There is a famous vegetarian restaurant in New York City called Dirt Candy. Someday I will get there, but, in the meantime, I love the name. It perfectly captures the sweetness of the root vegetables that come up from the dirt in their jewel-like colours. At this time of year, I think of another jewel-like product of the soil as “freezer candy.” Those “candies” are the berries that I picked in the fall and now have the leisure to turn into new and delicious dishes. At this time of year, those delicious things tend to be the small, sweet bites that go with a cup of tea in the afternoon, or a glass of eggnog in the early evening, or a wee dram after dinner; the cookies and tarts and squares that we exchange with our friends and neighbours and combine on platters for festive presents.
Here’s a good addition to those platters. Raspberry and almond tartlets based on homemade raspberry jam and the sweet almond-y filling known as frangipane. These tartlets are derived from the famous Bakewell Tart known and loved in England. There is a story, of course, there always is. An origin story, hotly contested by three different bakeries in Bakewell, Derbyshire, who all claim the tart as their own. Historians say that, in fact, the original tart had its origins in the middle ages, but even so, I like The White Horse Inn story the best. It says that a member of the aristocracy ordered a strawberry tart and it fell to the new cook to make it. The new cook accidentally got the recipe wrong by spreading the almond, eggs and sugar on top of the jam instead of incorporating them into the crust. And huzzah! The results were fabulous.
I like this story because it’s a cook’s story; a kitchen disaster transformed into triumph. The more stories like this the better!
As you spoon the jam into the tart shells, I bet you’ll remember that day last summer under the bridge, or in the backyard, or in the back alleys of your town, when you plucked ripe berries from the bush and watched them fall into the yogurt container, and the bees buzzed and everything smelled like fruit and flowers. The origin story of the raspberries is the one you know best.
- SHORTCRUST PASTRY:
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) cold, unsalted butter, diced
- Pinch of salt
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 to 2 tbsp cold water
- 1 cup raw, unpeeled almonds
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 3/4 cup raspberry jam
- Blend flour, sugar, salt and half the butter in a bowl with a pastry cutter, or pulse in a food processor until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the rest of the butter and blend or pulse until pea-sized pieces remain.
- Add egg and lemon juice and stir with a fork or pulse to combine.
- Add one tbsp of water. Stir or pulse. Test if the pastry sticks together when pinched between the fingers. If not, add the second tablespoon of water.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured counter and form into a ball, then press into a disc. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
- Combine almonds and sugar in a food processor and pulse until they are the texture of coarse sand. Add butter and pulse until thoroughly combined.
- Add eggs and almond extract and pulse until smooth and grainy. Transfer to a bowl with a lid and reserve.
- Working with half the dough at a time, roll out on a counter lightly sprinkled with flour to a thickness of 1/4-inch. At first the dough will be crumbly, but don’t worry, it will come together as you roll.
- Cut dough into 3 or 4-inch rounds and press lightly into muffin tins. *In my house, my biggest cutter is 3 inches, which makes 18 shallow tarts. A 4-inch round will give you 12 deeper tarts.
Chill in freezer for 10 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 450F. Prick the base of each tart several times with a fork. Bake the tart shells for five minutes and remove from oven. If the bases have puffed up, press them down lightly with the back of a spoon. Cool to room temperature.
Reduce oven temperature to 375F.
- Spoon 2 tsps (for shallower tarts) to 1 tbsp raspberry jam (for deeper tarts) into each tart shell. Spoon enough almond mixture over top to cover the jam, from 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons. You will have plenty of frangipane left for the next batch of tarts!
- Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until tops are golden brown.
Serve at room temperature—the crust will be crisp and the filling both smooth and just slightly crunchy.