My husband Eric and I just spent an unforgettable sabbatical in Europe, primarily in Sweden. Our days were filled with books, unusual amounts of time to hike in woods, pray, write, bicycle and visit the homes of friends, family and several favorite artists. We took culinary classes in Paris and I enjoyed baking alongside some extremely accomplished bakers on an island in the south of Denmark. Naturally, we frequented many bakeries and konditoris, to purchase our daily bread and often a couple of cardamom rolls. We exhibited substantial restraint, considering the plethora of beautiful offerings in the cases, but quite unconsciously fell into the habit of asking for two mazariner (almond tartlets) just as our order was being rung up.
Without realizing it, a research project of the most enjoyable kind had begun! We were out to discover the best mazariner we could find. It was like searching for the perfect loaf of sourdough in San Francisco, or the best pot of baked beans in Boston. In Sweden, mazariner are darling petite almond tarts that are a little fancy, but not so fussy they can’t be eaten straight from a napkin while sitting in the car. Named for the Italian-French Cardinal, Jules Mazarin (1602-1661), they are much beloved among Swedes. A mazarin’s middle is moist with almond paste, which is cradled by a slightly crispy crust that is light in texture and best when baked to a golden brown. Classically they are topped with a smooth blanket of icing; simply confectioners’ sugar and cream or milk laced with almond extract. Some bakers mix the icing with raspberry jam, or add candied orange zest, or toasted almonds, but in my humble opinion these additions are superfluous. While we never met a mazarin we didn’t like, some were more sumptuous and satisfying than others.
At this point you may say “so what?” As a reader of Pietisten recently asked me, “What does a journal that discusses theological issues have to do with food?” And why would Eric and I be excited about seemingly insignificant almond tartlets while on a sabbatical that was given to bless in spiritual ways?
For me, the spiritual blessing of God’s love and the physical blessing of good food are closely interwoven. I can’t tell you how many times I have sensed the joy of fellowship and the love of Christ while dining with others. And obviously this is not an original thought. Didn’t our Lord at the last meal with his closest friends, break bread and share it lovingly and meaningfully with them? We read the account every time we eat bread and drink wine during communion. Jesus told us to keep doing this and to remember him at any table where we happen to sit down and bump elbows with others over a meal.
Let’s also remember what Jesus offered a handful of his disciples early one morning after his crucifixion. All night their grieving hearts ached and the fishing had been lousy. But at dawn, Jesus appeared one last time to make breakfast for them on a beach. Around a hot fire they gathered, and were warmed body and soul, by fish and bread and by the presence of their host, the living Savior. How their hearts must have rejoiced and how comforted they must have felt as they filled their bellies with hot food and warmed themselves by the crackling fire.
I dare say the food cooked by Jesus was important — after all, these men were hungry. But it wasn’t just the food that was so badly needed. They were discouraged and sad and lost since Jesus died. Now suddenly he was alive in front of them, drawing them to himself, inviting them to be warm and full and loved. Everything about this story makes me smile; a beach, a boat, hungry guys, a cook (who had been dead, but was now clearly alive!), a fire, and a satisfying breakfast that led to important conversations. It must have been so good!
And now I must confess that I intended with all my heart to write this time about savory food, such as herring. Honestly, I did! But while considering foods that most delighted Eric and me over the summer, mazariner kept rising to the top.
I shared this with Eric on our return flight, asking “Why do you think I should write about mazariner?” Grinning, he quickly answered, “Because they are good!” I could not argue with that! They are good…which is why I kept unconsciously asking for two of them at the end of every bakery order. I firmly believe that something as good and simple as a pot of coffee and a plate of mazariner go a long way to extend love and comfort to others. And that, my fellow foodies, is good enough for me.
Recipe: Mazariner (Almond Tartlets)
½ cup unsalted butter,
room temperature (113 gm)
5 T. sugar (63 gm)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. almond extract
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour (150 gm)
1/3 cup cake flour (37 gm)
Briefly cream butter with sugar using electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat in egg yolk and almond extract. Whisk flours and salt together. Add to butter mixture and beat on low just until a uniform dough comes together. Form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
Lightly butter a mini-muffin or tartlet pan to make 24 tartlets. With a rolling pin, roll dough to about 1/8 inch thickness, between two pieces of plastic wrap. Lift the top piece of plastic and cut dough into 24 circles using a 2½ inch round biscuit cutter. Gently place each circle of dough into openings on baking pan. Scraps may be reshaped and cut. Set aside in refrigerator.
1/3 cup soft butter (38 gm)
1/4 cup sugar (50 gm)
4 oz. almond paste (120 gm), cold
1/4 tsp. almond extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grate almond paste and set aside. Cream butter until it is fluffy. Add sugar and continue beating. Add eggs one at a time, and scrape bowl between additions. Add almond paste and extract and beat until the filling is light and uniform. Divide the filling amongst the tart shells.
Bake 22-25 minutes or until tarts are light golden brown. Allow tarts to partially cool before gently removing them from pan with a tiny metal spatula. Allow tartlets to cool completely.
1 cup confectioners’ sugar (125 gm)
1 T. whole milk or half & half (approximately)
½ tsp. almond extract
Whisk icing ingredients together. Spread icing on each tartlet. Allow icing to set.
Optional: One Large Mazarin
If you wish to make a nine-inch tart that can be cut into 8 servings, fit tart-shell dough carefully into a nine-inch tart pan or spring-form pan with removable bottom. Spread filling evenly over the tart shell. Bake 25-30 minutes or until outer edge of crust is nicely browned.
Cool tart before cutting, and serve with fresh berries. For the large marzarin, I skip the icing and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
You won’t need all the tart-shell dough for this version, but no one will mind if you roll the scraps thin and bake on a separate baking sheet. They make nice crispy cookies that will surely be devoured as soon as they cool.
From our summer research project:
After comparing many mazariner, this is what we learned: A mazarin needs to be almondy! Your homemade ones will be nothing like the cardboard imposters that are sold by a certain blue and yellow Swedish box store the world over. The outside pastry ought to be only slightly sweet, but mostly it needs to caramelize in the heat of the oven. Browning equals flavor. The inside must be soft, chewy and nutty to contrast the thin but crusty outside. The icing on top adds a touch of sweetness and should be thick enough to create an opaque white blanket, but not too thick to smother the darling pastries. If an occasion calls for “fancy,” perch a single raspberry on top of each mazarin.