A tussle with an inimitable Portuguese Caramelized Almond tart
This simple tart, if made correctly, is simply out of this world. We were first introduced to it when we were invited to lunch at Feito no Zambujal. It had been made by a local Portuguese lady who was one of their clients. In this area of the Algarve, as in the whole region, its a tradition that the women have the knowledge and ability to make these inimitable richest of desserts that have been proven down the centuries, with the most humble materials, butter, eggs, sugar and of course almonds. They are closely protected family secrets and that´s why we are only lucky enough to stumble on them by chance. This one is a Portuguese classic, it has a rich, crumbly, buttery cookie-like base. The topping is.... dreamy, it's caramelized, crunchy and nutty. Really easy to make, you don't even need a rolling pin for the crust.The hardest part was emulating the recipe and cracking its spell. It was a case of try and try again. Stupidly I should have followed my original instinct and not drawn from others recipes. Our memory of this dulce de delight was of of a rich sticky creamy caramel embedded with toasty crunchy almonds on an almost Breton sable biscuit base. My first attempt was nothing like this. It was more of an almond shortbread brittle. Perhaps I hadn´t kept a proper eye on the topping once it went into the oven, you don't want it to burn. Following my original instincts to formulate a recipe using my own pet recipe for a flor de sal caramel, everything changed and a house of wonders awakened. The result was wow-factor- that not only looked delicious, it tasted amaaaaazing. It was still not a match for the original, but trust me, you will have to make it, and see for yourself. Another visit to Feito no zambujal is now needed to check just how far from the original I was with my interpretation.
NOTE:The flavour of my flor de sal caramel is very grown up and smoky with strong hits of vanilla and not to everyone´s taste: most surprisingly the thespian balked at my interpretation but I loved it. If you have a favourite caramel recipe use that or alternatively use a jar of good quality branded caramel. I´m only speaking for those faint-hearted caramelites among you.
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup sugar
½ cup butter, melted
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups flour
Flor de Sal caramel
In a medium saucepan combine the sugar and syrup or honey carefully. They will not combine well until the sugar begins to melt.Cook over a high heat until a thermometer reads 350º (6-8 minutes). Without a thermometer just pull the pan off the heat when it is a medium goldish brown. It will continue to cook in the heat of the pan.( Better pull it off early than be sorry). Remove from the heat and let it cool for 1 minute.
Add the cream mixture and vanilla to the sugar mix. Whisk in the creme fraiche.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla and sugar until uniform.
Add melted butter and salt, and whisk to combine.
Whisk flour into wet mixture until dough is formed.
Press into greased 10” tart pan with your fingers, evenly distributing dough within the pan.
Bake for 15–20 minutes, until lightly golden at edges.
Pour almond caramel mixture on top of crust and spread into an even layer.
Increase oven temperature to 200°C.
Put tart on sheet pan (in case of spillage) and bake for another 15–20 minutes. Tart is ready when deep golden brown color is visible.
Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling.
Serve with creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream and plenty of black coffee.