Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Almond Tarts

Almond tarts seem to be one of the favorites for the agape at our Order of Scáthach rituals, so I thought that I’d post the recipe. Almonds are the kernel of the fruit of the Prunus dulcis, which resembles a peach, but is inedible. They are perhaps the oldest known nut crop. There are two types: Sweet and bitter. Bitter almonds contain prussic acid and must be blanched and roasted to make them edible.
Archeological evidence shows that almonds were being collected from the wild by the inhabitants of Franchthi Cave by 10,000 BC, and in Turkey, Syria and Palestine by that time or soon afterwards.[1] By the third millennium BCE cultivation was probably under way in Jordan. Almonds were typically included in ancient Greek banquets. The ancient Romans often used them to flavor food and their sugared almonds were one of the first known sweetmeats. Ancient people also prized almonds for their medicinal properties.
Medieval recipes often included almond flour or almond “milk”, which was used as a substitute for eggs on days of fasting.[2] Almond paste is the basic of many Medieval cakes and confections, such as macaroons and marzipan. Sugar coated almonds, called comfits, were offered as wedding gifts in Medieval times.
Almond tarts are one of my favorites. I use a sweet dough based on Italian pasta frolla for the crust of my almond tarts.
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups (300 gm/11 oz) flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sugar
Almond Filling:
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 ½ cups finely ground almonds or almond paste
½ teaspoon almond extract or amaretto
Crust: Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add flour and mix to form a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Take balls of dough about 1 inch in diameter and press them into each recess of a greased miniature tart tin to cover the bottom and sides.
Filing: Beat the eggs in a bowl with a whisk. Add the other ingredients and mix together well. Put about 1 teaspoon full of filling in each tart crust (they’ll be slightly mounded when full). Bake at 325 F for about 25 minutes. The edges of the crust should start to brown. Makes about 2 dozen. Let them cool completely. Some people like to dust them with a little icing sugar and/or garnish the tops with sliced almonds. Some like to put a sugar glaze on the tops. I like to frost them with a butter cream icing:
½ cup butter
3 cups icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons cream
Cream the butter and 2 cups of the icing sugar together. Add the vanilla and milk, then the remaining cup of icing sugar.
Variation: You can put a tiny bit of jam in the bottom of each crust before putting in the almond filling. This makes each tart a bit like a Bakewell tart.

Kerr Cuhulain

[1] Food in the Ancient World From A-Z, Andrew Dalby [Routledge:London] 2003 (p. 6)
[2] Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Conee Ornelas [Cambridge University Press:Cambridge] 2000 Volume 2, (p. 1717)

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