The walnut’s richness and affinity with many diverse flavours, vanilla, cream, coffee, dates, honey, pear, citrus and spices is testimony to its popularity in so many desserts and baked goods. Used in all forms – halves, pieces and ground into a meal – in pastry, walnuts are best used with plain flour, as alone they would produce too ‘short’ or crumbly a pastry. The Romanians produce a famous torte, made from thin, multiple layers of pastry filled with finely chopped walnuts that is symbolically served on Christmas Eve, while the Burgundians of France make a yeasted sweet pastry sprinkled with walnuts and drizzled with walnut oil that they serve with gruyere. Finely chopped walnuts are used in fill pastries and are a common component of baklava. Ground and mixed with chocolate, they become halva, while other more standard uses include biscuits, turnovers and crumble toppings.
WALNUT AND HONEY TARTS
175 gm caster sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
2 tbsp honey
½ tsp vanilla extract
100 ml double cream, plus extra, to serve
60 gm unsalted butter 200 gm walnut halves
160 gm plain flour
2 egg yolks
50 gm caster sugar
80 gm soft unsalted butter
1. For pastry, place flour in a large bowl, make a well in the centre, then place egg yolks, sugar and butter in well and, using your hands, work egg yolks, sugar and butter together to form a paste, then gradually draw in flour, stirring until mixture forms a soft dough. Divide dough into 4 discs, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Roll out pastry discs, one at a time, between baking paper, until 5mm-thick, and line 4 greased [3cm-deep] 10cm-round tart tins with removable bases with pastry, then refrigerate for 1 hour. Line tart shells with baking paper, fill with rice or dried beans and bake at 190C for 10 minutes, then remove paper and beans and bake for another 10 minutes or until dry and pale golden. Cool.
3. Combine sugar, cream of tartar and 1/3 cup water in a small, heavy-based saucepan, stir over low heat until sugar dissolves, then boil without stirring until a deep golden caramel. Add combined honey, vanilla and cream, taking care as mixture will spit, then add butter and stir until mixture is smooth. 4 Stir walnuts into caramel mixture, then spoon into tart shells and bake at 190C for 15 minutes or until walnuts are deep golden. Cool to room temperature before serving.