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October 9, 2013

Cream pie is packed with almond flavor

By late summer, the fruits hanging from vast groves of Prunus amygdalus trees in California have withered and split. Through cracks in their leathery rinds, you can see glimpses of the pale teardrop-shaped seeds they protect: almonds, ready for harvest.

By early autumn, fresh almonds are pouring into markets by the ton. It’s the perfect time of year to make this recipe for almond cherry cream pie, which works the subtle, yet complex flavor of almonds into all three layers: a crispy crust, a custard filling and a sweet, crunchy topping.

The chefs in our research kitchen tested more than 40 versions of sweet and tart crusts to find the combination that, thanks to a bit of almond flour and powdered sugar, produces a container for the pie that has just the right balance of sweetness, strength and buttery give. A thin coat of cocoa butter holds the cream filling away from the crust, so it stays crisp from the first bite to the last. And a dash of almond extract enhances the flavor of the almond flour.

The pie is filled with a simple pastry cream enhanced by amaretto, the almond-flavored liqueur. Cooking the custard in a temperature-controlled pot of water ensures that the texture turns out right every time.

You can top the pie with caramelized almonds, which are easy to prepare and make an addictive snack on their own. And for a splash of color and a dash of tartness, we add canned Amarena cherries. Fresh cherries are even better, but hard to come by this time of year. Slices of fresh fig also work well as a topping.

TRIPLE-ALMOND CHERRY PIE

The crust, filling and caramelized almond topping for this pie can each be made separately and stored until you are ready to assemble the pie. The crust will keep for up to three months if you vacuum-seal it and then freeze it before it is baked. The pastry cream filling will keep for up to two days in the refrigerator. The caramelized almonds will keep for up to a week when stored in an airtight container.

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