As I have mentioned before, I have an ongoing love affair with Italy. It started at an early age with grainy photos in our family’s Encyclopedia set and continued with a multi-country school trip to Europe at 17. Then, a semester in college living, speaking, eating, and smelling the country up close officially sealed the deal. It breaks my heart that it has been long, too long, since I’ve been back but whenever I get a little Italy-sick I seek out recipes that can take my taste buds there.
Marzipan is one of those passports. At 20, I had never even heard of the stuff but it lined the shop windows of every big-windowed bakery in Florence. Delicate and brightly colored pears, apples, and strawberries sparkling with sugar and stacked high on silver trays drew me from across the piazzas. At first naive glance, I thought they were decorative soaps or even little candles, until I spotted an old lady exiting the shop mid-bite. Surely something this beautiful, can’t be edible?
The flavor is distinct and pure, unadulterated almond. Not everyone gets into marzipan but I adore the chewy, creamy texture. And dipped in melted chocolate? Don’t even get me started. Though most are mass-produced these days with the aid of molds, I sought out a few shops dedicated to the art of hand shaping and painting where you could watch the masters at work. Real apples, after all, are not pure red but, flecked with bits of green or yellow and perhaps dented in a spot or two.
Back in my post-college and all-to-adult real world, I don’t have the time (or desire) to create my own and the store-bought variety are often stale, never measuring up. So what to do when I’m searching for a fix? I stumbled upon this recipe for Lemon Almond Tart in my mom’s recipe binder and had a hunch it might fit the bill. Scribbled down in her handwriting, I have no clue of its origin but with a few edits, it’s ideal for the almond lovers among us.
Though the flavor is strong on the nut, the lemon offers a wonderful splash of tartness to the filling, breaking up any intensity. I topped mine with some in-season strawberries and glazed them with a little simple syrup to give it that nostalgic marzipan sparkle.
It may not be as good as being there, but with a little imagination, it’ll do just fine.
Lemon Almond Tart
I rely on my good friend the food processor heavily in this recipe. However, if you do not own one, the crust can be made the old-fashioned way in a bowl with a fork to mix. Though I suggest you use butter closer to room temperature. The filling should be finely pulverized and blended well – a blender will work just the same.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and diced
4-5 Tb ice water
1 cup almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 cup almond paste
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh
4 tsp grated lemon zest
Sliced berries & simple syrup* (for decorating)
1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, powdered sugar, almond extract and salt until combined. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the size of peas. Drizzle in the ice water 1 Tb at a time, pulsing until a moist, crumb-like dough forms. Do not mix until a ball forms. The dough will be fine and powdery, but clump together when pressed.
2. Press firmly into a 10 or 11-inch tart pan and freeze until set, at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line frozen crust with parchment and fill with beans or pie weights. Bake 15 minutes, remove beans, and return to the oven for 8 minutes longer. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and allow crust to cool completely.
3. In the food processor, blend together the toasted almonds, almond paste, and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, heavy cream, lemon juice, lemon zest. Blend until fully combined. Pour into the cooled tart shell and bake at 350 until set, about 35-40 minutes. Cool in the pan and top with berries. Paint with simple syrup. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Remove the tart from the fridge 30 minutes prior to serving for ease in slicing.
*Note: For the unacquainted, simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water heated until the sugar dissolves and then cooled