Cut into buttery little pieces, this cross between a tart and a cookie crumbles and then melts away as you eat it. Best of all, this recipe belies the assumption that you need the angels on your shoulder to make tender pastry, and that it takes a lot of time.
This shortbread comes together in a blur. You sidestep a rolling pin by patting the crust into the pan with your fingers, and the filling is as easy as taking jam straight from the refrigerator.
Shortbread is a gift to all the pastry-shy of this world. Its generous amount of butter and lack of liquid protects the dough from toughening. Shortbread is also the first cousin of the dreaded piecrust.
Learn to make shortbread and any piecrust will fall at your feet. There is one key step in this recipe which will ensure success with any pie dough you ever attempt. Once all the ingredients are together in the processor, pulse them only until they begin to gather together in small clumps -- better early than late.
Cook to Cook: You can take this filling in many directions. For instance, mix together bits of jam from the bottoms of the jars in the refrigerator, use sweet chutneys and conserves, add citrus zest and spices or merely dust the pastry with cinnamon and sugar before baking.
When you bake with almonds, as in this shortbread, remember that the ones sold in the baking aisle are often tasteless. It's better to use nuts from the snack section. Don't worry if they are salted or not skinned, they will be fine in this recipe.
Serve the tart warm, but not hot because hot jam can burn. Keeps 2 days tightly wrapped on the counter.
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup whole almonds
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, organic preferred (measured by dipping and leveling)
1/4 cup sugar
Generous pinch salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in 6 chunks
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 to 3/4 cup jam (tart cherry and wild blueberry are especially good)
1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Butter a 9-inch dark-colored cake or tart pan. (If using a silver-colored pan, bake the tart an additional 5 minutes to brown the bottom of the crust.)
2. With the food processor running, drop in the lemon peel and almonds, and grind them fine. Stop the machine, scrape down the sides, and add the flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg yolk, and almond extract. Pulse until they are blended and start to come together in small clumps at the bottom of the processor. (They should look like clusters of peas.)
3. Turn the pastry into the pan. With your hands pat it out to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Give the tart a standing rim by nudging the dough up the sides of the pan by 1/2 inch. Don't worry if it looks a little ragged.
4. Bake the crust in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, or until its edges are golden and the center is starting to color. The rim will sink down a little, which is fine.
5. Remove the pan from the oven, and turn the heat up to 500ºF. Carefully spread the jam over the tart, and return it to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the jam is bubbly.
6. Cool the tart on a rack, slice it into squares or wedges, and serve.
From The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, Clarkson Potter, 2008.
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