Monday, 7 November 2011

Walnut Tart / Tart au Noix

My husband has turned into a squirrel over the last month gathering walnuts from every corner of the village to be stored in baskets, eaten with cheese, toasted in goats cheese salads, caramelised with seasonal figs and honeyed in tarts...the walnut is said to be the nut that is best for you when eaten raw over and above all other gnaw away we shall....


Denizens of the Perigord have the second-lowest rate of heart disease in the world despite living on a diet most would consider rich, and they ascribe their health and longevity in no small measure to the walnut, which is known to have cholesterol-lowering properties. High in potassium, zinc, and copper, walnuts impart energy, and rich in magnesium, they fight stress
quoted from 'Slow Travel France' website

I have been making this Rick Stein Crunchy Walnut Tart since the nuts started to fall and have become addicted to its buttery pastry and gorgeous sweet filling...
Here is the recipe with a few alterations that I think help to improve the is a rich caramel tart with a lovely nut crunch...any honey to hand will do...I have tried it with NZ manuka honey and some other lovely local runny honeys from the Champagne Region...

adapted from an original in Rick Steins 'French Odyssey' 

60 gm butter
750 gm honey
50 ml double cream
a tablespoons of rum, calvados, or ratafia [a champagne by product]
150 gm walnut pieces...chopped roughly
75 gm caster sugar
2 egg yolks

NB. I have halved Rick's original recipe as it made such a huge amount that I managed to make two tarts with the filling above.

180 gm butter
240 gm flour
pinch of salt
2 - 3 tablespoons of cold water

NB. This is enough pastry for two tarts... refrigerate or freeze until needed.

creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream

1. Leave the butter out of the fridge for half an hour before making the pastry.  
2. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and then cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. 
3. Lightly rub the butter into the flour and then add the water to work into a smooth dough.
4. Roll out onto a lightly floured board and line a loose bottomed flan tin [2.5 cm deep and 24 cm across] with the rolled pastry. 
5. Prick the base here and there with a fork and put in the fridge for 20 mins...this helps to reduce the shrinkage when cooking. Do this as fast as you can because as the butter warms it makes for mushy hard to handle pastry! If you get in a pickle with this chill the pastry and then roll it. 
6. Preheat the oven to 200 deg cel. Line the pastry case with a crumpled piece of baking paper and a thin layer of baking beans and bake the pastry blind for 15 - 20 mins. Remove paper and beans and return the base to the oven for a few more minutes. 
7. Remove the case from the oven and set aside...reduce the oven temperature to 190 deg cel.
8. To make the filling gently warm the butter, honey, cream and chosen alcohol in a pot over a low heat till melted and combined to a smooth caramel. 
9. Mix the nuts and sugar together in a bowl. Lightly whisk the two egg yolks in a bowl then whisk them into the honey mixture, then stir in walnuts and sugar.
10. Pour filling into the pastry base and bake for 25 - 30 mins until the tart is well caramelised.
11. Leave to cool and then cut into wedges and serve with creme fraiche or ice cream.
This recipe originates from South West France [The French call it by its ancient name 'the Perigord' and we all know it as 'the Dordogne'] the traditional walnut growing area...see below:

Drive through the verdant valleys of the Perigord Noir and you cannot help but be struck by the majestic groves of walnut trees that grace the landscape. Although the trees you see today are newer, there is evidence that the walnut has existed in this corner of the world for 17,000 years or more, and that the nuts figured into the diet of Cro-Magnon man. The walnut has played a prominent role in the local culture and commerce since then. Tenth-century peasants paid their debts off with the nuts; 11th century peasants were expected to tithe walnuts to the church; 13th century merchants considered walnut oil as precious as gold; and in the 18th century, walnut oil as well as wine constituted a thriving trade on the waters of the Dordogne toward Bordeaux and beyond to the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain.
Until the end of the 19th century, most families cultivated at least a few walnut trees to add to their income. During the October - November harvest season, they gathered by the fire in the evenings and cracked the shells, using boxwood mallets that helped ensure the nuts would stay whole, as cracked nuts brought in less money. The denoisillage, as it was called, is still practiced today by elderly women known asles dames denoisillenses, their hands stained a permanent auburn. And though since the 1950s modern machinery has facilitated the harvesting and preparation of walnuts for market, many small producers perpetuate the old methods.

quoted from 'Slow Travel France' website

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