French bakeries, and their dainty jewel-box-like treats, are some of the things I miss most in following a gluten-free diet. I have a particular fondness for tarts filled with pastry cream and topped with fresh fruit. So much so, that variations on this sublime sweet have occupied prominent roles at my wedding and several other celebrations. It is my crowning achievement, therefore, to have created a delicious gluten-free fruit tarte suitable for any indulgent occasion.
It behooves me to list just a few caveats before sharing this recipe. Firstly, there is nothing healthy about this dish...it is rich, sweet, and caloric in all the best ways. Secondly, it includes three major allergens: eggs, nuts, and dairy. Also, if you do not like almonds or coconut, you will hate this recipe, so look elsewhere for your French dessert fix. And, eschewing all modesty, I must say that this tarte rivals many a professionally baked, gluten-filled French pastry. Do not trust yourself to eat only one reasonably-sized serving; rather, make it for a crowd and divide it among as many people as you can, at least 8 to 10.
On another tangent, I originally designed this particular tarte to be eaten during Passover, a time that is generally friendly to the gluten-free diet, except for appearances of matzoh meal in unexpected places and prohibitions on cooking with corn, rice, and millet. But the tarte is so tantalizing that I can hardly bear to enjoy it only eight days per year. That said, this tarte is in fact a welcome change from standard Passover fare and I encourage those who celebrate the holiday to try it as a divine alternative on any of the nights that a dairy meal is in order.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CRUST
14.5 oz (420 g) high-quality coconut macaroons (I use Mrs. Crimble's, but homemade macaroons would make good use of the leftover egg whites from the filling)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup almond meal (or finely ground, blanched almonds)
2 tbsps softened, organic unsalted butter
1 tsp gluten-free almond extract
METHOD FOR THE CRUST
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse continuously until the macaroons are broken up, all ingredients are well blended and the mixture resembles course breadcrumbs. Transfer to a 10-inch pie plate and use a small rubber spatula to press the mixture up the sides of the pie plate in at least 1/4 inch layer and then press out the remainder in the bottom of the plate. Bake for approximately 14 minutes, until the crust starts to take on a golden hue. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE FRANGIPANE FILLING
6 large organic egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups organic whole milk
6 tbsps plus 2 tsps arrowroot starch*
1/2 cup almond meal (or finely ground, blanched almonds)
4 tbsps unsalted butter
3 tbsps gluten-free almond extract
*If you are not making this tarte for Passover, you could substitute cornstarch for the arrowroot powder; cornstarch is added at a different point in the recipe and may result in a smoother frangipane filling.
METHOD FOR THE FILLING
Combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch (if using; arrowroot is added later if you do not use cornstarch) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high and scrape down the bowl twice, for about 2 minutes of total mixing time. The mixture is ready when a pale yellow ribbon of batter descends from the whisk as the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Set batter aside.
Heat the milk over medium-low heat in a heavy, medium saucepan. Whisk occasionally. The milk is ready when it is hot to the touch, steaming and slightly bubbling around the edges (it will not simmer in the traditional sense), and when it produces a nice warm-milk aroma. Pour warm milk gradually into the sugar-egg batter, starting with a small amount of milk, all the while continually whisking the sugar-egg batter. This is important for "tempering" the eggs, so that you do not end up with scrambled egg filling! Add the rest of the milk while whisking, and then return the sugar-egg-milk mixture to the saucepan over a medium-low heat.
Whisk the sugar-egg-milk batter continuously, being sure to whisk the entirety of the bottom and edges of the pan regularly. Add the arrowroot starch after three or four minutes, if you have not already added cornstarch. With continued mixing, the batter will transform from a thin liquid to a frighteningly lumpy mess that may make you think you have curdled the mix, to a (mostly) smooth pudding-like filling. When the whisk begins to leave bare trails in the bottom of the pan, you can remove the pan from the heat. Promptly add the butter, almond meal, and extract and continue whisking until the butter has melted and everything is thoroughly combined and smooth. Immediately proceed to assembling the tarte. If this is not possible, transfer the filling to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap directly touching the surface of the filling and refrigerate until use.
1 1/2 cups to 2 cups fresh fruit, cleaned, thoroughly dried and sliced (if larger than a berry)
I like to use organic strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, but you could also use nectarines, fresh currants, apricots, kiwis, and even thinly sliced pieces of pineapple.
ASSEMBLING THE TARTE
As soon as the filling is complete, promptly spoon it into the center of the prepared crust and smooth out the top in a circular motion with a rubber spatula (if left to sit, the filling will develop a skin). Top with fruits of your choice in a decorative pattern and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. The tarte can made a day ahead, covered with plastic wrap or put in an airtight container, and removed from the refrigerator at serving time.