Each baking challenge for the month is comprised of several absolute, non-negotiary elements the baker is required to complete within the recipe and a section that allows the baker to use whim and creativity. The shortbread crust needed to be made from scratch, asking the baker to grate frozen butter into a flour mixture and "quickly" use fingers to make the mixture resemble bread crumbs. What a great way to blend butter into flour! I know this would work wonders for making pie dough, well, any mixture requiring butter to be quickly added so as not to melt the butter in the mixture and toughen the dough. The second mandatory element was creating the frangipane. Frangipane is a creamy almond flavored mixture used as a filling or, in this case, topping for a tart. I have never made frangipane before and the flavor and texture were both new experiences. Delicious! Beautiful! Easy! Very Tasty!
The part of the recipe allowing for creativity is the jam or curd sandwiched between the shortbread crust and the frangipane topping. My choice...: Oven Baked Apple Butter! My Grandma taught me how to make apple butter this way and because the recipe chosen comes from a long line of tradition, sounded like a tart my Grandma would have loved, and because apple butter is one of the first recipes that made me realize I actually loved baking along with giving me my first sense of accomplishment in the kitchen, I dedicated my choice to Grandma. Bakewell Tart...er...Pudding with an Apple Butter filling.
Recipe for Oven Apple Butter
2 quarts water
6 pounds apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
2 quarts sweet cider
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. allspice
Combine water and salt. Add apples. Drain well but do not rinse slices.
Put through food chopper, using finest blade. Measure pulp and juice (there should be 2 quarts).
Combine with cider. Place in large, oven safe pan. Center pan in 350 degree oven. Let mixture simmer about 3 to 3 1/2 hours until cooked down about half and is thick and mushy. Stir thoroughly every half hour.
Put mixture through sieve or food mill; it should measure out to be about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 quarts.
Combine sugar and spices; add to sauce and return to oven. Continue simmering about 1 1/2 hours or until thick, stirring every half hour. To test, pour small amount onto cold plate. If no liquid oozes around edge, apple butter is cooked.
Pour into hot jars; adjust lids and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars and complete seals. Makes 2 quarts.
Sweet shortcrust pastry
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film
225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water
Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.
Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.
Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour
Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200C/400F.
Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.
The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.
When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.