the good fight

apricot torte
I know. She looks innocent enough. But this apricot torte fought me every step of the way. This torte is the dessert equivalent of a fussy toddler who, having thrown her final tantrum of the evening, appears suddenly sweet and angelic dozing off between the sheets. I suppose I'm the one who got us off on the wrong foot. That trusty truism, "There's a time and a place," carries a lot of weight in the kitchen. Yet I somehow forgot that when I'm fall-on-my face tired more than an hour past bedtime, it is decidedly not the time to get going on a brand new recipe. After our Thursday night shakshuka and Johnnycake feast and subsequent flop on the sofa, the only place I had any business being was in bed. But as I peeled myself from the cushions, another maxim must have crept into my brainspace, because suddenly I was headed to the kitchen, determined "never to put off 'till tomorrow what I could do today."

We were invited to my friend Sunny's for dinner on Friday night, and I had been entrusted with the holy task of dessert. The apricot almond linzertorte from this month's Gourmet magazine beckoned. Okay, what really beckoned were the closing lines of Ruth Reichl's "Letter from the Editor:"

"I guess it's time to go cook something. I think I'll make an apricot almond linzertorte. It's incredibly good. If you'd care to join me, you'll find the recipe on page 79."

Me? Join you in the kitchen, Ruth? I thought you'd never ask!

I flipped furiously to page 79, and somehow in my starstruck state I did something just plain stupid. I didn't read the recipe through. I recklessly started right in. I even failed to notice that the "start to finish" time was listed as 4 hours. Four. A chunk of this time is eaten up by the final cooling, so that's forgivable. It was the multiple coolings and chillings and transferrings from pot to processor to plate to pastry throughout the recipe that did me in. And then there was that temperamental dough. It rolled out nicely enough, but crumbled under the weight of itself when I tried to drape it into the springform pan. One would think that the parenthetical remark, "(pastry will break in spots)," would have consoled me. No. I just felt patronized. By a recipe. I told you I was tired.

Half way through, I decided to call it a night, get some sleep and, essentially, leave for tomorrow what I could have done today. Having failed to execute not one but two snappy aphorisms in one fell swoop, I headed off to bed.
The next morning, it was time to make the filling. The apricots in the pot seemed cheery enough. Simmering them in brandy, sugar, and water until they relaxed into a sleepy syrup was the best part of this recipe. Coaxing the finicky dough into a presentable enough lattice top was not as pleasant.

Finally, I pushed the torte into the oven. Relief.

She emerged golden and glistening. My heart began to soften. And then I suffered one final blow: I burned my chin. Yes, my chin. I guess that's what you get when, in an attempt to listen in on the gurgling fruit filling, you find the side of a springform pan in the way of your face.

Convinced that this dessert hated me, I dropped her unceremoniously on the cooling rack and gave her the silent treatment for the rest of the day.

That night, she tried to make it up to me by dazzling my friends and giving me all the credit. I'm a pushover for almond anything, as you already know, so I promptly forgave her. Don't any of you hold a grudge on my behalf, now. The whole rigmarole was not as bad as it sounds. The first bite alone was worth the trouble. Just be sure to read the recipe through before you begin.

Apricot Almond Linzertorte
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2009

I have streamlined this recipe for you a little so that you won't find yourself in the kitchen at 2am cursing apricots and longing for your pillow. In my version of the filling, I cut the recommended amount of sugar in half to allow the tartness of the apricots to shine through. The tartness works especially well with the sweet, homemade cinnamon ice cream I served alongside.

For the pastry:
2 cups whole toasted almonds with skins and cooled completely
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. (plus a few extra drops for good luck) almond extract
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 and 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For filling:
1 cup water
1/3 cup sugar (or up to 2/3 cup, if you prefer a sweeter filling)
1/3 cup brandy (I used Cointreau, since we didn't have any brandy.)
8 oz. dried Pacific apricots

Powdered sugar for dusting

9 or 10-inch springform pan
Food processor

Preheat the oven to 350.

Spread the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for approximately 7-10 minutes. (They're done when you can smell them.)

While the almonds are toasting, sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves into a bowl. And get started on the filling: Dump the apricots into a small saucepan, cover with the water, sugar, and brandy, and turn on the flame. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Check back in on the apricots every few minutes and give a stir. You're aiming for tender, deflated apricots. The liquid will thicken slightly into a syrup.

Remove the almonds from the oven and transfer them off of the baking sheet for more efficient cooling. An open window and below freezing temperatures outside also help.

While the almonds are cooling, lightly beat yolks, extracts, and zest in a small bowl with a fork. Then, cut the butter into 1/2 inch strips.

When almonds have cooled, pulse them together with the sugar in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground. Add the mixture of flour, salt, and spices and pulse to combine. Next, add the beaten yolks, extracts, and zest, and the cut up butter. Pulse until dough forms a ball.

(Don't forget to stir your simmering apricots.)

Form one third of the dough into a disk, then roll out between 2 sheets of plastic wrap into a 10-inch round. Transfer to a baking sheet and chill until firm, about 10 minutes. Roll out remaining dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap into a 12-inch round, then transfer to another baking sheet and chill until firm, about 10 minutes.

By this time the apricots should be finished cooking. Transfer the fruit and syrup to a cleaned food processor and pulse until almost smooth. Spread the mixture onto a plate and chill for 15 minutes.

(At this point, with the pastry and the apricot filling in the refrigerator, you can go to bed or see a movie or do whatever it is that might keep you from finishing the torte until the following morning.)

Lock the ring of a springform pan onto its base. Remove the larger dough round from the refrigerator and peel off the top layer of plastic wrap. Then invert round into pan. Hopefully the following statement, liberated from its parentheses, will prove more consoling than patronizing: The pastry may break in spots. (Really, don't feel bad.) Press dough evenly onto the bottom, then discard the plastic. Fold in the edge of the dough and press 1/2 inch up the side of the pan. Press gently to close any cracks.

Bake pastry until lightly browned, about 20 minutes, then cool completely on a rack, about 30 minutes. The dough will puff up as it bakes but will settle as it cools. If you would like to serve this dessert with cinnamon ice cream, you can use this time to make the custard.

Spread the chilled filling into the cooled crust with a spatula or the back of a spoon.

Peel the top layer of plastic wrap from the smaller dough round, then cut round into 1 inch strips. Arrange half of the strips over the filling about 1 inch apart. Press the ends onto the edge of the torte. Arrange the remaining strips across the first strips to form a simple lattice.

Bake until top is browned. The original recipe claims a 40-50 minute bake time, but even 40 minutes was a tad too long in my own oven. Next time, I'll check it at 30.

Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar and a scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

Note: This torte was even better on day two, so I recommend making it at least one day in advance. From the original recipe: "Torte can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature."

slice of apricot torte
[Many thanks to Sunny for a fabulous vegetarian feast, and to Mary, for bringing her beloved camera to dinner and snapping this delectable shot of her slice.]


Blondish said...

Hooray! It looks fantastic.

I meant to tell you, too: www.foodvibe.blogspot.com is the link to my friend's food blog, it's really fantastic. Go check it out, I think you might like it.

Love you!

jess said...

Thanks for the link, Mary. I need all the help I can get finding my way around the blogosphere. I had no idea how much is out there! Some of the pieces up on foodvibe are really fun. Do you go to school with one of those guys?

Anonymous said...

I was inspired by your post on the soup and polenta - it had never occurred to me to serve soup over polenta so i made it last week and it was a huge success here!

Thanks for the inspiration!


jess said...

Hi, Aviva

I'm so glad that you enjoyed the soup and polenta combo. And thanks very much for posting a comment to let me know!

megan said...

wow, she is an angel!

Blondish said...

Yes, I go to school with Seth - who wrote the posts "The Joy of Dishwashing," "Fat Should Inspire Sex," and "A Perfect Pot of Rice," among others. He's a great writer, and a great cook (i.e. the man of my dreams? I think he's half Jewish :) )