High Country Baking: This memorable walnut tart is like pecan pie but way better
High altitudes make 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 that make baking in the mountains successful.
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 artificial one we use on our pancakes.
The viscous filling that makes this tart so appealing can also 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 step No. 1, 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 — just email your request to me.
Maple Walnut Tart
Works at any elevation
Make in a 9-inch nonstick tart pan with a removable bottom and 1¼ -inch high sides
Your favorite tart shell crust made with an egg
1 egg white, beaten to froth
¾ cup pure Grade A Dark maple syrup
2 tablespoons ground coffee
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, beaten to combine
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup broken or coarsely chopped walnuts
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, while it’s hot, brush it with the frothed egg white (you may not use it all), covering both the bottom and the sides well. 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: Preheat 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 ½-inch from the top of the crust (you may 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 from 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, while the filling is soft and warm, decorate the top with whole walnuts, gently pressing them into it. Let the tart cool completely and then refrigerate, covered, until serving and up to a day ahead. The tart cuts most easily when chilled but should be served lightly warmed. Vanilla ice cream, unsweetened whipped cream, and crème fraiche are good accompaniments.
Dr. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco, and Breck Books in Breckenridge). She became a full-time Frisco resident in 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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