I love summer fruit tarts but live in fear of traditional pastry dough, which is difficult to roll out, prone to shrink in the oven, and more often than not tough instead of tender when I finally take a bite. To avoid it, I've made tart crusts with graham cracker crumbs, frozen puff pastry and phyllo dough. But sometimes the best solution to the pastry dough challenge is to avoid it altogether, with a crustless fruit and frangipane tart.
Frangipane is a venerable tool in the pastry chef's kit. Not to be confused with marzipan, an almond candy made with ground nuts, sugar and corn syrup, it is a mixture of almonds or other nuts, sugar, butter and eggs, and falls somewhere between a custard and a cake batter. Food historians trace its name to a 16th century Italian nobleman, the Marquis Muzio Frangipani. Frangipani wasn't a great cook. Rather, he popularized almond-scented gloves among the European aristocracy. The scent became so popular that pastry chefs tried to capture it in desserts, concocting an almond-scented cream filling with many uses. And that's the last you'll hear about fine leather goods in this column that was supposed to be about fruit.
Frangipane is used inside petit fours and Danish pastries. Julia Child has a recipe for frangipane crepes. It fills the puff pastry confection known as King's Cake, which is served in France in January to celebrate the New Year. It is especially good as a foil for fruit in a simple tart. Spread across the bottom of a tart pan with a removable bottom, it becomes both crust and filling as it bakes, enveloping sliced peaches, plums or figs and soaking up their juices.
Although frangipane is traditionally made with almond paste or ground almonds, it can be made with any kind of nuts that might pair well with the fruit of your choice. I like pistachio frangipane with peaches, almond frangipane with figs, pecan frangipane with blueberries and hazelnut frangipane with apricots or cherries. The technique couldn't be easier. Finely grind the nuts in your food processor. Adding sugar will prevent them from becoming oily. Then, beat the ground nuts together with butter, egg yolks and a little bit of flour. Spread the batter in an even layer in your tart pan and arrange fresh fruit on top. Brushing the warm tart with a little jam when it comes out of the oven gives it a pretty shine. Alternatively, you could dust it with confectioners' sugar just before serving.
After you have made and eaten a crustless frangipane tart, you will marvel at its simplicity and fabulous flavor. There's no need to abandon the dessert with the arrival of fall. Substitute sliced apples or pears when September rolls around. Or make a frangipane ganache tart. It's easy: Bake the frangipane alone in the tart shell (without fruit, the tart will only need 25 minutes in the oven). While it cools, make a ganache by pouring 6 ounces of boiling heavy cream over 8 ounces of chopped chocolate, 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and a pinch of salt and whisking until smooth. Pour the warm ganache over the cooled tart and let stand until set, sprinkling with more nuts, if you'd like.
PLUM FRANGIPANE TART
1 cup walnut pieces plus more for garnish
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds ripe plums (about 6 small), pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Combine walnut pieces and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor and process until nuts are finely ground.
3. Combine nut mixture and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add vanilla and eggs and beat until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Mix in flour and salt until just combined.
4. Spread frangipane in an even layer in the prepared pan. Arrange plums on filling, cut-side up. Bake until firm and golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Brush with jam, sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of chopped nuts, and let cool completely on rack. Remove pan sides, slice and serve.
Makes 6 servings.