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Making a pastry that beats or rivals that of a pastry shop isn’t something that happens to me very often. I mean, a good cookie or muffin are doable, but those more delicate, often French, pastries, aren’t as easy.
But, this caramel nut tart exceeded all expectations. It’s made by following a recipe from Bouchon bakery and truly brought me back to a French patisserie. Delicious and not even that hard to make, once you understand what you’re doing.
Sweet vs savoury pastry tart shells
When you’re making tarts you will generally use some sort of a tart shell. Within French pastry there are of course a ton of recipes, but for this tart we’ll look at one main aspect: choosing to use a savoury vs. a sweet tart shell.
In French pastry these two pastry styles are called pâte sucrée and pâte brisée. The pâte sucrée is the sweet version, the other is a savoury pastry dough without any sugar in it.
If you’re making a tart with a very sweet filling you want to limit the overall sweetness by using the savoury dough. On the other hand, if your filling isn’t as sweet you could consider using a sweeter pastry to balance out the flavours.
Balancing these flavours is what distinguishes a good from a brilliant pastry chef. I’m definitely not at that level, but can learn from the experts! In this caramel nut tart we’re using a savoury tart dough since the filling, with the caramel, is pretty sweet by itself.
Making a caramel sauce
So we’ve got a savoury pie crust, and we want to add a sweet, flavourful topping. A caramel works great for that, especially since the nuts in this tart aren’t sweet, but have a great depth of flavour. Caramels get that great flavour thanks to the series of chemical reactions called caramelization.
We’ve discussed how to make a caramel before and how to fix it. As long as you don’t burn it, it can just about always be fixed! Crystallization? Add some water and start over. Cooked it to too little moisture? Add water and cook to the right temperature.
Caramel sauce consistency
For a tart like this the main challenge sits in creating a caramel sauce that is just the right consistency. It should be thin enough to seep through the whole pie, soft enough so you don’t break your teeth biting it (the tart shell should be more crispy than the caramel), but firm enough so it doesn’t pour out as soon as you cut into the tart.
The higher the temperature of your caramel, the thicker and firmer it becomes. If you stick with just sugar and water, you can use a thermometer to determine the consistency of your final syrup (as we discussed in greater detail here). The less water and thus the more sugar, the higher the boiling point and the less runny and firmer the final product.
Enriching the sauce with butter & cream
Once you’ve caramelized your sugar, you can enrich a caramel sauce by adding cream and butter. They both contain a lot of fat, which will make the sauce more creamy and richer. Since they also contain proteins, they will also enrich the flavour and colour because of the reactions between the proteins and the sugar in the caramel, the Maillard reaction.
Caramel nut tart recipe
Bringing all the science and understanding together gives us a wonderful caramel nut tart: a savoury tart shell, filled with roasted nuts and a deliciously sweet and just firm enough caramel filling.