For This Gorgeous Pistachio Cherry Tart, It Pays to Frangi-plan Ahead

uncut cherry pistachio frangipane tart

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

A frangipane tart is among the first recipes any pastry student will learn in school, and rightly so. It's a classic French dessert that couldn't be easier to make.

To pull it off, all you need to do is line a tart pan with dough for an ultra-flaky pie crust; scrape in some freshly made frangipane, a fragrant batter of ground almonds, sugar, butter, and eggs; and top with fresh fruit. Pop it in the oven, and 30 minutes later you'll be pulling out a crisp and buttery tart that's fruity, nutty, and begging for a scoop of ice cream—or at least a dollop of whipped cream.

While most recipes start with an equal measure of sugar and ground almonds (i.e., almond flour), I've always preferred to take that one step further by grinding the nuts myself and combining them with sugar to form a paste. This releases more flavor from the nuts, and gives my frangipane a consistency that's like a cross between a custard and a cake, interrupted here and there by bits of fruit that have baked into a jammy consistency.

So, after I'd conquered Homemade Pistachio Paste, a frangipane tart shot to the top of my to-do list. Especially while I could still get a hold of sweet cherries in season, which pair especially well with pistachios.

a slice of cherry frangipane tart

This is a recipe that works best when you take advantage of its make-ahead elements, rather than forcing yourself to complete everything all in one go. The pistachio paste can be knocked out up to three weeks in advance, and the pastry can be made and shaped a full day in advance as well.

Heck, even the cherries can be pitted and halved ahead of time, enabling you to start an overnight infusion for a batch of Cherry Pit Whipped Cream.

A dedicated baker could make the pastry, blanch and peel the pistachios while it was relaxing, finish the pistachio paste, pit the cherries, infuse the cream and pits, and knock out the frangipane to assemble and bake the tart all in one day. But it would be a very busy day indeed!

So, unless you're specifically looking to spend a full day in the kitchen, break up the work and keep things relaxed on the day you make and bake the tart—especially if it's for some sort of special occasion, which may mean you have other, more pressing obligations.

To prepare the crust, you'll need a half batch of my old-fashioned all-butter pie dough. This can be a block left over from making a full batch, or a half batch prepared just for the occasion. (But really, do yourself a favor and make the full batch; a stash of extra dough in the freezer will be a gift to your future self.)

In either case, roll the finished dough into a 12-inch round and trim away the ragged edges, then transfer it to a nine- or 10-inch tart ring or pan.* Here, I'm working with a 9.5-inch stainless steel tart ring.

* This recipe works equally well with a 4.5- by 14-inch rectangular tart pan, although the dough will need to be rolled into a roughly six- by 16-inch rectangle instead. No modifications to the ingredients are required.

If you're using a tart ring, place it on a half-sheet pan before getting started. Nestle the dough into the bottom edge of the pan, making sure it sits flush across the bottom and sides.

fitting a sheet of dough into the tart ring

Fold the excess dough over toward the inner edge of the pan, making a double-thick wall around the sides. Use your fingers to mold and shape the dough into an even ring, then cover and refrigerate the dough for at least two hours before assembling and baking the tart. If you're not in a hurry, there's no need to rush—the dough will be fine resting in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Again, the pistachio paste can certainly be prepared while the dough chills, but given its three-week shelf life, the paste is the best candidate for some make-ahead relief.

However you decide to time it, do pit and halve the cherries before starting on the frangipane. Once the tart is semi-assembled, you'll want to top it with fruit straight away, and the pitted cherries won't mind hanging out in the fridge overnight.

halved and pitted cherries

Plus, as I've mentioned before, the further in advance you can do this step, the longer you'll have to infuse those cherry pits in cream. While it's an entirely optional step, lacing those fruity, nutty notes into the cream makes a ridiculously perfect chantilly to garnish the finished cherry frangipane tart.

slice of pistachio-frangipan tart with cherries and cherry pit whipped cream

When everything else is done, and you're otherwise ready to assemble the tart, set out the ingredients for the frangipane (pistachio paste, butter, an egg, and cream) so they can all come to room temperature. Of course, room temperature is a subjective thing, but I generally aim for something like 70°F (21°C).

The important thing is that the ingredients aren't cold, and that they're all roughly the same temperature. This makes them easy to combine in a smooth emulsion. If the egg is cold, for example, it will curdle when added to the pistachio paste and butter, causing the mixture to deflate, which in turn will make the frangipane tart eggy and dense instead of puffy and light.

Meanwhile, if the ingredients are left out indefinitely in a sweltering kitchen, the frangipane batter will come together in a soupy mess, producing a dense and eggy texture as well.

Don't overcomplicate this tempering concept in your mind. Be mindful of the ingredients, and give them a bit of time to warm up, but don't forget about them! That's it.

beating the pistachio paste with butter, then incorporating an egg and cream to form a smooth and silky paste

With the temperatures of your frangipane ingredients roughly synchronized, the butter and pistachio paste will be easy to combine, and they'll turn creamy, soft, and pale as they're creamed together. From there, the egg will readily emulsify when added to the batter, as will the cream.

Egg-wash the outer ring of the prepared tart dough, then scrape in the prepared frangipane, smooth into an even layer, and top with the pitted and halved cherries.

brushing the outer ring of tart dough with egg wash, adding the frangipane in an even layer, then topping with fruit in concentric rings

Place them cut side down in the frangipane, arranging the halves as tightly together as you can. It may seem like an overwhelming amount relative to the filling, but the frangipane will puff substantially in the oven. In order to keep it from taking over, you'll need more cherries than you'd expect up front.

placing the last cherry in the center of the tart

Bake the tart on a half-sheet pan until it's fragrant, well puffed, and lightly browned on top.

The color of the frangipane can range from beige to a deep olive green, depending on the type and age of the pistachios; whether they're toasted or raw; whether or not they've received any color correction (i.e., a drop of food coloring); and the freshness of the paste. This level of variation can make it tricky to judge doneness by the degree of browning alone, but the tart itself should be firm and solid, with no jiggle when you shake the pan. When gently poked, it should feel slightly soft and spongy, but relatively firm; your finger shouldn't squish right through on contact.

Immediately slide a butter knife between the tart ring and the crust, then run it all around the edges to loosen. After that, the tart ring will slide right off!

loosening the tart ring with a butter knife and removing it from the tart

With a fluted tart pan, this will be a touch trickier. You'll need to loosen the tart from the grooves of the pan on an as-needed basis; it will slide easily from some of the grooves and stick slightly to others, based on how it puffed, and the tart pan will need to be set on some tall object to stabilize the bottom insert so the sides can fall away. (This is the same method I use to de-pan my New York–style cheesecake, so check that article for more information.)

Let the tart cool about 15 minutes, and slide an offset spatula under the bottom crust to loosen it from the sheet pan (or from the bottom insert). Slide the tart onto a cutting board, grab a chef's knife, and dive in while it's warm!

sliced cherry frangipane tart

If you aren't looking to dig in immediately, you can slide the tart onto a wire rack until needed; this will prevent the bottom from sweating as it cools.

I love this tart best with a generous dollop of the much-mentioned cherry pit whipped cream, a lightly sweetened, delicately fruity, faintly nutty chantilly that echoes the cherries in the tart.

slice of cherry pistachio frangipane tart with a bite missing

Or, if you still have some pistachio paste hanging around, the tart is incredible with a dollop of pistachio whipped cream instead. Whether you want to emphasize its fruity or nutty qualities is up to you!

Leftovers can be kept for about two days at cool room temperature, and make a bang-up breakfast treat if briefly rewarmed in a 350°F (180°C) oven. Don't worry; the whipped cream will hold nicely in the fridge as well.

a bite of tart on a fork showing layers of flaky pastry, pistachio frangipane, baked cherries and cherry pit whipped cream

Whether served as the final course to a beautiful meal or as an impromptu brunch in your PJs, this simple tart is buttery and crisp, with bursts of jammy fruit in between bites of nutty pistachio frangipane—and well worth a bit of patience and planning to pull off.