A summer tart or The importance of being Lewis

I am not always happy, indeed there are times when I feel downright disheartened. But I have always considered myself lucky. Lucky because I live, I cook, I love, I share. Lucky because my mindset and my circumstances have afforded me a life I enjoy. Lewis with tart

And lucky because in 2013 and I got to spend my Friday afternoons cooking with Lewis. You all know Lewis, he is that 13 year old into whom every mother hopes their boy will turn.

Lewis is keen, curious and polite. He's not shy but knows when to say nothing. He is engaged and engaging. He's always properly groomed but not fussy. He washes his hands when appropriate and never leaves anything on his plate. Lewis speaks 2 languages fluently and a 3rd not so shabbily. And, as if that wasn't enough, he loves to cook. He is, in short, a perfectly delightful human being and cooking companion.

I have looked hard for what is wrong with Lewis (as the mother of a 9 year old boy, I know perfection is not an innate trait in children). And though I am sure his mother will beg to differ,  I have yet to identify any flaw with which to fault him.

I am taking off to Italy for the summer this Wednesday, which makes today the last of Lewis I get until September. We are ending it sweetly, with tarts and the fruits of summer.

And by the way, I will be in touch from Italy, so stay tuned.

Crostata frangipane bionda alle albicocche Toasted almond cream and apricot tart

Let me preface that I am a less than artful baker, so this recipe relies not on originality but in putting together the well tried techniques of those whose work I find impeccable.

The pastry crust is an old Italian classic, from Pellegrino Artusi's The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, a 19th century compendium, which is one of my cooking bibles.

I have tried a number of frangipane recipes and the perfect one for my taste remains the one from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts. It is simple, easy and delicious. I do toast the almonds to a dark blond before grinding and use vanilla bean instead of almond extract, but the balance of ingredients is all Martha's. If you can find them, or have the patience to collect them when apricots are in season, you can make this with apricot kernels.

By the way, Lewis and I will be using apricots simply because I have a large bag of them hanging around, but any type of fruit will work for this recipe, so just go with your preference and your fruit bowl.

for a 9 to 10” tart pan:

Crostate frangipane

Crust: 2 cups (270 grams) flour ½ cup (115 grams) sugar ½ cup (135 grams) butter (or, even better, 90 grams butter and 45 grams lard) 4 egg yolks pinch of salt grated zest of a lemon

Filling: 1 cup almonds 10 apricots 1 vanilla bean 1 stick unsalted butter 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg 3 tablespoons rum 1 tablespoon flour

Prepare the pasta frolla: place all ingredients in the mixer with a paddle attachment, work on medium to high speed until they start coming together. Empty on top of a piece of plastic wrap and press together with the tip of your fingers, then form a flat round ball with the palm of your hands. Wrap tightly with plastic and place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.

If using a food processor, pulse until the ingredients start coming together, and then proceed as above.

To make the filling, blanch the almonds, remove the skin and toast them to a dark blond in one layer. Grind them very finely and let cool. Stone and quarter the apricots. Score the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape off the contents.

Cream the butter and sugar until the are pale and fluffy. Mix in the almonds, egg and vanilla. Then add the rum and lastly work in the flour.

Roll the pastry crust to about 1/4" and line the tart pan. Prick gently. Spread the almond cream in it into an even layer rising a just above half way up the sides of the crust.

Arrange the apricot quarters attractively in rows or concentric circles. Bake at 375˚F for approximately 45 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center exits slightly wet but clean and clear otherwise.