Category Archives: almond paste

Pumpkin Mini Tarts with Walnut: Real (No) Brainers

”America is all about the speed” and so is the American Halloween.  You have to be really fast to catch up with the pace of this holiday, which is not only about weird costumes and all kind of omens celebrating death, but primarily about sweet treats and candies.  Halloween is kids’ favorite and who can blame them: when else can you munch on chocolates all night, let your imagination go wild with costumes and tricks and share a scary story?  
Mini tarts (that can be both, an appetizer and a dessert) idea has been haunting me for a while now. These little pumpkin treats make delicious and super-speedy compromise between anything too sweet (you can control the amount of sugar, or just replace it with a mix of maple syrup and marzipan (almond paste)) and so-good-for-you pumpkin fiber. And to add some Halloween mystery to the cracked, like a desert, filling I decided to top each mini-tart with half walnut which has a shape of a brain, hence the title: (no) brainers.
And here is my quick improv(ization) story for the Beggars Night ”trick” – feel free to skip this paragraph if you wish – it’s just a little abracadabra inspired by the shape and look of the pumpkin mini-tart ”treats”. 
 ”Aliens vs Cannibals”
Draft sketch:
Planet Earth in the unknown future…. Two aliens, Pen and Pan, are crossing the desert and run into a dead owl. The eyes of the owl are covered with two pumpkin mini-tartlets. ‘’Wow, brain tarts, what a catch! I was told they taste really good and might even contain some dried gene of a human genius…’’ says Pen. ‘’Don’t be silly, if you eat this s..t you will become blind or insane.  It’s useless, just like those old human coins we find in the ruins. ..We better move on, I smell the cannibals coming. It’s a bait, check for the traps around.’’ Pan kicks the owl’s head and runs. Eventually, he falls into the cannibals’ trap and awaits his sad destiny. Cannibals arrive and start chewing Pan without delay. They find him unpalatable and spit him out. One of his connection horns is missing and he is trying to find it…
In the meantime, Pen eats both treats and returns to the spaceship in a weird mood. The crew immediately registers the change in his behaviour and locks Pen behind the bars with a piano waiting for him to play Mozart. Instead, he starts singing ”I’m a Lonely Little Petunia” and asks to be put behind the candelabra.  He then switches to Spanish and demands ¿me da mi calaverita?  The Alien Chief begins to suspect that cannibals tricked them with the bait and replaced the genius brain gene with the surrogate(to be continued)
So far so good for my entertaining story, please feel free to continue the way it pleases you as I have to go and decide if I will be a Cat in the Hat or a Lady in Red tonight.
And don’t forget to take these little treats with you. They are truly the crowd-pleasers.  I used commercially bought mini tart shells, which cost almost nothing and save you a lot of time.  I started cooking them according to the instructions on the package (15-20 minutes at 350 F), but then extended the time to 45 minutes to make them golden crisp. Another way to improve the tart crunch is to bake the shells for about 10 minutes first, then fill them out with filling and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Garnish the tarts with nuts around 10 minutes before the end of baking, so they don’t burn.
 Enjoy your Halloween and have a great trick or treat!
Yields: 24 mini tarts
2 of 12 mini tarts, store bought (see note for a homemade dough below)
2 cups of freshly cooked pumpkin puree
1/4 cup brown sugar (or maple syrup)
1/4 cup almond paste (homemade or store bough)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 5-oz small can evaporated milk
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
24 walnut halves for topping
Cut a small pumpkin in pieces and bake covered in the oven at 350F for about 30 minutes. Let cool and scoop the pumpkin flesh out.  In the blender, combine pumpkin puree, egg, sugar, almond paste, evaporated milk and spices.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F and bake the mini-tart shells for 10 minutes. Fill out each mini-tart with the pumpkin mix and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. You will see the filling growing and cracking, which is OK. Top each mini-tart with half walnut and bake for another 10 minutes or until the walnuts are golden brown. Enjoy warm or cold.

Note:  this is a fool-proof tart dough recipe from Barefoot Contessa in case you decide to make your own dough.

King Cake or La Galette des Rois

It is the eve of Epiphany, the time to enjoy the King Cake or La Galette des Rois, as we call it in Quebec. This delicious sweet tempting treat may have a number of names and versions in Western European countries, but what makes it special is what you find in it: a little trinket which will make you a King (or a Queen) for a Day! If you are the lucky one to get the piece of cake with the trinket, of course.
Banquet de Charles V le Sage, Jean Fouquet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The King Cake takes its name from the biblical Three Magi (Three Kings), who arrived on the Epiphany (12th night from Christmas) on January 6th to honour the Christ Child with their gifts. via Wikimedia Commons
The most popular trinket is the kidney bean (symbol of life). This year I wanted to use the lucky sea bean as a trinket for a difference, but we don’t want any chipped or broken teeth here, so I changed my mind. Not that I had a baby-Jesus figurine to spare either, but then, again, who wants to trip on a piece of plastic in their cake? Finally, I decided to put an almond in the cake to keep it safe, but still significant. After all, the major part of a filling of this cake is an almond paste, so one small almond in it will not change the cake formula or hurt anybody’s teeth. Plus, almond as a seed has almost same significance as a kidney bean, it is the symbol of life.
The Quebec version of this cake is similar to Northern France: round or rectangular puff pastry cake filled with frangipane, a dense almond filling. As it is not easy to find the almond paste in Montreal (or when you do, you can be little shocked by the price tag), so I bought a huge bag of unsalted slivered almonds at Costco and started doing it myself. It takes just a few easy steps and can be done in advance any time.

Here is an almond paste recipe for this cake (you can modify the proportion accordingly in any of your next recipe requiring almond paste): chop 1/2 cup of slivered unsalted almonds in powder in the food processor. Add 1/2 powder sugar and 1/4 cup water until it forms a ball in the processor. You can keep it in the fridge for weeks or until you are ready to bake this or any other recipe with almond paste.

Now, back to the King Cake. Roll the puff pastry, spoon the almond filling leaving the edges free, then seal the edges, eggwash the cake and criscross the top.

After 15 minutes of baking, remove to dust with a powder sugar and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.

And the Winner is…


Makes 8 to16 servings
1/4 cup almond paste
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 (17.25 oz) package frozen puff pastry
1 dry kidney bean or almond
1 egg, beaten
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
In the food processor, mix almond paste and half of the sugar, add butter and remaining sugar, blend in the egg, vanilla extract, flour and salt.
Roll our one sheet of the puff pastry into square on the parchment paper you placed on baking sheet. Pour the almond filling onto the center of the pastry leaving 1 1/2-inch margin around the edge. Place the trinket of your choice (bean or almond) in the filling. Fold the edges of the pastry up to keep the filling inside.
Place the second sheet of pastry on top and press down the edges to seal. Brush the top of the cake with the beaten egg. Make a crisscross pattern in the egg wash and then prick several slits in the top to vent steam while baking.
Bake for 15 minutes, remove and dust with powder sugar, return to the oven and cook for additional 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. When cooled, place a golden paper crown on top of the cake to crown the one who will find the almond (or bean, or any other trinket of your choice).
And don’t forget to tell everyone they are about to find a trinket! Good luck to the King or Queen for the Day and have fun finding the feve!
La Fête des Rois ou Le Roi boit, Gabriël Metsu [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

PS: To say Hello to our Cajun cousins in New Orleans, here is how they are celebrating Mardi Gras with their own version of the King Cake: