Frangipane has an interesting history involving gloves, perfume, and a poisonous nut.
The story starts in the early 1600s with an Italian nobleman, Marquis Muzio Frangipani, who served as a perfumer to King Louis XIII of France. Apparently, at the time, the clothing of nobility would be heavily perfumed, especially gloves. (Perhaps this was due to the lack of bathing, and when one was confronted with a particularly potent scent, one could always put one’s gloves up to one’s nose.) Anyway, the story goes that Sig. Frangipani introduced to the royal court gloves scented with a perfume made from bitter almonds, and Parisian society went wild, inspiring French pastry chefs to create a pastry cream incorporating almonds in an attempt to recreate the scent in the form of a dessert, which they named after Sig. Frangipani.
What I learned upon researching this story is that bitter almonds, a variety of Prunus amygdalus — the same species that gives us sweet almonds — are poisonous. They naturally contain amygdalin, a toxic compound which, when broken down, produces cyanide. Although they lose their toxicity when they are baked or boiled, it is illegal to sell them in the U.S. However, bitter almonds are still used in Europe and other countries to make marzipan, Christmas stollen and the Greek drink soumada, as well as almond extract.
Which explains why sweet almonds, the ones we snack on and grind up to make almond flour, do not have the same flavor that we get from almond extract. That flavor comes from benzaldehyde, another byproduct of amygdalin when it’s broken down to form hydrocyanic acid. And benzaldehyde gives us the flavor we’re looking for in frangipane.
Traditionally, frangipane is made first by making a typical pastry cream and then combining it with almond cream — a mixture of butter, sugar, eggs and almond meal. But more frequently these days, most recipes skip the pastry cream and simply refer to the almond cream as frangipane. Frangipane is used in galette des rois (kings’ cake), Bakewell tart, pithivier, and a French pastry called Jésuite, a triangular flaky pastry filled with frangipani and said to be formed in the shape of a Jesuit’s hat.
The brief for this challenge was to make a tart with shortcrust pastry and an open top. The judges were looking for “mouthwatering frangipane,” “full-flavored fruit“ and, as always, no soggy bottom!
Wanting to take advantage of seasonal fruits, I chose to make a strawberry-rhubarb frangipane tart. I started with the pastry, adapted from a recipe found on Baked-TheBlog.com. Once I mixed the dough and had it chilling in the fridge, I began making the jam, which I adapted from FeastGloriousFeast.com. I specifically looked for a seedless jam recipe so people wouldn’t get seeds stuck their my teeth when eating my tart. After forming and blind-baking the tart shell, I turned to the frangipane, which I adapted from UrbanFarmAndKitchen.com.
To assemble the tart, I spread a thin layer of jam over the cooled pastry shell. Then I spread the frangipane over that, using an offset spatula to make it as smooth and even as possible. I then arranged the fruit on top. I was making a rectangular tart, and my rhubarb stalks were pretty thin, so I created a pattern of rhubarb squares surrounded by a border of quartered strawberries with a small strawberry slice inside each square. I was pleased that the pattern held up well during baking, and because my rhubarb is green, not the appetizing red you see in pictures of most rhubarb tarts, I glazed it with more warmed strawberry jam to give it a pinkish tint and a shiny finish.
I love frangipane, and the combination of almonds with strawberries and rhubarb tastes like a summer afternoon having tea in the garden, surrounded by almond blossoms and fruited vines. The elements of this tart are very versatile, so if you decide to make it yourself, feel free to switch out the fruits and jam with any combination that is in season and suits your fancy.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Frangipane Tart
Jam recipe adapted from FeastGloriousFeast.com
Frangipane recipe adapted from UrbanFarmAndKitchen.com
For the pastry:
For the jam:
For the frangipane:
- ½ c. unsalted butter, softened
- ½ c. sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1¼ t. almond extract
- 1¼ c. almond flour
- 3 T. all-purpose flour
- ¼ t. salt
For the fruit layer:
- To make the pastry, add flour and butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on low until coarse and crumbly, about 2-3 minutes. Add sugar and salt to bowl and mix to combine, then add the egg yolk. Mix on low until yolk is well-distributed and mixture is coarse and crumbly.
- With mixer on low, slowly dribble 2 tablespoons ice water into the flour. Mix for a minute to see if the dough will begin to gather together. If dough is still quite dry and crumbly, add more water, ½ teaspoon at a time, until the dough begins to clump together. Then stop the mixer, dump dough out onto a work surface, gather together and shape into a smooth disc. Wrap in plastic or beeswax wrap and chill in fridge for at least 1 hour.
- While dough is chilling, make the jam: First place two small ceramic plates in the freezer. Then wash and trim the tops off the strawberries. Blitz them well in a blender or food processor, as smooth as possible, then sieve them into a large saucepan, using a spatula to push the pulp through. (Don’t forget to scrape the pulp off the underside of the sieve into the pan.)
- Add the sugar and lemon juice to the pan. On medium-low heat, stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Allow the jam to come to a rolling boil, and boil for 6-7 minutes or until it reaches 225°F. Stir gently and scrape the sides and bottom of the pan about every minute.
- Remove jam from heat and take one of the plates out of the freezer. Use a small spoon to put a dollop of jam on the plate. Leave for 1 minute and then push the outside edge of the jam toward the center of the dollop. If it wrinkles, the jam is ready. If not, put the pan back on the heat for another minute or so. Repeat testing as many times as needed. When jam is done, pour into a clean glass container and leave to cool before refrigerating.
- To blind bake the crust, remove dough from fridge and let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature before rolling. Have a 9-inch round or a rectangular tart tin with a removable bottom ready.
- Line a work surface with a piece of wax paper large enough for the rolled-out dough. Sprinkle paper lightly with flour and place unwrapped dough on paper. Sprinkle top of dough lightly with flour, then begin to gently roll the dough, turning the paper one quarter turn with each roll, until the dough is approximately 12 inches in diameter (or roughly 3 inches longer and wider than the rectangular tin).
- To transfer dough to the tin, gently slide your hand under the wax paper and flip the dough over. Carefully peel away the sheet of wax paper that had been on the bottom. Slide the bottom of the tart pan underneath the dough and fold the sides of dough into the center, then transfer to the tart pan.
- Press dough gently against the bottom and up the sides of the tin. Patch any holes or tears with the overhanging dough, leaving about half an inch of dough hanging over the edges. Place unbaked tart shell in freezer for 30 minutes.
- While pastry shell is chilling, wash and trim strawberries and rhubarb, halving strawberries and cutting rhubarb into desired shapes. Place on paper towels to drain.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove crust from freezer and line it with aluminum foil or parchment. Fill with pie weights, dried beans or uncooked rice. Place crust in preheated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and remove pie weights and foil. Return pastry shell to oven and bake for 10-12 more minutes, until just beginning to turn golden. Cool on wire rack and trim overhanging edges with a serrated knife before filling.
- To make the frangipane, add softened butter and sugar to mixer bowl and beat on medium-low speed until it has a smooth consistency. Lower mixer speed and add the eggs, one at a time, while continuing to mix on low. Add almond extract and continue mixing on low, scraping bowl as needed. While mixer is running on low, add almond meal, flour and salt. Continue mixing until mixture has a smooth, batter-like consistency.
- Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in the middle position. Spread cooled pastry shell with jam. Spread frangipane over the jam, using an offset spatula to create a smooth and even layer. Arrange strawberries and rhubarb over the frangipane in desired pattern, pushing them into the mixture slightly.
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the tart just begins to show some coloring. When cooled, brush with warmed jam.