Saturday, February 20, 2010

Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart

For Christmas, I made a mixed nut tart for my cousin and his wife.  Naturally, it didn't make it out the front door intact (almost everyone in the family had a piece).  The tart was based on a Martha Stewart recipe intended to make 12 individual tarts.  The original recipe was deceptively easy and made a very impressive-looking dessert, but I decided to revamp it to suit my personal tastes.  Martha Stewart's recipe called for corn syrup, but since I never have corn syrup on hand I opted to eliminate it.  Also, I found the mix of seeds and nuts distracting, and I ended up just searching with my fork for the crunchy macadamia nuts.  When I made my own version, I used only macadamias.  For the tart shell, I used an all-butter pie pastry, but any crust recipe would do.  My tart pan is bigger than a standard pie plate, though, so it took more dough than the America's Test Kitchen single pie crust recipe made; I had to make a few modifications.  Lastly, I drizzled bittersweet chocolate over the top of the tart, because, really, what goes better with macadamia nuts and caramel than chocolate?  Here is my reworked recipe:

Tart Crust:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, well-chilled and cubed
4-5 Tbsp. ice water

Before I began my crust, I put water in a small bowl and stuck it in the freezer to chill.  I cut the butter into pieces and put those in the freezer also.  Then, in the bowl of my food processor, I pulsed the flour, salt, and sugar to combine.  Then I added the chilled butter pieces and pulsed until they were incorporated with the flour, resembling course sand with a few larger pieces.  Then I added the chilled water, one tablespoon-full at a time.  The mixture should seem a little dry and crumbly, but if you squeeze a fistful of the dough, it should hold together.  I dumped the finished dough on plastic wrap, then pressed it into a disk and put it into the refrigerator to chill. 

Caramel Macadamia Filling:
1 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lb. roasted macadamia nuts (I used unsalted, but salted would be good, too), lightly toasted and roughly chopped
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate

To make the filling, I first melted the butter in a microwave-safe glass measuring cup.  Once it had cooled slightly, I added in the cream.  In my enameled cast iron dutch oven, I heated the water and sugar over medium-high heat.  I like to use a light-colored enameled pot because it makes it much easier to judge the color of the caramel.  I will say that I did not use a candy thermometer, but the original recipe indicated that the caramel should be cooked to 268 F.  I waited until the caramel reached a medium color (I was also fumbling with the camera, so it actually got a little too dark), probably 15-20 minutes.  Once the caramel begins to change color, it goes from golden to burnt VERY quickly, so keep an eye on it.  While the caramel was cooking, I rolled out the chilled tart dough then laid it in my tart pan, forming the shell to the flutes of the pan.  Then I whisked in the cream mixture and the salt until combined.  It WILL foam up initially, so it is important to use a pot that can accomodate the filling.  Once the syrup and cream/butter were combined, I added the nuts in off the heat.  I poured the filling in my prepared tart shell, then placed the tart on a sheet pan to catch any ooze.  I baked it for 30 minutes in a 350 degree, preheated oven, rotating halfway through.  I covered the tart with foil for the first 15 minutes of baking.  After 30 minutes, the edges of the tart were pretty well set.

After the tart was baked and cooled, I drizzled melted bittersweet chocolate over the top.  This tart could easily be made with any type of nut you prefer (toasted almonds would be good), but I love the satisfying crunch of macadamia nuts; they don't get soggy in the caramel sauce.  Although this is not an inexpensive dessert to make, it is beautiful for a special occasion and is worth the cost.  Be creative and enjoy!