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Italian jam shortbread tart is fine for entertaining

This tart is traditionally made with almonds, but hazelnuts work well, too. As a matter of fact, you’ll get rave-worthy results using whatever nuts and jam you have on hand. Because the dessert comes together quickly, it’s a good choice if you’ve volunteered to bring a dish to a party.

ILEANA MORALES | Special to the Times

This tart is traditionally made with almonds, but hazelnuts work well, too. As a matter of fact, you’ll get rave-worthy results using whatever nuts and jam you have on hand. Because the dessert comes together quickly, it’s a good choice if you’ve volunteered to bring a dish to a party.

Tiramisu, one of my first dessert loves, is one recognized by you, me and everyone else in America. The Italian treat of creamy mascarpone cheese and coffee liqueur-soaked ladyfingers comes in all kinds of versions, many delightful and some bastardized and served in places that don't offer anything else Italian on the menu.

I still carry a torch for tiramisu, but there's a new Italian dessert in my life: fregolotta. I wish everyone knew it just as well. This one is a shortbread tart topped with jam and nuts, and it's my go-to dessert.

The tart is simple to prepare and calls for ingredients that I bet are always in your fridge and pantry. But don't confuse its simplicity for lack of flavor. The fregolotta has a winning combination of buttery, sweet and nutty flavors.

The whole thing comes together quickly, making it the ideal last-minute dessert to bring to a party. It's really a big cookie dressed up for a night out as an elegant and sophisticated tart. You will turn to this recipe as often as you grab your favorite LBD from the closet.

Almonds are traditionally used for this tart, which comes from the Veneto region in northeastern Italy, but I keep reaching for the hazelnuts and apricot jam. Feel free to play around with different combinations of jam or preserves and nuts. The tart will work with whatever you have on hand, and any shade of fruit jam will look pretty peeking through the crumbled shortbread topping. Citrus zest or herbs mixed into the shortbread would work well, too. Some traditional recipes include polenta. Chef Mario Batali says its crumbly texture makes it a great partner for wine and spirits not unlike the way biscotti goes with coffee.

Fregolotta would be a welcome addition among the sweeter desserts and the Peeps in your Easter Sunday spread. And in the way that everyone loves Italy, your friends and family will love you for bringing over this tart for dessert.

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at alittlesaffron@gmail.com.

>>MODERATE

Italian Jam Shortbread Tart With Apricot and Hazelnuts (Fregolotta)

¾ cup unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

teaspoon salt

¼ cup apricot jam

cup hazelnuts, chopped (blanched, if possible, to remove the skins if you'd like)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place butter and sugar in a bowl and use an electric mixer (with a paddle attachment) to beat on medium speed until the ingredients are whipped and become lighter in color, about 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed to incorporate all the butter and sugar. Add vanilla extract and mix just until combined.

In another bowl, whisk the flour and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the whipped butter mixture and mix at a low speed just until combined. Reserve ½ cup of the dough in a small bowl and place in the freezer. This will make the dough easier to crumble.

Press the rest of the dough into a 9- or 9 ½-inch tart pan. Try to get an even layer, though it's fine if the edges are a little higher than the rest.

Use a small offset spatula or a spoon to genty spread the jam in a thin layer over the uncooked shell, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.

Take the reserved dough from the freezer and crumble it in small pieces over the jam layer in the pan. Some of the jam should still peek through. Sprinkle the chopped nuts evenly over all.

Place in the center of the oven and bake until golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes. Place tart on a rack to cool completely. Cut into 8 or 12 slices and serve.

Cover with plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Serves 8 to 12.

Source: Adapted from food52.com and Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style by Cindy Mushet

Italian jam shortbread tart is fine for entertaining 04/14/14 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2014 10:00pm]
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