While I bake throughout the year, winter is when I really kick into high gear. Partially because if you got to have heaters on why not have an oven filled with baked goods heating the room?
My philosophy in baking is that is just as cheap to make four loaves of bread as one. So why not bake four and give three away?
My conceit is that I am changing the taste buds of Shasta County one loaf at a time, but really I just enjoy baking and the pleasure that it gives people. Here is a very tasty torte that I made recently for a woman at work who was leaving for another job.
Dutch Almond Torte
1 1/3 cups almonds
½ cup sugar
½ tsp almond extract
3 tbs. water
14 tbs. unsalted soft butter
2/3 cups sugar
4 large eggs
¾ cups cake flour
½ lb unsalted butter
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbs. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup cold water
1 cup apricot preserves
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make the tart dough as follows: Put flour, salt and sugar in food processor with ‘S’ blade. Cut butter into chunks about an inch thick and add to flour and pulse food processor until it looks like coarse meal. Add cold water until it comes together. You may need to mix it a little by hand after you take it out of the processor, but don’t over mix.
At this point I usually form the dough into an circle cover it with wrap and put it into the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting is a good time to make your apricot glaze. After 30 minutes take out the dough and divide it into half. Take each half and form into a flat circle. Put dough on a well-floured surface, sprinkle flour on top of dough and roll from the center to make a circle 13 inches in diameter. If it begins to stick, pick up gently and throw a little more flour under the dough. If need be you can always put it back in the refrigerator if it gets too sticky. Another thing I sometimes do is add 20 percent to the dough recipe. You may have to throw a little a way, but it gives you a little slack in rolling. After you have rolled one circle put the edge of the dough loosely on your rolling pin and roll the pin toward – you not putting any pressure on the dough.
Unroll the rolling pin over a 10-inch tart pan, letting the dough drape over the edges. Gently lift the dough until it settles in the bottom of the pan. Fold the overlapping dough into the sides of the pan and press against sides until it comes to the top of the sides. If it is above the top of the sides press against top of tart pan to remove, place finished pan in a bag and put in refrigerator. Now roll the other dough out into a 13-inch circle. Cut 10 strips – ½ inch wide – place in a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and put in the refrigerator.
Now is the time to make the filling: Toast almonds about seven minutes in the oven. You can buy toasted almonds pieces at Winco and save yourself both time and money. Remove from oven and grind with ‘S’ blade in your food processor until fine. Add ½ cup water and almond extract process until it forms a firm paste.
Using the paddle attachment on your mixer beat butter and sugar on high speed until light. Lower the speed and add almond paste in three batches, mixing well after each addition. Add 2 eggs and mix. Add half the flour, the other two eggs, and then the other flour, mixing well after each addition.
Bake the tart shell in the oven until golden. The bottom will come up a little, but it will go down as it cools. Brush the bottom of the tart with apricot glaze. Allow to cool before filling. Lower the oven temp to 375 degrees.
After shell cools spread the filling in the shell. Take the dough strips out of the refrigerator and lay five dough strips with space in between across the shell. Turn a ¼ turn and lay the other five strips across, forming diamonds in the empty spaces. Place thinly sliced almonds in the empty spaces. (You can also buy these at Winco in the bulk section. Almonds are a pain to slice.) Press down the ends of the strips on edges of tart. Remove any excess.
Bake until strips on top of torte are golden brown and the filling is firm.
Remove from oven and brush with warm apricot glaze. After 10 minutes brush again with glaze. Remove from tart pan. An easy way to do this is to place the pan over a flat-bottomed cup or bowl and gently push down on sides. If it is stuck anywhere gently insert thin knife and free. Don’t forget to remove the bottom of the pan from the tart while still warm a flat turner works well for this.
To make apricot glaze, place ingredients in saucepan and heat until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and press through a fine sieve. It needs to be warm to use.
All this may sound complicated, but actually it isn’t. The only tricky part if you haven’t done it before is rolling the dough and getting in the pan right. But the good part about this is if you make a mistake with the dough just roll it back in a ball flatten wrap put back in the refrigerator, let it rest an hour and start over. If you have any pieces of dough that aren’t needed save then if you have a hole in the bottom of the shell moisten and use a piece of left over dough to patch.
Lee Riggs is a Zen priest living in Shasta County who cooked and baked for many years at San Francisco Zen Center. He is a devoted gardener. His simple credo is that butter is better and that you should be able to taste the hops in beer.