Thursday, 22 August 2013

Jane Austen | Apricot Frangipane Tart

Although she no longer exerts on me the same fascination as when I was a young English Lit student, I still do find Jane Austen enjoyable and quite often powerful, especially when elements of social critique penetrate the polished veneer of her carefully constructed fictional worlds. In Mansfiled Park, Austen uses the imagery of the apricot tree to discuss themes which are surprisingly relevant to a modern reader, such as rootlessness and transplantation, but also cultivation and deception of appearance. The apricot, whose "natural taste" remains unrecognised, becomes a point of contention not only between the characters in the novel, who continually misappropriate and misinterpret, but also between the novel and the reader, who is challenged to offer a fair appreciation of the text.
'But if I had more room, I should take a prodigious delight in improving and planting. We did a vast deal in that way at the Parsonage: we made it quite a different place from what it was when we first had it. ... We were always doing something as it was. It was only the spring twelvemonth before Mr. Norris’s death that we put in the apricot against the stable wall, which is now grown such a noble tree, and getting to such perfection, sir,' addressing herself then to Dr. Grant.
     'The tree thrives well, beyond a doubt, madam,' replied Dr. Grant. 'The soil is good; and I never pass it without regretting that the fruit should be so little worth the trouble of gathering.'
Vincent van Gogh, Orchard with Blossoming Apricot Trees
    'Sir, it is a Moor Park, we bought it as a Moor Park, and it cost us—that is, it was a present from Sir Thomas, but I saw the bill—and I know it cost seven shillings, and was charged as a Moor Park.'
     'You were imposed on, ma'am,' replied Dr. Grant: 'these potatoes have as much the flavour of a Moor Park apricot as the fruit from that tree. It is an insipid fruit at the best; but a good apricot is eatable, which none from my garden are.'
'The truth is, ma'am,' said Mrs. Grant, pretending to whisper across the table to Mrs. Norris, 'that Dr. Grant hardly knows what the natural taste of our apricot is: he is scarcely ever indulged with one, for it is so valuable a fruit; with a little assistance, and ours is such a remarkably large, fair sort, that what with early tarts and preserves, my cook contrives to get them all.'
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Mansfield Park, Vladimir Nobokon writes, "is not a violently vivid masterpiece". Austen's novels may be masterful and admirably controlled, for Austen is brilliantly witty and an astute observer of character with a great skill for description or social commentary, but her novels are not "explosions"; at least not in the way that Wuthering Heights or Ulysses are. For all her rebelliousness against the dictates of a patriarchal society, Fanny Price, the high-minded heroine of Mansfield Park, does in the end conform to a puritanical moral code and the social conventions of the fairy tale.

~ Apricot Frangipane Tart ~

The combination of sweet apricots and almond paste delicately encased in a lemon-flavoured crust produces a delicious tart that just tastes of summer.

Serves 6-8

1 quantity pâte sablée (for a 21 cm tart pan)

2-3 tbsp apricot preserve
1 tsp amaretto (or Disaronno or almond essence or water)

Frangipane Filling:
100g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
100g ground almonds
35g self-raising lour
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp amaretto (or Disaronno or vanilla extract)

4-5 ripe apricots, halved
handful flaked almonds

Apricot Glaze:
150g apricot preserve
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp amaretto or Disaronno (optional)

Prepare the sweet pastry crust according to directions in the recipe, but substitute 30g ground almonds for an equal amount of flour and add the grated zest of 1 lemon to dough.

Lightly butter and line a 23cm round fluted, loose-bottom flan tin with the pastry, prick the bottom with a fork, cover with clingfilm and put back in the fridge for another 30 minutes. To bake blind, cover the sides with foil and place baking parchment on top. Fill this with baking beans and bake on the lower rack of a pre-heated oven at 185 Cfor 12-15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, but keep the sides covered with foil, and bake in the oven for a further 5-8 minutes until dry and lightly golden.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Seal with apricot preserve. For this, you will need to heat 2-3 tbsp apricot preserve (or more if you want a thicker layer of apricot over the base) with 1 tsp almond essence until it melts. Take off the heat and brush the bottom and sides of the crust. Spread remaining preserve over the bottom. (Alternatively, you can seal the crust with a little beaten egg white while it's still hot.)

Lower the oven temperature to 180 C.

Prepare the frangipane: Using a hand-held mixer, beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl for about 1-2 minutes, until the mixture is white and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the almond extract and amaretto or Disaronno, then stir in the ground almonds and self-raising flour until you have a thick paste. If the paste is slightly loose, you can add 5-10g each of ground almonds and self-raising flour. Spoon the frangipane over the biscuit base, spreading it evenly. You may not need to use all of the frangipane.

Carefully arrange the apricot halves cut side down in concentric circles.

Bake for 20 minutes. Scatter the flaked almonds and continue to cook for a further 15-20 minutes until the frangipane is set and the pastry is lightly golden.

Remove the tart from the oven and, while it’s still hot, brush with the apricot glaze, made by heating the apricot jam with the lemon juice and the amaretto or a few drops of water in a saucepan over medium low heat until the jam melts. (Lemon juice gives more acidity to the glaze and balances the sweetness of the apricot preserve.)

Leave to cool, and serve with ice cream or on its own.

Note: I made 2 separate batches of apricot glaze: one was to seal the crust, for which I used amaretto to enhance the flavour of the frangipane; the other was to glaze the tart, for which I used lemon juice and just a hint of amaretto as I didn't want the almond flavour to be overpowering.

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