On Sunday, I made this tart. And it was, ahem, not one of the prettiest things to ever come out my kitchen. I had the best of intentions. I discovered an actual tart pan in the kitchen of the Lama House, so that my tart could actually resemble a tart, rather than whatever would ensue from the tart ring I had planned to fabricate out of tin foil. I successfully adapted my frangipane in the direction of a pastry cream to account for a slight deficit of almond meal. I had exactly the right amount of chocolate for the ganache. It was going to be gorgeous enough to impress the natives of France, which is truly the land of tarts.
But then I started the actual process of making it. The dough baked much faster than I anticipated, so that it was dark at the edges but still quite blond at the base. The frangipane bubbled up one side, and even after I remedied that by covering it with ganache, the ganache got all ripply while I was transferring the tart to the fridge. Not to mention that half the crust shattered while I was unmolding the darn thing. I ate the shards of pate sucree as consolation. One must get through these things somehow.
After all that, I wasn’t exactly, totally looking forward to presenting it to my cohort. They’d found out that I worked as the pastry chef at a restaurant in California, and I aspired to live up to what the term “patissière” signifies, though in truth my experience brings me nowhere close to the true pastry chefs of either France or the US. I cached the thing in the fridge and somewhat ruefully brought it out after lunch, hoping it would at least be tasty enough to overcome its aesthetic shortcomings.
We cut it into thin slivers to share it among the many of us that there were, and everyone hurrahed as we dug in. I feared that the frangipane was maybe a teeny bit overdone and that the salt wasn’t evenly distributed, but no one remarked it. In fact, every one was thrilled. It’s amazing how even such a small thing as a slightly unsightly pastry can bring about a collective joy that is quite out of proportion with the sum of its parts.
The next day, some one stopped me in the stairwell to thank me again. She said, “It was a moment of perfection, like I haven’t had in ages: the crust was tender, the frangipane was just sweet enough, the chocolate was soft, and the temperature was – ah, just right! So thank you for that.”
And I thought, this is the reason why we make things. Because even though, every time you start, uncertainty nips at your heels, and during each step along the way, unforeseen obstacles may befall you, when it’s all done, you may have something to give, something that extends beyond the borders of what you thought possible to bring something meaningful into the lives of others. Even if it’s just a single moment of gastronomic joy, it matters. What we share and what we can exchange far outweighs the doubts and struggles that go along with bringing anything into this world, be it a pastry, a painting, a song, or an idea.
Recipe after the jump…
Chocolate Frangipane Tart
Pâte Sucrée (from Joanne Chang, da best)
1/2 cup (114 grams) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup (50 grams) sugar
1 cup (140 grams) AP flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 cup almond meal (110 grams) almond meal
½ cup (114 grams) butter
2 tablespoons (50 grams) honey
2 ½ tablespoons (30 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50 grams) heavy cream
1 ¾ cups (150 grams) semisweet chocolate chips or good quality chocolate cut into chunks
½ cup (100 grams) heavy cream
¼ cup (50 grams) unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 170˚ C/325˚ F.
Line a 10-inch tart pan with parchment.
For the pâte sucrée, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and the sugar has dissolved. Sift in the flour and salt, and beat in gently just until combined. The mixture will be slightly dry and crumbly. Add the egg yolk and beat until a soft dough forms. Flatten the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour. Roll the dough into an eleven-inch circle, press into the tart pan, and return to the fridge for 30-minutes to allow the gluten to relax so that the dough doesn’t shrink.
In a medium saucepan, spread the almond meal. On medium-low heat, slowly cook the meal until it begins to brown. You will smell it before you can see it, so stay close. As the almond meal toasts, stir it gently so that it browns evenly. Continue until the entire pan is golden brown. When done, transfer to a large mixing bowl. In another medium saucepan, melt the butter and cook on medium-low until the milk solids in the butter also brown. When the butter smells good and nutty, stir it into the almond meal. Add the rest of the ingredients for the frangipane, and mix until completely combined.
Pour the frangipane into the tart shell and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until lightly browned and set in the center. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
For the ganache, place all ingredients into a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pan of water on medium heat. As soon as the butter and chocolate begin to melt, start whisking gently. Increase speed as the melting continues. When just a few lumps of chocolate remain, remove the bowl from the boiler and whisk until smooth. Pour the ganache over the tart and allow to set at room temperature. The tart can be served at room temperate but it is extra delicious if refrigerated for an hour or so before serving.