I have a friend who is coming once a week through the summer to help me in the garden. Last week, she and I went to town on the evil ivy hedge that lines one edge of our property. I hate ivy. It's drought resistant, it grows like a weed in the sun or shade, and it makes a lush bank all year long. Why, then, do I hate it? It sneaks like a cursed wraith into every nook and cranny it can snake its searching vines inside. It suddenly pops up out of the ground three feet from the rest of the plant. It provides a home for rats and skunks and raccoons, and did I mention rats? In a month, it will overtake anything growing near it. And, it is nearly impossible to kill.
So, every six months or so, I attack it with whatever cutting tool I have on hand. I whack it back into temporary submission and pull out as many of its branches as I can. When I'm done, it looks tame for a week or so.
Last week, we started in morning shade shearing, cutting, and pulling up as much as we could of the ivy. My friend, not a curser, began picking up some of my potty mouth as the morning wore on, the shade wore away, and we got more and more dusty, overheated, and exhausted. I worried that my friend might never want to come and help me again after such hard work. After we finished a good section of the hedge, we went on to do the relatively easy and much more enjoyable tasks of planting dent corn and repotting a few indoor orchids.
At the end of our work time last week, I asked my friend what she had learned in the course of the day.
She told me this: "Never, ever plant ivy in the ground."
If I had a summer kitchen intern, one of the first things that I would teach him or her would be how to make frangipane. It is the opposite of trimming the ivy hedge. It takes very little work with a huge payoff. Adding frangipane to a summer fruit tart immediately ups the oooooooh and aaaaaaah factor exponentially, yet it is such a breeze to make. It gives anyone with access to good fruit and an excellent pie crust recipe the guise of accomplishment in the kitchen.
I've made frangipane many, many times, and most recipes are nearly identical: almonds, sugar, butter, egg, a bit of flour for binding, and almond extract to boost the nuts' flavor. A couple years ago, I stopped worrying about using blanched almonds. I like the effect of leaving the skin on; the skins add to the oatmeal color of the paste, they don't detract in any way from the flavor, and whole raw almonds are much cheaper and less fiddly than blanched almonds. Recently, in a Martha Stewart video clip, I noticed that she adds dark rum to her frangipane recipe when she makes pithiviers. I include it in the recipe below because I liked its effect; it definitely deepens the almond flavor. As well, though most recipes don't call for it, I add a healthy pinch of salt to round out the richness of the recipe.
You will need:
2/3 cup whole skin-on almonds, toasted (place in a skillet on medium heat for a couple minutes, tossing them around a bit in the pan until they begin to smell fragrant and get toasted spots)
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons soft butter
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
healthy pinch of salt
To make the frangipane:
The food processor is your friend, here. Drop the almonds and the sugar in a food processor, and whirl until the mixture is finely ground. Add all the rest of the ingredients, and whirl until smooth.
Yes, it is that easy.
Place the mixture in the refrigerator until your crust is rolled out and ready to be spread with frangipane. When I use it in a fruit tart, I make my favorite pie crust recipe, roll the crust out, fold over the edges to make a bit of a pastry plate, smear on the frangipane, add some sliced fruit, sprinkle with sugar, then bake the whole thing for an hour, or until the top edges are browning nicely. You might even consider making a double batch and keeping one of the batches in the freezer, ready to have on hand when you want to build a dessert worthy of the perfect summer peaches and plums.