High Country Baking: Maple walnut tart
High Country Baking
The holidays are coming, and this tart is a great way to celebrate the season. It’ll make any meal more festive. Walnuts, brown sugar, coffee and maple syrup combine to make each bite heady with delicious contrasts — bitter against sweet and crunchy against smooth. It has all the richness and wonderful gooeyness of pecan pie but with more complex flavors and less cloying sweetness. Some claim it’s downright memorable.
Ingredients matter, so use fresh walnuts, soft, lump-free brown sugar and Grade A dark maple syrup, which has a more robust taste than the one we use on our pancakes.
The viscous filling that makes this tart so appealing also can be its downfall because it can stick to the pan, gluing the tart in place once it’s baked. But there’s no need to panic. You can avoid this disaster if you carefully follow the directions in the first step and use a tart shell that is made with an egg, which makes the dough less permeable. I’d be happy to send you my recipe for one if you email your request to me.
This recipe works at any elevation. Make in a 9-inch nonstick tart pan with a removable bottom and 1 1/4-inch tall sides.
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Tart shell crust
Use your favorite tart shell crust recipe with one egg white, beaten to froth
- 3/4 cup pure Grade A dark maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons ground coffee
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs, beaten to combine
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup walnuts, broken or coarsely chopped
- 20-30 whole walnuts, optional
1. Grease the bottom and sides of your pan. Prebake the tart shell, according to your recipe’s directions but don’t prick the bottom of the unbaked crust if directed to do so. (You don’t want the sticky filling to seep through the holes and stick to the pan.) As soon as you take the fully baked shell out of the oven, brush it with the frothed egg white (you may not use it all) while it’s hot, covering the bottom and the sides well. Then stick it back in the turned-off oven for 3-4 minutes. The egg will cook, forming a shield that will help prevent the filling from seeping through the crust and sticking to the pan. Remove the pan from the oven and let the baked crust cool completely.
2. Prepare the filling: Heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line a cookie sheet with foil and set it aside. Combine the maple syrup and ground coffee in a small saucepan and heat to almost boiling on a stovetop. Set aside to cool slightly. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar until fully blended. Add the beaten eggs, about 3-4 tablespoons at a time, beating at a low speed to avoid air bubbles until fully incorporated after each addition. Strain the maple syrup and coffee into the mixture until only coffee grounds remain in the strainer. Add the vanilla and mix at low speed until combined.
3. Scatter the cup of broken/chopped walnuts over the bottom of the cooled tart shell, distributing them evenly. Slowly and gently pour the filling over them to about 1/2-inch from the top of the crust. You might have some left over, depending on the depth of your pan.
4. Place the tart on the foil-lined baking sheet and bake until the filling is set but still jiggles slightly in the center when the pan is gently shaken. Don’t overbake, or you’ll lose the tart’s all-important gooey texture. As it bakes, keep an eye on the tart shell. If it’s getting too dark, cover it with strips of aluminum foil while the filling finishes cooking. This could take 30-40 minutes depending on the depth of your pan and the temperature of the filling when placed in the oven.
5. Remove the baked tart to a rack. If desired, decorate the top with whole walnuts, gently pressing them into the tart while the filling is soft and warm. Let the tart cool completely and then refrigerate, covered, until serving. The tart cuts most easily when chilled but should be served lightly warmed. Vanilla ice cream, unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraiche are good accompaniments.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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