As a child, walnuts used to pose a particularly tough battle for me each Christmas. Bowls of nuts in their shells would appear around our house like wholesome Christmas ornaments each year, complete with my Christmas nemesis, the nutcracker, lying on the top of the bowl. Peanuts were no problem, and almonds were a breeze. Brazil nuts were completely impossible, but I didn’t really like them so that wasn’t too much of a problem. But walnuts were a tricky one.
Walnuts were the biggest nut in the bowl, which meant they were the most difficult for my little fingers to grasp in the nutcracker. I can remember clenching a walnut between the nutcracker’s arms, and squeezing with all the might I could muster with my tiny hands, and nothing. Not a crack. My brother would usually wander by, see my dilemma, crack open the offending nut with a single deft squeeze, and then wander off, eating the walnut himself of course, and leaving me wailing in his wake.
Don’t you just love big brothers?
These days walnuts don’t get the better of me anymore. Come to think of it, neither does my brother. For a start I now buy walnuts shelled. I also know many more delicious ways to eat walnuts besides just eating them straight up. And I discovered that walnuts aren’t just for Christmas.
I thought I’d showcase the lumpy, bumpy texture of walnuts in a salted caramel and walnut tart. Walnuts are the perfect pairing for salted caramel. The soft nuttiness of the walnut is a great foil to the sweetness of the caramel, and the light tinge of salt brings out the warmth of the nuts.
Pastry is not my strong point, so I took the advice of Smitten Kitchen and used her recipe for unshrinkable pastry. It wasn’t quite unshrinkable, but it did create a buttery biscuit base that managed to remain both moist and crispy. The butter sat comfortably alongside the salted caramel to create a crunch of butterscotch biscuit in each mouthful. This pastry was good enough to eat on its own, like a big tart-shaped biscuit. But it would have been a little strange to sit in a corner and eat an empty tart shell, so I restrained myself.
The high butter content of this pastry means you have to work very quickly to get the pastry rolled and into the pan. The butter warms up very quickly, even on my cold stone benchtop and with my vampire-cold hands, which are supposed to be perfect for making pastry, making the pastry unworkably soft and too pliable. It loses its form when you’re too slow, and once it is warm it’s next to impossible to get it rolled into a sheet and into your tart pan. I finally got it on my third attempt at rolling it, and kept having to rest it in the fridge for an hour between each attempt.
The caramel was very quick to make. I melted 100g of butter and 100g of dark brown sugar in a saucepan on a low heat. then I added a 400g tin of condensed milk and brought it to the boil for about a minute (make sure you stir it constantly or it will catch). Let it cool for a few minutes and then pour into the tart shell. Sprinkle with about half a teaspoon of sea salt flakes, cover with walnuts and refrigerate for a few hours to set.
This tart was served for dessert after O spent four hours on a self imposed cooking marathon. He emerged from the kitchen bearing lamb and sweet potato penang curry and caramel chilli pork belly (omigod). O’s culinary adventures are (very) few and far between, but when he does manage to get in the kitchen we always see smiles around the table.
This tart is an incredibly rich dessert, so it’s best served with a dollop of cream or good vanilla icecream to cut the sweetness.