Every year when fresh cranberries hit the markets, I immediately stock up, and then almost as immediately, make this delectable tart. OK, to tell the truth, I am in the markets a few weeks early, whining to whoever will listen, or muttering to myself even, about the absence of cranberries. “Shouldn’t they be in by now? Are they late this year? When do you think you will have them?” When they FINALLY arrive, I experience an internal sigh of relief. Well, thank God already!
This year, on my first round with this excellent tart (which will be baked again for Thanksgiving and Christmas), I decided to try Maury Rubin’s City Bakery pastry crust, which I had read about some time ago in the Los Angeles Times. This crust is essentially what in French cuisine is called a pâte sucrée (paht soo-KRAY), or a rich and sweet dessert pastry, which I taught to students for many years at the Northwest Culinary Academy. There is a difference, however. Maury adds a small amount of cream, which has an extra tenderizing effect on the pastry.
I haven’t made pâte sucrée in a while and didn’t consider how extremely tender and short it is and how inappropriate those usually desirable qualities might be for this tart. In addition, the cream sent it over the tenderness edge. Although this pastry is truly wonderful, DO NOT use it for this tart, as it is much too fragile. The bubbling caramel sauce will break through the crust, making it ever so difficult to remove the tart from the tart pan–after the tart has cooled sufficiently for you to safely do so. Suffice it to say that we ended up eating some of the small tarts directly from the pan, a messy (although still delicious) proposition.
On the positive side though, my adventures with Maury’s crust led me to his excellent little cookbook, titled, Book of Tarts: Form, Function, and Flavor at the City, which I ordered from Amazon and am now devouring. Maury’s tarts have a post modern feel. I love the way he has organized them by season. You must check out his Cranberry, Caramel, and Almond Tart, which looks amazing. You can’t have too many recipes that combine cranberries and caramel. Nope, not possible.
Hazelnut Honey Toffee Tart
This recipe originally entered my files as an unusual Scandinavian Christmas cookie. Later, I met a native Italian cook who claimed a slightly different version as part of her culinary heritage. In January of 1982, Sunset magazine printed yet another variation, labeling it a dessert tart–and in the process Americanized the concept of nuts and caramel in a pastry crust.
This particular recipe is just enough different from the others I have seen and eaten–Scandinavian, Italian, American, or whatever–to make it very special. It does indeed make a lovely dessert tart, but serve in small wedges as it is quite rich.
If you want to make cookies, line an edged baking sheet with the pastry and proceed as directed. Cut into small triangles to serve.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 I/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup local, artisan honey
1/2 cup cream
2 cups (6 ounces) hazelnuts, lightly toasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped (walnuts or almonds can also be used)
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon hazelnut extract (or almond or walnut extract)
*Sweet Short Crust Pastry: one, 1-inch deep, I0- to 11-inch diameter crust; or six, ¾-inch deep, 5-inch diameter crusts, partially-baked in removable-bottom quiche or tart pans.
Spiced Apple Cider Caramel Sauce or Cranberry Caramel Sauce (I will post this later)
Homemade or Haagen Daz Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
*NOTE For the pastry recipe, see Apple Cranberry Deep Dish Pie with Toasted Walnut Streusel.
- Arrange the toasted, chopped hazelnuts in the pastry crust or crusts, on an edged cookie sheet (in case the caramel leaks or boils over the edge of the tart pan). Reserve.
- In a large saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, honey, and cream.
- Over moderately low heat, bring the mixture very slowly to a boil. (Wash down the sides of the saucepan occasionally with a pastry brush dipped in cold water to discourage sugar crystallization.) Stir constantly and make sure that the sugar dissolves before the mixture is allowed to boil. Otherwise the caramel will be granular.
- Boil the mixture, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240º. It will be a very light brown; don’t go too dark or the caramel will overcook (darken and harden too much) in the oven.
- Add the flavoring extract and lemon peel, and stir together.
- Remove the caramel from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes before pouring it into the partially-baked pastry shell. (There is nothing hotter or more dangerous than hot sugar syrup; be very careful.)
- Bake the tart at 375º on the middle rack of the oven for 20-25 minutes. The tart will be bubbling and turn a medium honey-caramel color. (Again, if the caramel is too dark, the tart will be too stiff; if the caramel is not dark enough, the tart will be runny.)
- Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
- Remove the outer ring of the tart pan and serve the tart on an attractive round platter. Cut into thin wedges with a very sharp knife. The tart should be served at room temperature and can be made a day ahead if desired.
Hazelnut Honey Cranberry Toffee Tart
Add 1 to 1½ cups whole fresh cranberries along with the hazelnuts. No other adjustment is necessary.