Friday, February 1, 2008

Finessing the Queen - Almond Cherry Tarts

I have never been one for playing cards. Despite an ancient copy of Hoyle’s Rules of Games laying around in a state of shambled de-pagination, it’s been the rare occasion that I have detoured from the board saga of Monopoly into a world fit for only one player, solitaire. I suspect I probably never would have ventured any interest at all except for my endless fascination with the picture, or court, card. Even as a child, beyond the immature cravings for all things visually dramatic, I sensed something mysterious and stylish about these fine figures with their opulent attire, uber-groomed tresses and stately bearing. Beyond that, I was intrigued by their faces, sorting through the almost imperceptible distinctions, selecting which ones I thought pretty or handsome, retiring or bold, making up elaborate stories that would animate them as I did when playing with my dolls.

As an adult, I still enjoy studying them in the same way, but with an obviously far more discerning eye and a keen interest in who these prototypes actually were. Scanning the twelve countenances, I am repeatedly struck by how each royal is preoccupied by a range of world-weary emotions from consternation to induration. There are no smiley faces here. Clearly, it is uneasy lie the heads that wears these crowns. But what’s with the queen of red romance, the queen of hearts? Is she really that much more morose than the rest of them, or do we expect more from the promise of love and notice it more sharply when it doesn’t deliver?

If I could fill in the blanks of her life, I suspect she was raised in the claustrophobic confines of royal responsibility, groomed since birth to be the consort in a politically expedient marriage to the sovereign of another territory. Unless she was particularly well positioned in lineage, she would not exercise any real clout during a formidable reign as Elizabeth I and Victoria did. This would make me peevish, too. Though love matches were not unheard of, she was probably at the mercurial mercies of a king who was likely a knave, and a jack who certainly was one. I want to invite her over to my place. You can tell she needs to commiserate; you can tell she needs some sugar. I’ll get the kettle going and the fancy cake plates arranged, but first I’ll give her a lesson in how to bake. She’s never been in a kitchen before; birds in gilded cages aren’t allowed. By the end of the afternoon, she will be mussed up with flour and giddy with accomplishment. She will actually crack a smile. Teach a woman to apply lipstick, and she will be happy for a night. Teach a woman to bake, and she will be happy for the rest of her life.

Almond Cherry Mini Tarts - Slightly adapted from the Williams-Sonoma recipe


Twelve 2-2 1/2-inch miniature tart tins (removable bottom preferred)

1 recipe double-crust pie dough - From the Betty Groff recipe

Cherry preserves (see below)

Almond filling (see below)

Dough Ingredients

2 ½ cups all-purpose white flour
½ stick butter
½ cup vegetable shortening
Ice water


In a large bowl, cut or rub between fingers butter and shortening into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add water a little at a time, tossing & folding with a rubber spatula between additions. As you continue to add, toss and fold small amounts of water, press the mixture with the spatula against the bowl until the dough can easily form a ball. Use as much ice water as you need, adding it incrementally. It is better the dough be moister than dry; dry dough will not roll out evenly.

Transfer dough onto a well-floured rolling surface, gently shaping into an even ball. Cut ball in half. Working with half at a time (keeping the other half under plastic wrap), roll out each ball to a thickness of approximately ¼ inch. With a round cookie/biscuit cutter, rim of a glass or knife, cut rounds of dough a little wider than the circumference of your tart tins. You want to fit and shape the dough into the contours of the tins without stretching, in addition to allowing some extension above the rims. This ensures that the edges will be full; the dough will shrink as it bakes. Center each dough circle on an ungreased tart tin, then press down to fit, trimming edges, but leaving a little of the dough neatly extended above the rim. Cut small circles of parchment paper or foil to set down on the floor of each shell, then add pie weights, beans or rice to prevent the dough from buckling during baking.

Bake on center rack of a 350 degree F pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove tart tins from oven, allowing to cool slightly. Remove the weights and linings, then return the tart shells to bake another 5-7 minutes until more deeply browned and dry. Remove from oven and allow to fully cool before adding the filling and completing the baking.

Filling Ingredients

1 jar cherry preserves rubbed through a fine strainer

1 8-ounce can or box sweetened almond paste (canned is softer and easier to work with)
8 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
Almond slices (for optional garnish)


In a large bowl, whip the butter with an electric beater until light and fluffy. Add almond paste by the tablespoon, beating well after each addition. Beat in eggs, then the flour, then the almond extract.

If you are not using tart tins with removable bottoms, lift each shell to line the tins with enough greased aluminum foil to slightly extend beyond the rims. This will help to remove the tarts from the tins without breakage. Fill each pastry shell pan with a teaspoon of cherry preserves, then mound a generous tablespoon of almond mixture on top of the preserves. Do not worry that the mixture does not fully cover the preserves; it will expand while baking. Press almond slices into mixture if garnishing. Arrange prepared tins on a cookie sheet and place on the middle rack of a 350 degree F pre-heated oven. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the almond mixture is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes before carefully removing the tarts from the tins. If using foil liners, peel off the foil. The tarts can be served slightly warm or fully cool. Makes 12 approximately 2-inch mini tarts. --

This post is being submitted to Ann of Redacted Recipes who is sharing hosting duties with Karyn of Hot Potato for Mini Pie Revolution Event #2 .

Been There, Done That ~

Crumb-Top White Peach Pie

Other People's Eats ~

Swiss Bettinas


Asha said...

"Teach a woman to apply lipstick, and she will be happy for a night. Teach a woman to bake, and she will be happy for the rest of her life." Hahaha!! I do believe that!! Good one Susan.
I love that perfectly golden Tart crust, beautiful. Enjoy the Super Bowl, I am so excited!!:))

Bellini Valli said...

These tarts take me back to a tart my mom used to make when we were kids with a jam filling and ground almonds.

Brilynn said...

Those tarts are gorgeous! I need to get myself some of those molds.

Nanditha Prabhu said...

i just love the way you weave a beautiful story to suit the the subject..i am sure you can succeed in bringing a smile on the face of the queen!after all you are a kitchen magician!:)

Rosa said...

There is nothing like a little tart to cheer you up, I agree! I love your very precise pastry instructions.

Suganya said...

Looking at the caption, no one would have expected to read something amazing as this. Beautiful post, Susan, as always.

librariane said...

Ah, the librarian heart is warmed with the food connection to a nursery rhyme! ;)

And I love mini tarts, so this will be great in my arsenal.

Ricki said...

These are fantastic! I love cherry, can't wait to try it.
(love the choice of background!)

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie ~ I always thought the clan of Spades were always the most refined and beautiful. Silly, really, to judge but caricatures, but the childhood imagination will create a story behind everything it does not know.

Cherries and almonds are indeed a refined and glorious pairing. I might give this a go, throwing a few ground anise seeds into the pastry mixture, too. (I'm glad that you also like to use vegetable shortening, for it creates the most wondrous of flakey vessels).

Queen of Hearts, indeed you are!

Lucy said...

Yes, perhaps she's weary of her endless asociation with those Hallmark Valentine's Day hearts. She's a beautiful creature your card queen, melancholic though her countenance may be. Very wise to doubt that she did in fact make those tarts of nursery rhyme fame!

Tell me, is that cooling rack a new prop? It's just beautiful.

Kevin said...

Those tarts look really good! Cherries and almonds...mmm...

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Those look just great. Cherries and almonds go together so well... Mmmmm....

Simona said...

The mini tarts look lovely. The beauty of what you make is a delight for the reader.

Dhanggit said...

oh your highness, these almond tart look delectable!! as usual great photos!!they make me drooooool ;-)

ps, would you believe i have learned playing cards at the age of 20!!LOL my dad was so strict he didnt want us to learn this stuff..probably he's scared i will play too much and become pro after hehehe

Superchef said...

the tiny tarts look soo cute...the crust looks perfect!!! njoi ur weekend!!

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

I will have to remember the tip about the lipstick... that will come in handy.
As will these lucious tarts!

Lisa said...

Williams-Sonoma recipes are among my favorites. They always work out perfectly and I can see these tarts are no exception to the rule. Gorgeous!

Sagari said...

those tarts look so cute susan

DEEPA said...

excellent and fantastic one .....awesome words to express....

Susan said...

Thanks, Asha! I do believe we are happiest when we have a sense of personal accomplishment. Hope you enjoyed the SB. I sorted through legume posts all last night. : )
Bellini – These treats do stir up classic memories.
Welcome, Brilynn. Thanks! Even though these are specialty tins, they were well priced and will last forever if taken good care of. Hope you bake them sometime. You’ll be addicted.
Thank you, dear Nanditha. The discipline of business writing has not gone to waste in my creative sideline. : )
Hi, Rosa. It’s the girlie thing in us. : ) I’m always mindful of presenting pastry w/ care; I know it sometimes daunts the novice. After a few tries, anyone can feel confident about it.
Thank you, dear Suganya. For those who may not know, “finessing the queen” is a term used in the play of the classic card game known as “Bridge.” To finesse a queen means to handle it a certain way.
Hi, Ruhama. Even in the nursery rhyme the king and knave were central to the drama!
Thank you, Ricki! Raspberry or peach would work well, too.
Shaun – Of course it’s silly, but great fun. Now that I look over the crowd again, they are much more similarly featured than different – all that inbreeding. ; )

As much as vegetable shortening gets a bad rap, it really does work best to perfectly turn out certain pastries. The judicious addition of ground anise seeds sounds heavenly. I can catch the fragrance floating from your kitchen 10,000 miles away.
Lucy – Hallmark makes me weary, too, especially when the Valentine cards hit the shelves January 2. Oh, and the endless scholarly nitpicking about who the queen was is akin to the chicken and the egg puzzle. My research was quite entertaining if not exactly enlightening.

That “cooling rack,” BTW, is a twisted rattan placemat from Pier 1, and a great textural prop. Thanks.
Thanks, Kevin. They *were* mmmmm….; )
The mmmmm’s have it! Thank you, AFOS!
Thank you, dear Simona. I’m happy that they delight.
Thank you, Dhanggit, but I’m only the scullery maid. : D Your dad sounds like he was exercising the best intentions for you. Now that you are an adult, however, you could well learn to play poker with the best of them!
Thank you, Superchef. Practice really does in time lead to perfect pastry. Hope you enjoyed your weekend, too.
Hi, Sandi. Good to see you! The ways to a man’s heart are many, really. : )
Thanks, Lisa. W-S recipes really are first rate. I’ve never had a failure. I’ll be surfing their very attractive cache of all courses much more often. Good to see you.
Hi, Sagari. Thank you. Hope you are well. Good to see you.
Welcome, Deepa. Thank you very much. You are very kind. : )

Vaishali said...

Susan, what a beautiful and entertaining write-up. And the tarts looks absolutely delectable! Thanks for this lovely recipe.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Ooh, look at the crimson cherry filling bubbling over the edge! I'd love to sneak a taste. Just a little one. ;)

Nora B. said...

Oh Susan, my mouth is watering. And I love all the photos too. It's fun to read your blogs and check out the photos.

Sylvia said...

Believe it or not I never learn to play card....:(

Your mini pies are cute and looks absolutely delicious

sra said...

Induration is a new word for me - I'm off to check the meaning. One thing I've stayed away from is baking classes despite really wanting to learn - there would be no end to the calories, I fear!

NĂºria said...

Lovely, beautiful post, Susan... I love how your imagination works! ja, ja, Poor queen, I've always thought that beeing a queen would be horrible! Fantastic Tarts! and so funny the final sentences!!!

Uma said...

The tart look so tempting. Nice step by step instructions. I can't wait to try it. Thanks for sharing.

Ann said...

I'm awaiting your email, my dear... :-)

These look fantastic!

Archana said...

delicious looking tarts susan. I love the recipes in your blog. Constantly looking to try some new variety of world cusine and i stumbled by your site. Lovely!

Susan said...

Thank you, Vaishali. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.
OK, Susan, just a little one. : )
Thanks always, dear Nora.
Hi, Sylvia. Thank you. I've always been more of a board game gal, myself.
Sra -- Ah, to be indurated. Let us all hope it never happens to us. The calories certainly are aplenty when you bake. These babies are very rich, but so satisfying that you might be able to stop at one.
Thank you, Nuria. I have nothing against lipstick; I even wear it when I'm baking. ; )
Welcome, Uma! I hope you try these and find the instructions helpful. Thanks for your kind words and your visit.
Thanks, Ann. It's now in your IN box.
Welcome, Archana! Thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoy my site. Good to see you!

Sugarcraft India said...

"Teach a woman to apply lipstick, and she will be happy for a night. Teach a woman to bake, and she will be happy for the rest of her life." Just loved the lines..
I have missed out on a lot of your posts but each one is great and worth a are such an amazing cook !!

Susan said...

Thank you, dear Sugarcraft! It's good to see you!

Anamika:The Sugarcrafter said...

Hi Susan
We have not interacted much but I stopped by to read your posts.They are good and i must try them.
"Teach a woman to apply lipstick, and she will be happy for a night. Teach a woman to bake, and she will be happy for the rest of her life." Loved the lines and will add further ..and will forget the lipstick !