It’s been a couple of months now since I last participated in the Bake Along challenge so I was keen to try this month’s challenge which is an Italian Almond Tart. One of the main ingredients called for is Almond Paste which I have never come across here in the UK. A quick search on Google revealed quite a heated debate amongst the baking fraternity. It would appear that Almond Paste means something different depending on which country you come from. What I did learn is that Marzipan (as we know it in the UK) is not the same as Almond Paste. Almond Paste generally has equal quantities of ground almonds to sugar whereas Marzipan has a much higher ratio of sugar to almonds. I did have a look at a couple of brands of Marzipan and the quantity of almonds was only 25%. I also didn’t recognise a lot of the other ingredients which is never a good thing. Having established the ratio of sugar to almonds, the next deciding factor is what binding agent to use. This is where you see the difference between the different countries. I found recipes which used egg white, egg yolk, whole egg, water, sugar syrup, honey and some even had alcohol in them. I opted for the whole egg but only because I didn’t want to have to deal with the problem of a stray yolk or 1 egg white to use up. I also added Cointreau but to be honest I couldn’t taste it in the finished product. The end result was delicious and made for a perfect Almond Tart. It is really quick and so easy to make and freezes beautifully. No excuses… you have to try and make your own homemade almond paste. You won’t regret it.
If you are making a tart which requires a pastry shell to hold the filling then this is the pastry you will need. Shortcrust pastry is one of the easier pastries to work with because of the low fat content. It is more common to bake the pastry shell first and then add the filling to ensure a nice crisp bottom but the filling can be added to the raw shell and then baked. The quantity below is more than enough to make a standard tart using a tin size up to 26cm. If you have any pastry left over it can be wrapped tightly in cling film and frozen for later use. There are a couple of tips which help to make the process easier:
Measure all ingredients accurately.
Work with cold ingredients and cold hands.
Rest your pastry in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour to help with the rolling out process and to prevent shrinkage when baking.
If baking the empty shell then always bake blind. Use a piece of baking paper slightly bigger than the size of the tin. Crumple it up and then flatten it out again. Place it in the pastry case and add enough ceramic baking beans to cover the bottom of the pastry case. You want enough weight from the baking beans to prevent the dough from puffing up during cooking. If you can keep the pastry in contact with the hot tin whilst baking this will ensure even baking and a nice crisp shell.
Cut the chilled butter into small blocks (about 1cm in diameter).
Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. (If making the sweet shortcrust pastry then add your sugar with the flour and salt).
Add the butter and using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. If the butter starts to melt then chill your mixture or run your hands under cold water before continuing.
Mix in the beaten eggs and combine with the flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough. You may need to add in some of the water at this stage if the mixture is too dry. Do not overwork the mixture.
Wrap in cling film and rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 200°C (400° F).
Using a floured surface roll the pastry out and place in your desired tin, easing in gently. Try not to overstretch the pastry as this will cause the pastry shell to shrink when baking.
Neaten the edge by running a knife round the top edge to remove excess pastry.
Bake blind (see notes above) for approximately 15 minutes.
Remove baking beans and paper from pastry shell.
Return to oven for a further 10 minutes until nicely golden and crisp.
Your pastry case is now ready for filling or can be frozen at this point to be used at a later date.