Apple Tart with Almond Cream

I recently had a weekend of back-to-back dinner parties with friends. As everyone knows my favorite meal of the day is dessert, it was no question as to what I would bring. I had a few apples on hand and, after a bit of recipe searching, this tart was born.

Both a blessing and a curse, I have high standards with myself when it comes to dinner parties. I just can't seem to bake something simple or something that doesn't involve spending 4 continuous hours in the kitchen. I tend to go out of my way to make something complex or decadent, like the pumpkin bread pudding I brought for Thanksgiving. I can't help myself. The wanna-be pastry chef in me aims to impress.

This apple tart with almond cream is a traditional French tart, also known as a Normandy Apple Tart or, as the French would say, Tarte aux Pommes à la Normande. The almond cream is rich and dominant. The apricot glaze keeps the almond flavor in check and provides a good flavor contrast. And the apples? Well, they are there to look pretty. The flavor of the apples are present, don't get me wrong, but they are subdued in light of the almond and apricot. This tart is really something to experience, with the multiple flavors and textures mixing and mingling in your mouth.

Apple Tart with Almond Cream
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yields 1 9-inch tart

Shortbread Crust
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the butter. Using a pastry blender, blend together the flour and butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Alternatively, if you do not have a pastry blender, you can use your hands, squishing the butter between your fingers until you get the job done.

Add the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of the cold water and mix the dough together with your hands until you can pinch it all together. If needed, you can add another tablespoon of cold water to bring the dough together. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

On that same lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 12 inch circle, approximately 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 9 inch tart pan and trim the edges. Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork several times.

Line the edges of the tart pan with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights and continue baking for another 8 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and transfer the tart to a cooling rack.

Apple and Almond Filling
1 cup slivered almonds (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened + 1 tablespoon melted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 large apples
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 400 degree F.

Using a food processor, grind the 3/4 cup of the almonds until finely ground. Transfer the almonds to a medium bowl. Again, grind the remaining 1/4 cup almonds until coarsely chopped. This will provide the tart with additional texture. Transfer the almonds to that same bowl. Add the sugar, flour, and salt, whisking to combine.

In another bowl, beat 4 tablespoons of butter with a mixer until creamy and lightened in color. Add the almond mixture and mix until combined. Then, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the almond extract.

Now spread the almond cream into the baked (and cooled) pastry shell.

Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut the apples into slices 1/8 inch thick (if you have a mandolin, now is the time to use it). Arrange the apples in concentric circles on top of the almond cream. When inserting the apples, stick them into the almond cream until they touch the pastry crust. Brush the apple slices with the melted butter and sprinkle on the brown sugar.

Bake the tart for 1 hour, or until the filling is set and the apples are browned and tender. Move the tart to a cooling rack to cool.

In a small saucepan, heat the apricot jam until melted and smooth and brush lightly over the surface of the apples to add a light glaze. Serve the tart either warm or at room temperature.