Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado High Country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Get out your scissors — this recipe is a keeper. High on my list of desserts that can be eaten out-of-hand (no fork or plate required), it’s perfect for buffets, picnics or the casual get-togethers that typify mountain living. And it’s attention-getting good, almost like candy, with smooth, slightly gooey, coffee-and-brown-sugar-flavored caramel and crunchy bites of walnut wrapped in a buttery crust. Add to that the fact that it can be made two days before serving, and you know it’s a winner.
To gild the lily, you can add a drizzle of melted semisweet chocolate across the tops of the tartlets; it complements the caramel’s sweetness and provides a pretty and decorative finish. If you don’t want to make and prebake the shells, use commercial ones; the tartlets will still be delicious.
Coffee Caramel Tartlets
(Adjusted for altitudes of 7,000 feet and higher. Make in tartlet pans 3 inches across and 1 inch deep.)
2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
6 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ to 2 ½ teaspoons ice water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 ¼ teaspoons instant espresso powder
Pinch of salt
¾ cup chopped walnuts (chopped to size of a raisin)
Step 1: Make the shells: Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and process until well blended. Cut the butter into 24 pieces, and add it to the bowl with the vanilla. Pulse until mixture looks like coarse meal.
Step 2: Add the smaller amount of ice water, and pulse again. Continue adding ice water, a little at a time, until all the flour is moistened and forms pea-sized clumps. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, gently knead it a few times, and form it into a thick disc; cover and refrigerate until firm but not hard.
Step 3: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness, and cut out circles about 4 ½ inches in diameter. Gather scraps and re-roll to make a total of 12 circles. Fit them into lightly greased tartlet pans, place on a baking sheet, and freeze or refrigerate until the dough is quite firm.
Step 4: Prick the bottoms of the tart dough in several places with a toothpick to let air escape as it bakes. Bake until light golden, about 15 minutes, pricking again with a toothpick where the pastry puffs. Remove to a rack to cool. While still warm, gently press down any additional puffy spots that may have formed while baking. When almost cool, remove from tartlet pans (hold pan upside down and gently squeeze the sides of the rim until the baked shell pops out), and allow to cool completely.
Step 5: Make the filling: Cut the butter into five pieces, and add it, with the corn syrup, to a medium saucepan. Place the pan over low heat, and stir with a heatproof silicone spatula or wooden spoon. When the butter is almost fully melted, add the brown sugar and continue stirring. Bring to a low boil to dissolve the brown sugar (test by rubbing some between your fingers; it should be entirely smooth, no graininess evident).
Step 6: Briefly remove the pan from the heat; add the cream, espresso powder and salt; and return to low heat, stirring to blend. Add the chopped walnuts, continue to stir, and simmer the mixture until it thickens slightly (3 to 4 minutes); it should be a little thicker than cold heavy cream.
Step 7: Spoon the hot filling into the cooled prebaked tartlet shells, filling them almost to the top. Set them aside until the filling cools to room temperature and firms up. If you’re adding a drizzle of melted chocolate, do so when the filling has cooled. Store the tartlets, covered, at cool room temperature up to two days.
The shell recipe is a variation of one from “The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook.” Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds,” available at The Next Page bookstore in Frisco, is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. She lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.