Almond Ricotta Tart

Summer, Sweet Recipes • 11 Sep 2008

What do you do when you have an exorbitant amount of fresh ricotta piled high in the fridge like fluffy snow? You get resourceful – the ricotta so fresh you resort to baking late at night in order to capture its perfection in a confection. Unless eaten bashfully naked, piled high in scoops and spoonfuls, creamy fresh ricotta must be baked into something equally perfect, worthy of its lusciousness.

I was recently given a whopping two pounds of fresh, farmstead ricotta and although I barely put a dent in the stash, I was able to transform at least a sliver of the cheese into something supremely sweet, bountifully buttery and yet, decadently delicate.

For a richly custardy tart, only a flaky cream cheese crust will do. Baked until golden brown, the crust stands on its own. Perfecting flaky crust has been the subject of dispute for years, but I find that using a simple cream cheese pastry crust exalts any pie or tart, although the baker must act hastily- overworking dough that utilizes cold butter and cream cheese will yield a sticky mess.

This tart is ad-lib pastry, an amalgamation of beloved flavors and textures, thrown together on a whim. The filling, a little bit Italian, a little bit French, makes use of ricotta and toasted almonds, baked until eggy, nutty and aromatic. Toasting the almonds yields a marzipan-like flavor and a crunchy texture, excellent contrast to the springy custard. The taste is somewhat reminiscent of resplendent French almond croissants, best when served alongside morning coffee and dusted with a sprinkling of confectioners sugar.

Almond Ricotta Tart

For the crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 ounces cream cheese
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

For the filling:
3 eggs
4 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup almond slivers, toasted until brown

1. In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and cream cheese. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 8 seconds. Add the cold butter and process in short bursts until the mixture resembles small peas, about 3 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead lightly, just until the dough holds together.

2. Between 2 sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap, roll out the dough into a large round, 1/8 – 1/4 inch thick. Cut out a 12 inch circle. Dust the pastry lightly with flour and fold in quarters. Place it in a 9 1/2 or 10-inch tart pan or pie pan. Open up the pastry dough and fit into the pan, folding down the excess to reinforce the sides. Press the pastry against the side of the pan, trimming off any excess dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. To maintain the best shape, freeze for at least 15 minutes before baking.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line the pastry with foil and fill with dried beans, making sure they are pushed up well against the sides. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the dough is almost dry. Remove the foil and beans, prick with a fork and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a bit while you make the filling.

4. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until lighter in color and fluffy. With the mixer still running, add the egg whites and continue whipping until bubbly. Add the softened butter and beat until well blended; add the sugar, vanilla and ricotta and continue to whip until, being careful not to overmix. Using a large spatula, fold in the almonds with a spatula. Spoon the ricotta custard mixture into the crust and cover the exposed edges of the crust with foil. Bake in the oven until browned and firm to the touch, about 35 minutes.

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