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Chocolate Caramel Walnut Tart

I was in charge of the Brussels sprouts and dessert for Thanksgiving. I made a pumpkin bread, which is always great and I decided to try this tart from Cook's Illustrated. It goes without saying that it is a very involved, complicated and fussy recipe that includes pastry making, candy making, chilling and baking. You have to make the tart crust, and bake it, make the caramel layer, let it set, make the chocolate layer, and bake it again, you decorate it with the homemade candied walnuts you made back in step 2, and then it has to cool to room temperature and then chill in the fridge to set. It's a 6 hour process. All that said, it was rich, decadent and delicious once it was all done. If you have an extra 6-8 hours this holiday season, give it a try.


Makes one 9-inch tart, serving 12 to 16.   Published November 1, 2004.

The nuts used in the crust, in the caramel filling, and as a garnish must all be toasted; the entire amount can be toasted together on a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven until fragrant and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. For cutting clean slices, dip the blade of the knife in warm water and wipe with a kitchen towel before making each cut.

Ingredients

Walnut Crust
1 large egg , separated
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted walnuts (2 1/2 ounces), see note
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar (2 ounces)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Caramel-Walnut Filling and Garnish
1/4 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
2/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 3 pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice from 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
16-18 walnut halves , plus 1 cup (5 ounces) toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped (see note)
Chocolate Filling
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup whole milk
5 ounces semisweet chocolate , chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 4 pieces

Instructions

  1. 1. FOR THE CRUST: Beat egg white in bowl with fork until frothy; remove 1 tablespoon egg white to second bowl and whisk in yolk and vanilla. Process nuts and sugar in food processor until finely ground, 8 to 10 seconds. Add flour and salt and pulse to combine. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; pulse to cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. With machine running, add egg yolk mixture and process until dough forms ball, about 20 seconds. Transfer dough to large sheet plastic wrap and press into 6-inch disk; wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm but malleable, about 30 minutes.

  2. 2. Roll out dough between 2 large sheets lightly floured plastic wrap to 13-inch round, about 1/8-inch thick (if at any point dough becomes too soft and sticky to work with, slip dough onto baking sheet and freeze or refrigerate until workable). Place dough round on baking sheet and freeze until stiff and cold, about 15 minutes (or refrigerate about 30 minutes). Meanwhile, evenly spray 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray.

  3. 3. Remove dough from freezer; discard top sheet plastic wrap but keep dough on baking sheet. Following illustrations 1 through 6 below, line tart pan with dough. Freeze dough-lined tart pan until firm, about 30 minutes. (Can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen up to 1 month.)

  4. 4. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Set dough-lined tart pan on baking sheet. Spray 12-inch square foil with nonstick cooking spray and press foil inside chilled tart shell; fill with pie weights. Bake until light golden brown, about 30 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time. Carefully remove foil and weights and continue to bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Cool on baking sheet on wire rack about 5 minutes, then brush hot crust with reserved egg white. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

  5. 5. FOR CARAMEL-WALNUT FILLING AND GARNISH: While crust is cooling; pour water into medium heavy-bottomed saucepan; add sugar to center of pot to keep granules from adhering to sides of pot. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; covered; swirling pan once or twice to dissolve sugar. Uncover pot and continue to boil&; without stirring; until sugar is deep amber&; begins to smoke&; and registers about 375 degrees on instant-read or candy thermometer&; 5 to 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Carefully add about half of cream; mixture will sputter and steam. Add remaining cream and let bubbling subside. Return pan to low heat and stir with heatproof rubber spatula until caramel is smooth. Add butter and stir until melted. Remove pan from heat; stir in vanilla; lemon juice; and salt.

  6. 6. Add walnut halves to caramel and stir to coat; let stand until caramel is slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon and allowing excess caramel to drain back into saucepan, transfer walnuts to wire rack set over baking sheet; set aside. Stir chopped walnuts into caramel, then pour mixture evenly into tart shell. Refrigerate, uncovered, on baking sheet until caramel is firm and does not slip when pan is tilted, about 20 minutes.

  7. 7. FOR CHOCOLATE FILLING: Whisk yolks and 1 tablespoon cream in small bowl. Bring milk and remaining 1/3 cup cream to simmer in small saucepan; off heat, add chocolate and butter. Cover pan and let stand until chocolate is mostly melted, about 2 minutes. Using spatula, stir mixture until smooth; stir in yolk mixture. (Chocolate should be thin and pourable; if too thick to pour evenly, set saucepan over low heat to warm mixture.) Pour filling into caramel-filled tart shell, tilting tart pan as necessary to evenly distribute chocolate to edges of tart. Bake on baking sheet in 300-degree oven until tiny bubbles are visible on surface and chocolate layer is just set (if pan is gently shaken, filling will appear very wobbly because caramel layer is warm), about 25 minutes. Set baking sheet with tart on wire rack; arrange caramel-coated walnut halves on surface of tart, around perimeter. Cool tart until just warm, about 30 minutes, then refrigerate, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

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