Friday, April 18, 2008



I've been anxious to share this fantastic dessert ever since I started doing these things, but I had to wait until I made it again so I could get a picture of it. That chance came when we had our company last weekend. It's so good that it's edging out all the other desserts in my repertoire.

This beautful treat has a great back story. The recipe is my adaptation from the one in Tender at the Bone, the first memoir by the current editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine, Ruth Reichl. (This is a breezy read, chock-full of laughs and recipes, and you finish wanting to meet Reichl in some cozy spot for coffee and maybe some raspberry tart. I've read all of her books since.)

Ruth Reichl's family life growing up is an example of why we needed the word "dysfuntional." Her mother was what was in those days called "moody," later diagnosed as bi-polar. In her manic states, she would plan parties which became ever bigger and more elaborate, and her idea of cooking for them meant dumping literally everything in the refrigerator and cupboards into a pot, regardless of their nature or condition, cooking it up, and presenting the result as an "invention." More than once, guests became ill. As a matter of survival, Ruth had to learn to cook very early, and what started as a necessity became a passion.

When Ruth was 15, her mother decided that the only way Ruth would learn French properly was to live for a summer in France. So Ruth had a summer abroad, but it was not the usual family stay. Her mother found her a job at a girls' summer camp on the island of Oléron, on the French Atlantic coast. One day Ruth played hookey from work and hiked out to the countryside. Along the way, she stopped at a farmhouse, where she was given a piece of this tart by its originator, the farm's proprietress, who also gave her the recipe. This is truly a dish à la bonne femme, the French country housewife cooking which gave rise to the great national cuisine everyone knows.

Notes: if you're intimiated by pastry making, let this be your reason to get over it. The result is so worth the trouble. Over the years I've become pretty fair at making crusts, but I admit this one is tricky. It has sugar in it, which can make it sticky. The only moisture in it is one egg yolk and some cream, so it's dry and hard to make it hold together. I've found that adding a small amount of water makes life a lot easier and the finished product is fine. The secret: cold temperature. Make sure the butter is fresh from the refrigerator when you work it into the dry ingredients, chill the dough at least an hour before rolling it out (this allows the moisture to distribute evenly), and roll it out cold. Also, the short step of kneading the finished dough before refrigerating it is a huge help. It develops the gluten in the flour just enough to help it keep its shape.

Make the tart early in the day. It can sit, covered, at room temperature until the last step, just before serving.

Equipment: 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom.

1 ½ cups flour
¼ cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
¼ lb. chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 Tbsp. cream
1 egg yolk
Icewater as needed
¾ cup blanched almonds
¾ cup sugar, divided
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups raspberries, divided
2 Tbsp. raspberry preserves
1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 350F

Sift flour, sugar and salt together into bowl. Add butter cubes and toss lightly with until butter is coated, then cut butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles cornmeal.

Mix cream and egg yolk and pour into flour mixture. Mix lightly with a fork until pastry holds together in a small ball. If not moist enough, add a tablespoon or so of icewater to bring it together.

Place dough on floured work surface. Knead lightly but thoroughly, about a minute, then gather dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in refrigerator at least 1 hour.

When ready to work, remove wrap and place pastry disc on floured work surface. Flour rolling pin. Roll cold dough into an 11-inch circle. (Roll firmly from the center of the dough, turning slightly with each pass to keep it as much as possible in a circular shape. If dough starts to split at the edges, moisten where the split is, draw the edges together, and press.) When the needed size is reached, roll dough onto pin, then unroll off of pin into tart pan. Press dough into corners and trim off overhang.

Blind baking: Cover pastry in pan with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake 4-5 minutes more, until golden.

Leaving oven on, remove baked shell and allow to cool on rack while making filling.

Put almonds and 3 tablespoons of the sugar in food processor and grind to a fine powder. Cream softened butter with remaining sugar until fluffy. Add egg yolks, stirring until smooth. Add ground almond-sugar mixture and vanilla extract.

Spread almond cream into bottom of cooled tart shell.

Carefully place 2 cups raspberries over almond cream. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar, bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool at least 2 hours. (See note above about making early.) When pan is cool enough to handle, removed ruffled cuff from bottom and, if the tart moves around on the pan bottom easily, slide it onto serving dish. If there seems to have been some sticking and it won't slide, that's OK; leave the tart on the pan bottom.

Just before serving: make a glaze by placing preserves and water in a large microwave-proof bowl and heating to combine into a syrup. Remove bowl from microwave, add remaining 2 cups fresh berries, and toss so they are evenly covered with glaze. Distribute over tart and serve.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ralph,

This looks like a dessert I would love. I love raspberry!

Speaking of Ruth R. (whom I adore), I watched our PBS Show "Diary of A Foodie". Have you seen this? It airs on our Philly Independent Media - WYBE 35, so if you cannot find it in your area - check it out next time in Delaware if you happen to be there on a Thursday.


Ralph said...

Thanks for that heads up Linda. I'll definitely look for the show. Sound great.

Cuidado said...

If you knew you better I'd have an entirely different comment.

Oh what I wouldn't do for a slice of this tart - except make one - but maybe this summer when raspberries are fresh.

Ralph said...

Now, what other comment would that be, Cuidado? Something about tarts? Tsk, tsk!

There are few better thing you could do with locally-grown raspberries than this tart. I've also made it with blackberries and a mix of black-, blue-, and rasp-, but the raspberries are the best.

Nan said...

Wow - that looks scrumptious.

Ralph said...

It is, Nan!

Kat said...

I'll attest to how delicious this tart is!!

Anonymous said...

I gotta try it. Wife Annie says only if she helps. How many times did this fail before you got to where you can actually walk us all through it? Seems like a worrisome but worth it endeavor. We will let you know how it goes next week. Thanks Ralph, sound delicious!

Cuidado said...

Nothing to do with tarts. I'll e-mail you.

Ralph said...

Z&M, to tell you the truth it came out OK on the first try. I've got pastry down fairly well and have developed an eye for when things are starting to go downhill to begin with, and then, when I described the crust to somebody, they said, "so basically you're making a big cookie," and that took away all the potential fancy-French mystique. The saving grace is that mistakes, if there are any, are covered by the filling. And the filling is easy, easy.

One detail I forgot: remove the tart, still on the removable bottom from the ruffled collar of the pan after the baked tart has cooled. If you can slide the whole thing onto a dish, that's even better, but not totally necessary.

I can't wait to get your report.

Ralph said...

Kat, and EASY,too, right?