Sicily is famous for its unique, nutty baked confections, many of which star one of the region’s primary specialties: almonds. Or more specifically, almond paste – a mixture of finely ground blanched almonds, sugar and water that has been cooked until smooth. During the grinding process, the almonds release oils that enhance the aroma and flavor of the paste.
In Sicily, almond paste is known as pasta reale (royal dough) because it was originally a delicacy served at noble tables. Now, it’s a common ingredient in the island’s baked goods — and it’s easy to find in cans or plastic tubes at most grocery stores, so you can recreate Italian-inspired treats at home, such as this Italian Almond Tart.
Italian Almond Tart
1 rolled-out round of tart dough
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⁄2 lb. almond paste, cut into 1-inch cubes
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1⁄3 cup raspberry, plum or cherry jam
1⁄3 cup sliced almonds
Fold the dough round in half and carefully transfer to a 9 1/2-inch tart pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Unfold and ease the round into the pan, without stretching it, and pat it firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim off any excess dough by gently running a rolling pin across the top of the pan. Press the dough into the sides to extend it slightly above the rim to offset any shrinkage during baking.
Refrigerate or freeze the tart shell until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 375°F.
Line the pastry shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or raw short-grain rice. Bake for 20 minutes, then lift an edge of the foil. If the dough looks wet, continue to bake, checking every 5 minutes, until the dough is pale gold, for a total baking time of 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F.
In a bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed or a whisk, beat the butter until smooth. Add the almond paste, one piece at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. While continuing to beat, sprinkle in the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour.
Spread the jam evenly over the bottom of the partially baked tart shell. Spoon in the almond paste mixture and spread evenly over the jam. Sprinkle the surface evenly with the sliced almonds.
Bake the tart until the filling is golden and the middle is firm to the touch, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let the tart cool completely. If using a tart pan with a removable bottom, let the sides fall away, then slide the tart onto a serving plate. Serve at room temperature. Makes one 9 1/2-inch tart; serves 8.