*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.
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.
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.
Caramel Walnut Tart
makes enough dough to for a 9” or 10” tart
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ cup butter (melted)
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.
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.
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.