I can’t remember the moment I first fell in love with the flavor of almond extract. My earliest memories go back to loving the quintessential red maraschino cherry I’d find on the top of an ice cream sundae, strawberry milk shake, or Shirley Temple soda my parents would let us order on those special occasions we went to Corvette Diner, a 50’s style soda fountain and diner that used to be in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood.
That taste for sweet pistachio ice cream-like flavor evolved when my mother brought home marzipan treats on the rare occasion she found them in a clear plastic box next to the cash register of a specialty food market or high-end candy store. In fact I think they sold them at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom stores, and she may have purchased them there too. I can’t be certain, but that definitely sounds plausible because she’s a lot like me—I’m a lot like her actually—and I could never resist those precious little confections painted and molded into miniature apples, oranges, bananas and little piglets with realistic detail.
I definitely tried the dark chocolate covered marzipan morsels in the two-pound boxes of See’s Candies nuts and chews my father used to get during the holidays from patients and friends. I remember ripping the red Christmas wrapping paper off the box just so I could agonize and toil over which piece was which. Unlike my brother who took a bite of each piece and put them back if he didn’t like the inside, I made sure to commit to eating the whole thing because that’s just how generous I am. And if I cleared out all the empty paper cups left in the wake of an eaten piece, I used that as an excuse to reward myself with another piece. It was a vicious cycle let me tell you. And when I did find the ones I liked the most (the rum raisin and marzipan), I immediately lifted the black paper divider to reveal the second untouched layer of candies underneath where I sought out the doppelganger of the piece I’d just eaten while it’s distinguishing characteristics were still vivid in my memory.
Every Passover my aunt Ilona would bring a flourless “kosher for Passover” cake from D.Z.Akin’s Restaurant and those were always decorated with almond paste piping and florets.
After college when I was just getting used to going out to bars and such, I remember ordering amaretto sours because they were easier to drink than the stiffer grain alcohols. In addition to the fact that they came with a maraschino cherry and tasted like almond candy, I also thought I was cool in ordering something unique that no one else was. Little did I know, it made my 22-year-old-self sound like a 70-year-old woman so I moved on to vodka sodas and dirty martinis.
Somewhere in there—I’m not sure when—I developed an obsession for almond croissants and the plain ones just didn’t cut it anymore. If I found myself at a coffee shop or bakery and they had croissants filled with almond paste I bought it. Completely glossed over the ones with chocolate inside too.
And this obsession with almond flavored treats is alive and healthy today in San Francisco where I have the fortunate pleasure of enjoying the almond-flavored pastries and baked goodies sold at such wonderful bakeries like b.patisserie, Tartine, and Thorough Bread & Pastry, all of which make some of the best almond croissants I’ve had outside of Paris.
So I don’t know exactly what caused my fascination with almond extract, but it’s definitely grown over time. Which is why it’s no surprise I eventually discovered frangipane tarts—what they’re made of, how they taste, and how to make them. Aside from being delicious, this is a really easy and sophisticated dessert that will impress the guests of your next dinner party. The frangipane filling is all made in a food processor, and if you don’t want to make a tart shell from scratch, there are a variety of other uses for this delicious paste.
And from late summer to winter I think there’s no fruit that “pairs” better with frangipane batter than the pear….and brandy!
Pear Brandy Frangipane Tart
For the filling
- 1 cup slivered raw almonds
- 1 tblsp all-purpose flour
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 egg
- 2 tblsp brandy
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 3 bartlett or William pears cored and seeded and sliced into 1/8 inch slices from top to bottom.
- Powdered sugar for garnish (optional)
For the glaze
- ½ cup brandy
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tbslp of fresh lemon juice separated
Follow a tart dough recipe and once it’s chilled for at least 2 hours (or over night) roll it out into a circle on a lightly floured surface until it’s at least 2 inches larger than the diameter of your tart pan.
Gently roll the dough over your rolling pin and then unroll it over your tart pan. Working quickly as not to let the dough soften too much, lift the dough at the edges and press it down gently into the base and along the sides of the tart pan.
Once you have it in place, you can roll the rolling pin over the top of the tart pan to cleanly cut off the excess dough.
Place the tart pan and dough in the fridge to cool and stiffen for 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 375° degrees.
Start the glaze now because it’s essentially a reduction and it’s going to take some time. Add the ingredients for the glaze (reserving 1 tblsp of lemon juice for later) to a small sauce pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer and reduce for about 20-30 minutes or until thickened to a syrup.
Prick the tart dough with a fork along the base 8-10 times.
Crumple a piece of parchment paper into a ball and then un-crumple it and line the tart pan with it. The crumpling helps make the parchment paper more malleable (thanks Martha Stewart for that tip!). Fill the tart pan with pie weights (or old dried beans or metal ball bearings or whatever you’re going to use) and place it in the oven to bake for 12 minutes.
Remove the weights and parchment paper and bake uncovered in the oven for another 12-15 minutes until the tart is a light golden brown. You don’t want it too dark because it’s going to bake again once you have the frangipane filling and pears inside and you don’t want burnt crusts.
When it’s done, let it cool completely on a wire rack and start on the filling.
In a food processor add the cup of slivered raw almonds and process for about ten seconds. There will still be some larger pieces in the mix.
Then add the ½ cup granulated sugar, and1 tblsp flour and process again for about ten seconds until the mixture is fine.
Then add the stick of butter cut into pieces, 1 egg, 1 tsp almond extract and 2 tbslp brandy and process until combined into a paste.
Fill the cooled tart pan with almond batter. Arrange the slices of pear in whatever decorative pattern you’d like and press them gently into the batter.
Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Stir in the remaining 1 tblsp of lemon juice to the glaze for a bit of freshness and while the tart is still warm, drizzle the glaze over the entire top of the tart and then let it cool.
You can garnish with powdered sugar if you’d like before slicing into it and serving. Enjoy!