Making an elegant tart for the holidays can be easy, if you set your ingredients out beforehand. When you do that, it’s simply a matter of adding ingredients into your mixer. Your dough is ready in a matter of minutes, and your tart will be baking before you know it.
This is a variation of an Italian dessert called fregolotta. (For recipe, click here.) I first came across the recipe in one of pastry chef Cindy Mushet’s cookbooks, but I’ve tinkered with it so much that it has become my own. For example, I found the original recipe a little stingy on fruit. A friend who has copied the recipe found my version equally stingy, so feel free to add as much or as little as you would like.
The first step is to make sure your butter and your jam or jelly are both at room temperature before you start. This makes the process of assembling everything so much easier.
First, cream your butter for about 1 minute at a medium speed, then add the oil and whip for another minute. This allows air into the butter and it will make your tart lighter. Slowly add the sugar and salt. I like to use a coarse salt because the combined flavor of salt, butter and fruit when you bite into it is spectacular.
Now is the time to add the almond extract. If you are allergic to nuts or just don’t like the flavor or texture, you can substitute vanilla at this point and omit the almond slivers from the topping
Once the flour has been incorporated and your dough has formed, remove 3/4 of a cup of dough and press it onto a plate. (If your dough has crumbled, which can happen because of the butter and the humidity of the day, just leave it in crumbles.) Place this in the freezer, so it’s good and cold when you place the tart in the oven.
Then press the dough in your tart pan or 9-inch baking pan (can be square or round). Cover with whatever amount of jam you wish (room temperature jam is easier to spread and won’t tear your dough). To me, the tart is about the flavor of butter, though who can resist fig, raspberry or apricot preserves in the mix? You aren’t limited in your choice of what to use. It could be cherry, a perfect partner with almond, or marmalade
Crumble the dough from the freezer on top. Sprinkle on your almonds and bake. The baking process depends on the type of oven you are using. An electric oven will usually bake the tart in half the time of a gas oven. You’ll know it’s done when the dough takes on a more golden glow
You can easily double this recipe. I’ve tried to triple it before, because I make about 100 of these as presents each year in various sizes, but my Kitchen Aid bowl is not big enough to hold all of the ingredients and mix them without flour flying everywhere.
If you want to add a snowy touch, sprinkle powdered sugar on top, but only before serving. The moisture of the tart will absorb much of the powdered sugar after awhile. This tart keeps unrefrigerated for several days.
(Photos: John Griffin & Nicholas Mistry)