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Are you looking for something new for Rosh Hashanah? This luscious French Walnut Tart is perfect. A short bread cookie-like pastry shell gets filled with toasted walnuts, each piece coated in a honey, buttery caramel. It is a perfect balance of sweet and salty with the earthy richness of walnuts. Yes, please!
Try this Perfect 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.
The recipe calls for crème fraîche, a naturally soured cream. It can be purchased in many grocery stores these days. However, it is so simple to make your own crème fraîche. You just need to plan one day ahead of using it. My husband loves it on so many desserts that I almost always have a jar in my fridge. I love homemade whipped cream, but crème fraîche adds a certain umph to what might be an otherwise overly-sweet or blah dessert – neither of which this is.
While this recipe calls for unsweetened crème fraîche, I often add some confectioners sugar and vanilla when I am serving it with a simple cake. Crème fraîche is incredibly easy to produce. All that is required is a glass container, 1 cup of cream and 2 to 3 Tablespoons of buttermilk or whole milk kefir. Mix them together and leave the jar covered in a warm place for 24 hours and Voila! If you plan on adding sugar or vanilla to the crème fraîche, only add it after the mixture has soured and thickened.
The cookie-like crust is a dough that anyone can work with. It’s not fussy to make, comes together quickly and there is no need to roll out any pastry!
The Perfect French Walnut Tart is a cousin of my beloved Bourbon Pecan Pie and is a lovely dessert any time. But nuts and honey? Perfect as a High Holiday treat. The ratio of nuts to filling is very high, giving it an almost toffee-like texture. Total, unadulterated yumminess!
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 (You could use a non-dairy “butter” if you wanted to eat this with meat on the holiday.)
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 (If you need to keep this non-dairy, there are non-dairy sour “creams” on the market.)
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) salted butter (Or a good quality non-dairy “butter” like Earth Balance)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch, sifted
3 large egg yolks [You can save the whites for a meringue or to add to an omelette.]
230 grams (2.5 cups) walnuts, roughly chopped and lightly toasted
A sprinkle of Maldon Sea Salt as a garnish
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.
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 or until the dough just starts to come together. Do not wait for it to form a ball.
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 (dock) all over the bottom, then freeze until the dough is firm, 15 to 30 minutes. You can also refrigerate the dough for at least one hour or up to overnight.
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, egg yolks, butter, vinegar, cornstarch and salt, then whisk until the butter is melted and the mixture is well combined. Then add the nuts and stir until evenly coated. Let cool until just warm, about 30 minutes.
While the caramel cools, you want to blind bake the dough before adding the filling. (Because this is essentially a short bread crust, there is no need to line the pan or to use weights.) Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes.
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. You might want to put some foil or a baking sheet under the pan to catch any spill-over. (Do NOT be alarmed when you first see the baked tart coming out of the oven. It will bubble up and look kind of messy at first. Trust me – it settles down as it cools.)
Let the tart cool on a wire rack for about 1 hour. Remove the pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature with a sprinkling of Maldon Sea Salt. 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 to 12 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.