While travel to France may not be in the offing anytime soon, try this French Walnut Tart with a glass of Montbazillac for a taste of the Perigord. This region of France in the Dordogne is known for its truffles, foie gras, Montbazillac and walnut tarts. While I have never visited this region of France, I have become an armchair traveler there though the books of Martin Walker. I love the Chef Bruno, Chief of Police books because they spend as much time on food as they do on the mysteries to be solved.
While I have eaten both foie gras and wild boar on a trip to Alsace during my college years, I have yet to experience Montbazillac or a French Walnut Tart. I decided to correct at least part of that omission. There are a number of recipes out there for this tart but I chose one on offer from the Boston Public Television station.
The recipe called for crème fraîche which I didn’t have on hand. However, I did have heavy (double) cream and buttermilk and was able to create my own creme fraiche. I had made crème fraîche this way in the past but had forgotten how easy it was to produce. All that was required was a glass container, 1 cup of cream and 2 Tablespoons of buttermilk. Mixed together and left covered in a warm place for 24 hours and Voila!
Normally I would have made the pastry that was in the recipe, but I had some dough in my freezer that I didn’t want to go to waste so used that. The dough that is listed below is somewhat richer than the dough that I used. It uses an egg yolk in the dough. However, if you have a favorite pastry dough or wish to use store-bought, feel free.
The French Walnut Tart is a more subtle and sophisticated cousin of my beloved Bourbon Pecan Pie and is quite a lovely dessert. The ratio of nuts to filling is very high and the tart is not overly sweet. It manages to be both sophisticated and earthy. I served it with a dollop of crème fraîche flavored with a bit of vanilla bean paste and a small amount of confectioner’s sugar. Yummy!
Since all of my traveling is via armchair for the foreseeable future, it’s fun to try some new culinary endeavors. While I may not get to mingle with the locals or smell the unique smells that every town and country village has, my armchair travels require no long lines at TSA or cramped plane rides. So don’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Visit this delicious corner of France from the comfort of your own home.
Yield: One 9-inch tart; 8 to 10 servings
For the tart shell
87 grams (2⁄3 cup) all-purpose flour
46 grams (1⁄3 cup) whole-wheat flour
40 grams (3 tablespoons) white sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) salted butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the filling
107 grams (1⁄2 cup) white sugar
1⁄4 cup honey
1⁄3 cup crème fraîche
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) salted butter
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg yolks [You can save the whites for a meringue or to add to an omelette.]
230 grams (21⁄2 cups) walnuts, roughly chopped and lightly toasted
Heat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. Mist a 9- inch tart pan with removable bottom with cooking spray. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment or a silicon pad.
To make the tart shell, in a food processor, process until combined both flours, the sugar and salt, about 5 seconds. Scatter the butter over the mixture and pulse until it resembles coarse sand, 10 to 12 pulses. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, then process until the mixture is evenly moistened and cohesive, 20 to 30 seconds; the mixture may not form a single mass.
Crumble the dough into the prepared tart pan, evenly covering the surface. Using the bottom of a dry measuring cup, press into an even layer over the bottom and up the sides; the edge of the dough should be flush with the rim. Use a fork to prick all over the bottom, then freeze until the dough is firm, 15 to 30 minutes.
While the dough chills, make the filling. Pour 1⁄4 cup water into a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and honey into the center, avoiding contact with the sides. Cook over medium, swirling the pan frequently, until the mixture is amber in color, about 8 to 10 minutes. Off heat, add the crème fraîche, butter, vinegar and salt, then whisk until the butter is melted and the mixture is well combined. Let cool until just warm, about 30 minutes.
While the caramel cools, set the dough-lined tart pan on the prepared baking sheet. You want to blind bake the dough before adding the filling. Line the dough with parchment or foil and weight it with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes and then carefully remove the foil and weights. Return the tart shell to the oven for another 15 minutes until the crust is a light brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
Whisk the yolks into the warm honey filling, then add the nuts and stir until evenly coated. Pour the filling into the warm tart shell, then gently spread in an even layer. Bake until the edges of the filling begin to puff and the center jiggles only slightly when gently shaken, 25 to 35 minutes. Then turn off the heat, open the oven door slightly and leave the tart in the oven for 10 more minutes.
Let the tart cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 1 hour. Remove the pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature. The tart is superb accompanied by lightly sweetened crème fraîche or whipped cream.
Notes: Don’t overcook the caramel. Aim for an amber hue; if it gets much darker than that, the finished tart will taste bitter.
Whole-wheat flour in the crust plays up the earthiness of the walnuts. To toast the walnuts, spread them in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 325°F until fragrant and just starting to brown, about 8 minutes, stirring just once or twice; do not over toast them or they will taste bitter. The dough-lined tart pan can be prepared in advance; after the dough is firm, wrap tightly in plastic and freeze for up to two weeks.