere. It's such a pretty book, sprinkled with Wayne Thiebaud illustrations. You can also find a slightly different version of the recipe on David Lebovitz's site. I used both to make this tart.
A few notes on the recipe:
1/ You can play with the dough quite a bit when you're lining the tin. As mentioned, keep a bit of extra pastry at room temperature and smear over any tiny holes/cracks after baking - be careful to not press too hard as it'll crumble. I totally froze my shell after I'd lined it - you don't need to blind bake, just put it straight in the oven. Keep in mind that it won't cook the second time so the pastry needs to be well cooked.
2/ I didn't have any almond essence so I didn't use any in the pastry or filling. It was still absolutely lovely.
3/ Be careful how much filling you pour in - mine bubbled up and over when I put it in the oven. I still had a little leftover. Lindsay mentions leaving the filling for 15 minutes before filling the shall and baking - I was in a hurry so didn't. The leftover bit thickened quite a lot in that time so it might make a difference.
4/ Getting it out of the tin is a pain. Mine didn't stick on the base (as happened to Adam) but as the filling flowed over, the sides stuck. I used a knife to push the sides away from the tin while it was still soft then pulled the tin off when it had firmed up a bit more. It didn't look pretty and crumbled a lot but hey - still tasted good!