Intro

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*that is not my kitchen in the video. I wish it was, however.

Before saying hi to the cows casually grazing in the field, or giving the ponies much attention, before gathering a few garden scraps for the sake of making the chickens happy or giving much of a hello to my parents, I headed straight towards the walnut trees at the mini farm that is my parent’s house.

I had never before watched the process of walnuts turning from a lime-like pod to become a buttery, slightly bitter nut that I know and love. The shadow that the large leaves provided was a perfect canopy to escape the warm summer sun. In the spring we watched a flourishing insect community take roost among the branches – some bad, most good. I examined every change and anticipated when they would finally be ready, all the while gathering recipes in my mind.

Then one day when the days were gray and the ground was wet it happened. I got a text from my mom with an image of walnuts half out of their greenish-brown coverings, strewn all over the green carpeted floor under the tree, “they’re ready.”

Before long the five of us we’re making an hour long trek to the little farm with fresh walnuts as the mission. Well, it was my mission any way,  I’m sure the kids were more excited about pony and tractor rides. Either way we were all eager and excited to stretch our city legs on the farm.

Ivy and I fetched a deep wicker basket from my mom’s collection and quickly headed towards those trees. Her black boot covered feet found balance difficult as she had only recently discovered walking. Quickly realizing the mission she proudly plopped walnuts into the basket even if it meant taking one out only to plop it in again. She noticed the joy on my face and collected as many as she could understanding that something delicious was to become of these wet and wrinkled shells.

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Ivy was right, something delicious did become of those walnuts. A caramel walnut tart. In my mom’s kitchen we made a vanilla scented butter crust. The sort of crust you dream about. One that doesn’t require cold butter and delicate hands and hours to chill. I’ve been known to force people to time me while making this crust – they oblige and it’s about 30 seconds. All the ingredients get dumped and stirred together, then the wet dough is patted into form. It bakes with no fear of shrinking and awards your minimal efforts with a lightly sweet, tender bite.

While the crust baked Ivy and I whisked together bittersweet chocolate, cream and creme fraiche anticipating the desire for a dark, bitter taste to balance the sweet caramel. We ate it, although not necessary. Both she and I are not ones to turn down chocolate.

Let’s talk for a moment about caramel. It can be intimidating, right? It is one of my favorite things to teach as so many are afraid to try but when they see how easy it can be it opens up a world of possibilities for them.

We start with a large, very clean sauce pan. If there is any fear of residue, wipe the interior with lemon juice or vinegar using a clean dish towel. All the utensils involved in making a caramel should be impeccably clean. In the restaurant this was the reason why we required a set of spatulas separate from the savory side – a speck of leftover anything can wreak havoc on a pot of perfectly golden caramel.

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Next add your sugar, lemon juice and enough water to enable the sugar to reach the consistency of wet sand. If you add too much water don’t worry, it will just take a bit longer to caramelize. During the next few steps I like to use my hands so that I can really feel where the sugar is and what is happening in my pan – a spatula works fine if you are opposed to sugar fingers.

Stir the sugar, lemon juice and water until completely combined. Wipe down the sides of the pan with more water until you don’t feel or see any sugar granules clinging to the side. What we are fighting against is crystallization - it’s the enemy of a smooth caramel. It’s the enemy of most candy making actually. Crystallization happens when sugar caramelizes at different points. So if you have sugar that is nearly caramelized and a granule falls into the pan from off the side you may have a problem. Now, in saying all this I don’t mean to add to the intimidation of caramel making but simply to inform you of the problem and give you the proper ways to avoid it.

At this point crank up the heat and don’t touch the pan. Let the sugar dissolve then boil like crazy but don’t walk away. It happens quickly and there is no coming back from a pan of burnt sugar.

If around the sides of the pan you notice some color but the middle remains colorless, carefully swirl to mix.

The caramel is done when it has reached the color of a penny – a deep amber. You can go lighter but I like to take it to the edge, teetering the line of bitter and sweet.

Turn off the heat and add the butter, cream, and creme fraiche. You will see why we use a large pan at this point as the caramel bubbles up madly at the addition of the cold fats. Stand back until it has calmed down then carefully swirl the pan to combine. Then you are done. Perfect caramel.

Unless you are okay with warm caramel puddling all over your plate, the only down side to this recipe is needing to wait. We couldn’t and didn’t with no complaints of puddled caramel. Being a resourceful bunch we used the crust to help mop up the mess.

My recommendation is joining this rich tart with a lightly sweetened cream. If you like the mature tang of creme fraiche add a heap of that to the cream you are whipping, I find it settles the intensely sweet caramel nicely.

This tart made the long wait for ripe walnuts completely worth it. That and seeing my baby girl clenching those golden shells around her pudgy fingers. I’m already excited for next year’s harvest.

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Caramel Walnut Tart

Tart shell

makes enough dough to for a 9” or 10” tart

¼ cup powdered sugar

½ cup butter (melted)

pinch salt

½ tsp vanilla

1 cup flour

In a medium bowl stir together all the ingredients. The dough will be quite wet but can easily be pressed into a tart pan or spring form pan.

Bake at 350*F for about 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden.

Let cool.

Chocolate Glaze

Not necessary to make this tart a memorable one but really what isn’t improved upon by the addition of chocolate?

½ cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup cream fraiche

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Add the chocolate to a medium bowl.

In a small sauce pan, heat the cream and creme fraiche over medium heat. Watch carefully as cream tends to bubble up and boil over quickly. When bubbles appear all over the surface, remove from the heat and immediately pour over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute the whisk to combine.

Can use immediately or store in a covered container in the fridge for 2 weeks. Makes a great ice cream topping or hot chocolate base.

Caramel Filling

The recipe in the video had double the caramel but I found it to be a bit too much. As it is this recipe is quite rich but I like this ratio of crust, caramel, and cream much more pleasant.

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tbl lemon juice

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoons crème fraîche

1 cup walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped

Place sugar, water, and lemon juice in a heavy, large saucepan. Stir to combine. Wash down the sides of the pan until no sugar remains. Set on high heat and boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, about 7-10 minutes depending on the power of your stove and the pan you use. If the sugar around the sides begin to caramelize more rapidly, gently swirl the pan to mix.

Remove from heat. Whisk in butter, cream and creme fraiche (mixture will bubble vigorously).  Stir in walnuts. Let cool until slightly thick before pouring into prepared crust. Let cool until caramel is set. If you are really eager you can pop it in the refrigerator for a bit.

Serve with lightly whipped cream.

85 Responses to “Caramel Walnut Tart”

  1. Maureen

    That’s the most beautiful tart I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely going on my bucket list at my site right now! It could only be better if it was on a plate in front of me. :)

    Reply
  2. Melissa

    Love love the video and the story! What a precious moment for you and your lil girl. And this looks divine as well. We pick black walnust from our tree every year and they taste so much better than any store bought version.

    Reply
  3. michelle

    When I was first told I needed to make caramel sauce on a daily basis when I started working at the bistro my heart sunk. Seriously….. it was so daunting. Until I got it right. Now I look forward waiting for the smell and the color, the perfect indicators for perfect caramel.

    Reply
  4. My Little Expat Kitchen

    I always love your videos Ashley and Gabriel, and your baby girl is so unbelievably cute!

    Great tart, walnuts are delicious and with that caramel, oh, perfection.

    PS Your kitchen is amazing, and huge. Mine is about 1/8 th of that :)
    Magda

    Reply
  5. Cookie and Kate

    I’m at a loss for words, Ashley. I love everything about this post. Everything! Especially your beautiful baby girl and those adorable baby boots. Thank you for the insight into caramel making, too.

    Reply
  6. Erica

    Thanks so much for this easy tart shell recipe! I’m hosting a Valentine’s Day party for my family that I’ve themed “Hearts and Tarts” (cheesy, I know, but I’m a sucker for themed parties!) and this recipe will be a perfect no fuss addition!

    Reply
  7. Trace

    Were those the walnuts that came in the Klesick box? I have never had such good walnuts as those fresh, organic, heavenly treats! My daughter with her wonderfully refined palette declared them ‘carmelly’ (so true). They would be a perfect match for your tart. Now I have to see if I can get more and make this luciousness. :)

    Your video was beautiful. Talented hubby!

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Trace – They weren’t actually. They were the ones straight off of the tree and I agree with your daughter – caramelly and so buttery. Not nearly as bitter as what I typically get from the store. Hard to go back to stale walnuts after having fresh.

      Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Dave – No such thing as a dumb question. Because this crust uses melted butter you are going to get a very tender crust as the fat coats the flour. In a traditional pie crust the fat is suspended in the flour and when the fat bubbles and steams in the hot oven it pushes the layers of flour up giving you flakes. Long scientific answer to essentially say, depends on what type of pie you want. This wouldn’t work very well for top crusts but for any pie that simply requires a bottom crust – cream pie, pumpkin pie, etc. this would work fine.

      Reply
  8. MG Atwood

    Enjoyed the video and watching you and Ivy forage for nuts. Teak enjoyed it as well telling me “hot” when you got to the stove, and insisting it was “mama” cooking. LOL Are you sisters? *wink

    Reply
  9. Brian

    Caramel is a tricky beast, but even when you fail, it tastes so darn good. Doesn’t look like you had an issue.. Based on this gorgeous tart

    Reply
  10. Kathleen

    This was one of the most beautiful clips I’ve seen in a long time. Really gorgeous because of it’s simplicity and your obvious delight in Ivy’s sweetness. (And the tart looks delicious, too!)

    Reply
  11. Hannah

    Lovely to see you sharing a special time with your adorable daughter. What a gorgeous tart – I can’t resist walnuts and chocolate, and to add caramel is sublime.

    Reply
  12. Deanna

    For years I thought I didn’t like walnuts, then last year I ate one toasted and had that “well okay I do like walnuts” moment. It turns out I’d never had a toasted walnut. Walnuts and an almost burnt caramel? Has my name written alllll over it.

    Reply
  13. Jill Mant~a SaucyCook

    What a gorgeous tart, lovely photos and video and heartwarming sentiment. It is unbelievable that you were able to package a virtual cooking lesson within the confines of such a beautiful piece. I’m awed on all counts.

    Reply
  14. Gabby @ Gabby's Gluten-free

    This looks gorgeous! I always love your photography and videos…such a great source of inspiration. Also, your daughter is just heart-meltingly adorable.

    Reply
  15. Tracy

    Loved everything about this post, including the lovely Beach House music. What a wonderful video clip. Hope to try the tart soon – it looks delectable!

    Reply
  16. Clara

    Well, I love absolutely everything about this post! Where do I begin? The video is so amazing, you and Gabe make an incredibly talented couple! Your parents home and surrounding landscape… ugh jus gorgeous! Looks more like a vacation spot. I’m so intrigued by this simple crust, I can’t wait to try it in some pies. The tart itself is stunning, that gooey caramel has my mouth watering! And your daughter! I can barely stand her waddling along in those boots! Too, too cute.

    Reply
  17. Mikaela Cowles

    I feel like I just watched one of those slightly sexual, incredibly moving music videos about love. You know, the heart sick kind where you feel like you’re 15 again and just kissing the guy of your dreams makes you get all googly eyed and weak kneed.

    Not to mention, what a lovely farm! You must have had a fantastic childhood. And, I was definitely scared of caramel until I tackled it head on. It really is amazing what you can do when you just get in the kitchen and start cooking. Isn’t it?

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Mikaela – haha. I love it, thank you. Actually this little farm is new, they bought it last December and I can’t imagine life without it. I adore the city but it is so wonderful to know that just over an hour away the country awaits.

      Reply
  18. Katherine Martinelli

    I am just enchanted by this post! The video is brilliant and just makes me smile. The recipe is amazing and I can’t wait to try that magical crust that you speak of. And, although I don’t have access to a walnut tree or a beautiful kitchen like that, I can’t wait to make this caramel-walnut tart. Bookmarked! Or, I should say pinned.

    Reply
  19. Jen

    I so loved your movie, picking walnuts with your daughter! The photography was beautiful and idyllic. Your daughter is a gorgeous cherub! I also loved the music; not to mention the TART! Watching you make it was less intimidating. I will try to do it. Thank you for sharing this.

    Jen

    Reply
  20. Venessa

    What a sweet little video–And I do so love nut and caramel tarts. I also totally agree that caramel is not something to be afraid of!

    Reply
  21. Carmen

    I completely love your website, the recipes, the photos, your writting style, evrything is so nice and interesting!
    Congratulations from Chile :D

    Reply
  22. Carmen

    looks delicious, but i have 2 questions, in which part of the preparation you use the chocolate glaze? and which is the difference between creme and creme fraiche?

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Carmen – The chocolate glaze can be served along with the tart, just drizzle over the tart. When I say cream I mean heavy cream. Creme Fraiche is a cultured cream – similar to sour cream yet less tart and not quite as thick. Great questions!

      Reply
  23. Taru

    thanks for the lesson in caramel making.. this tart looks absolutely divine and as always with your concoctions, a feast for the eye.

    Reply

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