I'm almost embarrassed to admit that it took me days to recover from my road trip. Driving for a long time is irrationally exhausting. I expected to get home, and get back to work. For about 4 of the 19 hours it took to get home from Colorado, I was writing lists in my head of all the things I'd do when I got home. Of course, the more bored and agitated I got sitting in the car, the more extravagant my lists got. By the time I got home, I had lists of things to make (black walnut crust, black walnut cream liqueur, black walnut henna, black walnut crusted somethingorother, black walnut soup), lists of things to do (write a book, buy a trailer to make future awesome road trips more fun, find funding to open a shop, move to Big Sur, beg my friends and family to send me to Nicaragua for the clinical training course thing that I want to do), lists of things to organise (my office. I won't even show you pictures because it's too embarrassing), lists of people to email, lists of... well you get the picture.
And you know, by the time I got home, I was so tired that I just hid my suitcase somewhere near the washing machine, took a shower, and crawled into bed. And didn't emerge until Tuesday. When I promptly started at the top of my list: black walnut crust.
I'm beginning to think that the crust gene skips a generation. Of course, my evidence is limited to my own family, and I have jumped to grander conclusions based on less. But my grandma makes a damn good tart crust, and I, if I can say this about myself, do too. Mum, on the other hand, bakes the best challah this side of the Nile but is self-admittedly not the best pastry person.
You see, my theories are well researched. When somebody discovers the pastry gene in the future and there's a Nobel prize in the running, I want it noted here and now that I THOUGHT OF IT FIRST.
And I really love a good tart. Fruit tarts, creamy tarts, savoury tarts, I really don't care, as long as it has a stodgy crust and something to complement that stodgy crust. Enter black walnut.
The walnutty yet more complex and delicious than a walnut flavour is perfect in a crust. It's firm, not as oily as a bag of rancid old nuts that you get at the store, and just different enough that it makes you pause while chewing to figure out what that extra deliciousness is. Don't worry, nobody will be able to figure it out and you'll be deemed the master of mystery ingredients for years to come.
I filled the crust with pear slices because it was what I had on hand (still to tired to actually leave the house; not too tired to bake). But really, given a chance I'd probably do something amazing like a goat cheesecake filling with balsamic glazed figs on top. Yeah, I think that'd be really nice. Though pears were really good, especially with a bit of custard underneath them.
On a side note, how sexy are these late summer/ early fall fruits? Pears (they look like a Nikki De Saint Phalle sculpture). Figs (I took a photo of a fig last year that looked exactly like a boob). Sharon fruit (or persimmons as you Americanos like to call them) just look vibrant and luscious and sexy. And apples, well isn't that Eve's fruit? I wanted to use a cross section of an apple as my KRA logo but all the feedback I got said it looked like a vagina and people might get the wrong impression. Hmph.
So... another question: What's the sexiest fruit, in your opinion?
Black Walnut and Pear Tart
Adapted from the Bouchon cookbook
2 cups black walnut pieces (you can substitute another nut if you're unadventurous :P)
1/3 cup sugar
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cream
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1/2 pear per mini tart.
Make the crust:
In a food processor, pulse the nuts until they're in small pieces, then add the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter, cut into a few pieces, and pulse until it's broken up into pea-sized pieces. Then add the egg and pulse in ten-second bursts until the sound changes and it thickens into one cohesive pastry-like lump. Turn out onto a floured surface, mold into a disc, wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Peel the pears. Cut in half, cut the core out, and then slice lengthwise so that each half is sliced about 6 times.
Roll out the tart crust and press into mini tart pans. Lay the pears in each tart pan, about half a pear per tart. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for about 35 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the pears look wilted.
Meanwhile make the creme anglaise:
Combine cream, milk, sugar and vanilla in a heavy bottomed saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat once the sugar is melted. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together. Then spoon about 1 cup of the hot milk into the eggs, whisking fast. Repeat, then pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Turn on a low heat, and, stirring constantly, heat up for about 10 minutes, or until the custard has thickened. Don't overheat or it'll curdle!
Pour it into a serving dish of some kind. When the tarts are ready, remove from the oven, plate and then drizzle with the custard.