Even more than hors d'oeuvre, a New Year's party needs dessert. Ringing in the New Year with something sweet symbolizes the wish for a sweet year ahead. Besides, if you're celebrating late into the evening a little sugar rush never hurts.
Almond desserts can be hit or miss. Overpowering almond extract with no real almond substance is one way to miss the mark. Other no-no's are forgetting that the crust is half the tart and focusing only on the very top because that's the part that people can see.
I like to use Amaretto in the shortbread crust for my Almond Tart. It gives it a gentle almond flavor, and since that's often the first thing people taste it's the perfect prelude to the intense almond flavors that follow. Also, the alcohol in the Amaretto helps give the crust a delicate crumb. The alcohol also impedes browning, so that my crust isn't done before the tart's ready to come out of the oven.
Almond paste is literally the heart of the tart. Unwrapped, it looks like a sort of albino sausage. I slice it into as many thin slices as I can get - so that I can cover a good part of the crust with a layer of almond paste. The finished tart is firm enough to eat like sliced pizza, but the almond paste at the center stays pleasantly moist and a little chewy. Almond paste is available in most grocery stores.
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The topping is a very almond-dense crumble. It's sweet, crumbly, and buttery. It's reminiscent of a huge Florentine cookie, and when it comes out of the oven I'm always compelled to pull a little piece off and taste. The risk is that I'll keep pulling pieces off, because it's kind of addictive.
The tart keeps well at room temperature for a day, so you can make it early and take a pre-party nap. If an almond dessert doesn't symbolize of a sweet new year to come a nap certainly does. Have a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.