Apple and amaretti tart

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Pâtisserie Valerie is one of Soho’s surviving treasures. A Belgian-owned coffee shop originally, I believe, it has been run by the same Italian family for the last forty years. The present generation are rather energetic, and have converted a very dowdy little business into a roaring success with a branch in Knightsbridge of all places. The miracle is that they have done all this without ruining the place. It is so busy now I hardly use it at all, but until ten years ago it was my breakfast haunt. There was never any shortage of characters about the place, but my fondest memories were of Jeffrey Bernard and Jackie ‘Kid’ Berg. Jeffrey was a regular, but I only ever met the only Englishman to retire undefeated as a boxing world champion once, when he came in with his artist daughter, Stephanie.

Pâtisserie Valerie used to supply various tarts and pastries to the Old Compton Wine Bar, but I have to say they were not very good in those days. (Another miracle of the place’s regeneration: the things that needed improving, have been, and those that did not, like the distinctive croissants, have been left alone.) The French apple tart was possibly their worst effort historically and, consequently, the first one I learned to make. The incorporation of amaretti biscuits was inspired by a picture in an Italian cookbook by Bugliagi. The photo in question was of four rather dry pastries on a table, in a large room, in the ducal palace at Mantua. The whole effect was so stunning that I had to make them. Unfortunately recipes were not supplied, so frangipane was substituted for apple purée, and the amaretti included to transform the French tart into a sexy Italian number.

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Ingredients

  • 1 sweet pastry case in a loose-bottomed 25 cm tin
  • 6 dessert apples (not cooking apples, whatever is best at the time of year)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 25 g butter

Frangipane

  • 50 g plain flour
  • 50 g caster sugar
  • 50 g butter
  • 30 g ground almonds
  • 2 amaretti biscuits, crushed
  • 2 medium eggs

Topping

  • 2 amaretti biscuits, crushed
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar

Method

Making the Frangipane

Put all the ingredients for the frangipane in a food processor and whizz until just mixed. Refrigerate until needed.

Preparing the Apples

Peel and core the apples, then cut into six segments. Immediately toss in the lemon juice and 1 tbsp sugar. Heat a non-stick frying pan thoroughly, add the butter and almost at once the apples. Sauté over a brisk heat, not tossing or stirring at all, for 2 minutes, then carefully turn the fruit to brown on the other faces. This process should only take 5 minutes in all. The apples will be golden brown and now require a light caramelisation. To do this, keep them on a high heat and add the remaining tablespoon of sugar. This will start to brown almost immediately and, as it does, roll the apples around. Allow to cool off the heat.

The various types of apples react in different ways to this process, and only trial and error will show you which stand up to cooking without going too mushy. As a general rule I prefer Cox’s or very similar apples such as Braeburns.

Assembling, Baking and Serving

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

Pack the frangipane into the pastry case; it should only half fill it. Push the apple segments in an even pattern into the case. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 170°C/325°F/Gas 3, and continue for a further half hour. Scatter the top with the crushed amaretti, dust with the icing sugar, then return to the oven for 5 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes and unmould. Best served warm, approximately 1 hour out of the oven.

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