My great-uncle Ludwig lived in Paris where he and his wife Marta owned a fur shop in the center of the city. The first time I visited Paris with my family, Ludwig and Marta invited us to Furriers Tuileries for coffee. We walked along a small street nestled between the shops of Rue Saint Honoré and Rue de Rivoli to find Ludwig standing in the doorway of the cozy store, his bright blue eyes smiling when he saw us approaching.
Surrounded by coats and hats, we sat on straight-backed cafe chairs around a small round table laid with cheese and crackers and fruit – tiny plums and peaches. The fruit was sliced. The conversation was somewhat formal as the grown-ups caught up on the years since my parents’ last visit.
I balanced a small plate on my knees and covered it with crackers and fruit. When I was ready for seconds, I tentatively reached for another cracker, this time spreading it with soft creamy cheese, leaving behind the chalky white exterior. It was my first taste of room temperature cheese. It was not my last.
Ludwig and Marta eventually sold the store and Marta passed away. Whenever I visited Paris, Ludwig and I would meet in his apartment and sit on his brocade sofa and share a platter of cheese and crackers and slices of ripe fruit. Gradually our conversations became less formal. We shifted from English to French and had more to talk about than how I was doing in school.
When Ludwig visited New York, the whole family would go out to eat. When it was my turn to choose a place for lunch, I’d suggest a brasserie for steak frites. When it was his turn, he’d suggest a diner in Queens. He liked fried eggs and hash browns.
He once brought my mother an Hermès scarf that had belonged to Marta. As we sat in the diner, waiting for our food to arrive, I fingered the scarf’s hand-rolled edge and slightly rounded corners that indicated it was a vintage piece.
The last time I saw Ludwig, he sliced fruit in his tiny Parisian kitchen while I browsed the living room walls, the paintings, the books concealed behind the paned glass doors of the cabinet. There were a lot of history books.
After we chatted, he insisted on accompanying me in a taxi to my rented apartment. We chatted easily in the back seat as we rode from one end of the city to the other, crossing the Seine into the Left Bank. He got out of the taxi and walked around to open my door, asking the driver to wait until I disappeared through the courtyard and into my temporary home.
As I tell this story, I realize that it seems to have written itself and meandered to where I didn’t expect it to.
I meant to start off with a phrase that my mother told me was Ludwig’s life philosophy: n’achetez pas des bananes vertes – don’t buy green bananas. Though I never heard him say it, I often repeat this phrase to myself when I’m in an outdoor market at the peak of the season. Even though I didn’t know Ludwig well, his life always something of a mystery to me, my memories of our rare visits are strong. This French side of my family that introduced me to petite Parisian apartments, stores of another time, and fruit that you slice rather than chomp.
The recipe that reminded me of Ludwig is a blueberry peach tart. The peaches, whose scent welcomed me to last week’s farmers market, are sliced and arranged atop an almond frangipane layer. The blueberries nearly bursting with juice scatter in the center. The tart was baked for a celebration – my friend Shoshana had just defended her dissertation. Our friends gathered at my place for tart and many glasses of champagne.
The moral of this story may be obvious, but I’m not a moral-of-the-story kinda gal. Nonetheless, the tart makes me think of Ludwig and Ludwig makes me think of beautifully fresh fruit, careful preparation and making family feel like beloved guests and guests feel like family.
Blueberry peach frangipane tart
This recipe is very similar to the pear frangipane tart I made several months ago, but I changed the citrus flavor from orange to lime. This recipe may make a bit more frangipane than you need. You only want to fill the crust about halfway to the top.
Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.
– 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here – make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage step: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will help make the dough flakey.
– 3 T unsalted butter (or margarine if making non-dairy)
– 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also make your own by grinding up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in your food processor.
– 2/3 C sugar
– 1/4 t salt
– 1 t vanilla
– 1 lime for zest
– 2 eggs
– about 3C fruit: 3 C blueberries or 3 peaches and 1.5 C blueberries; other stone fruits will work as well
Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.
Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.
Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 10-15 minutes until it just starts to turn golden. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.
Mix. Melt the butter (I use my microwave). In a medium bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, vanilla, and lime zest. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.
Slice. Slice peaches (or other stone fruits) into even slices. I got about 16 per peach because I like the slices thin.
Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about half of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the fruit. Arrange the fruit as artistically as you’d like, but keep it in a single layer.
Bake. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check the tart after 30 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.