This concord grape tart recipe starts with a press-in, gluten-free crust that’s kissed with walnuts and rosemary and tastes like a shortbread cookie. It’s then topped with a walnut frangipane and halved and pitted concord grapes.
My friend Danese asked me to photograph her in her sunlit San Francisco kitchen making some of her favorite recipes, with the plan of compiling a cookbook to give to family and friends. We had our first session last week, when she made an innovative tomato sauce thickened with ground, toasted sesame seeds and tons of Parmesan cheese. When I asked her what she wanted to include in the preamble to the recipe, she replied that her biggest cooking secret was one that her mother taught her. “All the time that I’m cooking,” she said, “I’m chanting in my head, over and over, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you…'”
I thought of Danese while making this tart the other day, though my mantra was slightly different. A friend had given me about 20 pounds of home-grown concord grapes and I needed a way to get through them all. Concord grapes are an old-school variety, with skins that slip easily off their flesh, three fat seeds tucked inside, and a big, sweet flavor that lets you know where the inspiration for grape-flavored candies came from. Since the grapes themselves contain a ton of natural sweetness, I like them paired with contrasting flavors: salty, bitter, and savory, so I decided to bake them into a smear of walnut frangipane nestled in a rosemary-kissed crust.
For my first try, I pressed whole grapes into the frangipane. I knew this would leave their hefty seeds in tact, but wouldn’t it be lovely if the simplest method could work? Sadly, this was not the case. The hard, bitter seeds made the tart-eating experience wholly unpleasant; they would have to go.
The last time I pitted concord grapes, I was working at an upscale new restaurant in San Francisco as a pastry cook and plater. Plating was the most miserable job there because one was abandoned by the prep crew to deal with (and be held responsible for) all their foibles of the day. Tiny tarts with crusts so delicate that they disintegrated into oblivion as they were unmolded. Crème brulée that had to be frozen for exactly 5 minutes, then turned out onto plates, torched, and served at the exact second before it melted into a puddle. Napoleons with ice cream as their base layer that were assembled to order as servers tapped their feet impatiently, glaring at you for taking so long. Ten hours of this without a break and nothing to eat save for the occasional, surreptitious spoonful of ice cream left me understanding why cooks are notorious alcoholics.
On this particular early Fall night, we had a concord grape sorbet on the menu. Plating sorbets involved laying down three tiny cubes of gelée made from champagne, sugar and gelatin (think boozy Jell-o Jigglers). These got topped with a lace tuile, over which three scoops of different sorbets were formed into quenelles by running a spoon under hot water, then trying repeatedly to form a perfect oval in sorbet that had to be just the right temperature. The plate was then garnished with concord grapes that had been peeled and seeded, as the executive chef didn’t want his customers to have to chew anything. (They would have enough to chew on when they received the exorbitant bill at the end of the night.)
It was while alone in the pastry station, plucking seeds from grapes the size of a fingertip as order after order piled up, that I truly knew misery.
I thought back to that wretched job the other day as I stood in my kitchen, seeding grapes. It was only a cup or so of grapes, and the task wasn’t difficult when in the comfort of one’s own kitchen with good tunes playing on Spotify and no aggro waiters glaring at me. Under these circumstances, I normally don’t mind a bit of tedium. The whole thing probably only took 10 minutes. But I was coming down with a cold that made me want to crawl under the covers and watch Jason Bateman films all day long.
Thus, as I sliced grape after grape in half, trying to keep the flesh contained within their slippery skins as I yanked out those pesky seeds with my nails, I thought, as I often did at that restaurant of yore, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you…”
Thankfully after all that drama, the tart turned out beautifully. The crust and frangipane both come together in the food processor in a matter of minutes. In the oven, the grapes cook into little puddles of intensely flavored jam. The frangipane puffs up into custardy bliss, and the crust stays together enough to slice, crumbling beneath the pressure of a fork into buttery, salted deliciousness.
Serve slices topped with a pinch of flaky salt and a plume of unsweetened, whipped crème fraîche, and you may even hear a few “I love you”s of your own. (Though feel free to make this with seedless red or purple table grapes if you prefer.)
Concord Grape+ Walnut Frangipane Tart with a Gluten-Free Rosemary Crust
This is a versatile tart and fragipane duo that could work with any number of fruits if Concord grapes aren’t available, such as sliced plums, blackberries, ripe pear slices, poached quince, quartered figs, or seedless red or purple table grapes. Sweet rice flour (Mochiko) is stickier than regular rice flour and can be found in Asian markets (sometimes called glutinous rice flour, though it doesn’t contain wheat gluten). If you only have regular rice flour, you may want to add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum, or a tablespoon of ground chia or flax seed, to help the crust hold together. If gluten is a non-issue, feel free to trade the flours in the crust and frangipane for white or whole wheat flours.
All ounce measurements are by weight.
Makes 1 (4.25 x 14.5-inch) rectangular tart, or 1 (8-inch) round tart
1/2 cup (2 ounces) raw walnut halves
1/3 cup (1.25 ounces / 35 grams) oat flour
1/3 cup (1.75 ounces / 50 grams) sweet white rice flour (Mochiko)
1/3 cup (1.5 ounces / 45 grams) sorghum flour
3 tablespoons (1 ounce / 30 grams) organic cane sugar
1 tablespoon rosemary needles
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces / 70 grams) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2″ dice
1 cup (5 ounces / 140 grams) concord grapes, halved and seeded
3/4 cup (3 ounces / 85 grams) raw walnut halves
1/4 cup (1.5 ounces / 45 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon sweet white rice flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces / 45 grams) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 tablespoon coarse sugar
1/2 cup crème fraîche whipped with 1/2 cup heavy cream, for serving
Make the crust:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Have a rimmed baking sheet and 4.25 x 14.5-inch rectangular tart pan (or an 8-inch round pan) with removable bottom ready.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the walnuts, oat, rice and sorghum flours, with the sugar, and salt. Process until the walnuts are finely ground. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture begins to clump together, about 30-60 seconds. If it doesn’t come together, keep processing until it does.
Dump the crumbly dough into the tart pan. Use your fingers to press the crumbs first into the sides then into the bottoms of each pan to about a 1/8″ thickness, taking the time to make it as even as you have the patience for. If the dough becomes sticky, chill for a few minutes and dust your fingers lightly with flour. Lightly prick the bottom of the tart with the tines of a fork in a few places. Freeze until firm, 15 minutes.
Place the tart shell on the rimmed baking sheet, and put in the oven (no need for weights). Bake until golden and firm, 18-22 minutes. While the crust is still hot, use the back of a teaspoon to press the sides and bottom down gently; this compresses the crust and makes it less prone to crumbling.
While the tart shell bakes, make the filling:
Place the walnuts, 1/4 cup of sugar, flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and grind very fine. Add the butter and egg and process until smooth.
Scrape the frangipane into the par-baked tart shell and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the grapes on top of the frangipane and press down slightly. Sprinkle with the coarse sugar.
Bake the tart until the frangipane is puffed, golden, and firm to the touch, about 35-45 minutes, rotating the tart halfway through the baking time.
Let the tart cool for at least 20 minutes. To remove the sides, place the tart on a few small jars, ease the pan sides away from the crust, and let it slip down. Cut the tart into wedges, and serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of the whipped crème fraîche.