Odd things happen when you completely plan on working and making food during your vacation, only to find that any and all attempts at making food and writing about it are fruitless. It’s a difficult mix of emotions: I love being in the kitchen, but as it turns out, mostly I prefer being in my own kitchen. Also, writing has now become easier to do than to not do, which is thrilling/scary. Documenting the day-to-day seems to have become an essential part of my day-to-day, in a very natural way, perhaps for the first time ever (or perhaps it’s just the first time I’ve noticed.)
So I missed this, our little time together. I had every intention of writing, but foolishly decided to just take the iPad instead of the laptop on our journey. This was folly.
Why? Because the iPad has the functionality of a very large, flat iPhone, and this becomes exceedingly clear to you once you have nothing to fall back on. So I failed at making several things, took horrid, unacceptable photos of some other things, and then gave up; I surrendered to the vacation. The post I cobbled together while still there is the blog equivalent of being forced to fashion a makeshift shelter from palm branches: it may exist, but it isn’t pretty.
Instead, I built sand castles with the Wee One and my mom, walked along the beach more than a few times, and had a lovely time. Letting go of routines is difficult for me; I’m not the girl who can just wing it to the beach and relax because I’m supposed to. Projects are my comfort zone; it’s like I don’t know what to do without something to do and a time frame in which to do it. It’s a personality trait my friends and loved ones are quite fond of, let me tell you.
We’ll talk vacation and other news soon, but I came home to about 83 feet of snow and an Easter party to plan for this weekend, so please allow me to gather the thoughts. I’m a little sad because a thing I had planned to do for Passover was back-burnered for the reasons above, but rest assured (and like the hamantaschen from earlier this year), it’s still on the agenda to make, post, and hopefully have you bookmark for next year. To make it up to you, I thought I’d spend today making something I have needed to perfect for ages: the perfect sweet goat cheese tart.
This, friends, is basically a Danish in haute couture; don’t let the fancy outfit fool you into thinking this is so utterly complex that no one will love it (because everyone will love it) or that it’s too rich for anything but evening (it’s like a cheese feather; light as air.) Even the crust is light, which is semi-unusual for a nut-infused crust. The walnut outsides are flaky and not at all greasy or heavy, and the inside is almost like a mousse. And don’t write this one off as something for the goat cheese addicts; it is in there, and it does add a key textural element and tanginess, but it’s a completely different flavor than what you would find in savory dishes.
Everything in this works so well together; I used a bit of honey to finish the candied walnuts and to smooth out the filling, and it’s a subtle yet fabulous background sweetness. Honey and goat cheese are probably one of my favorite things to pair of all time, so please use a solidly good goat cheese and honey for this. The textures are sublime; you’ve got the flaky bottom, the creamy middle, the jam hit, and the crunch on top, which gives everyone at your party the perfect end to whatever meal they’re having. Serve them for brunch, lunch, dinner, whatever menu you’d like to snuggle them into.
So you know, these would be perfect as straightforward cheese tarts; throw a little candied walnut on top and you’d be set. However, I layered these with two fruit fillings – cherry preserves and sweet orange marmalade – that I think complement the honeyed goat cheese nicely. Before you ask, no; this time I didn’t make my own preserves. Because truly, why even slightly complicate something that you’re making for parties? I saw no reason to do that to you. Feel free to use whatever jams or preserves you think sound lovely with it; I grabbed some obscenely red rhubarb from the market today, and I have a feeling somehow it will be combined with this cheese in the near future.
On to the tarts! It’s been ages since I’ve posted actual food, so I won’t make you wait any longer. I could go on for days and days about how creamy these are, or how the two layers of fruit add a wonderful tartness to the sweet cheese, or how the candied walnuts on top are divine and will be made again for salads (lie! I will make them for snacking, and some may get thrown on a salad), but I won’t. Trust me; you will make these, eat these, and make them again. Repeatedly.
Fresh blueberry preserves would be so incredible on these also; why did I just think of that! Add these to my Memorial Day party menu…and every other menu for every other party I have ever in the future.
Sweet Goat Cheese + Candied Walnut Tarts
for the tart dough:
- 1 cup walnuts (about 4 ounces)
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- pinch kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes*
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons ice water
for the candied walnuts:
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (about 3 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoons good-quality honey
for the filling:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 8 ounces mild, soft goat cheese
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup good-quality honey
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- fruit preserves of your choosing: I used sweet orange marmalade and cherry preserves, but these tarts would pair well with blueberry, raspberry, apricot, peach, the list goes on. If you’re game, the rosemary-peach preserves recipe from the hamantaschen post would, I suspect, be incredible. I’m adding that to my own list of fruits to try with these.)
*I find the best way to chill butter is to take it out of the fridge, cut it into cubes, and place it into the freezer for a few minutes while you get your other ingredients together. It gives the butter time to set back up again before you throw it in the processor, and makes for an improved result.
A note before we begin:
There are indeed three recipes for these tarts; letting this deter you would be unfortunate, because none of the recipes require much in the way of effort or time. I’ve made drop cookies more complicated than these, I promise you. Make the crust first and chill it; make the walnuts next while you wait so they have time to cool also. Whiz up your filling whenever, cook your tart crusts, layer, done.
Make your tart dough:
Combine walnuts, flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and process until everything is finely ground. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, or slightly damp sand.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the ice water and add to the processor, pulsing all the while, just until the dough forms a ball. If it seems to dry, add the tiniest bit more ice water. Turn the dough onto a work surface (no need to flour) and shape into a fat rectangle (fat rectangle, you say? yes, and you’ll see why when we make the tarts.) Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 1 hour.
Bake the tart crusts:
Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
I’m going to use the same method as I used with my mini lemon tarts, because it works well with this crust and I still think it’s the most foolproof way to portion tart dough. Please see the visuals from that post if you want a step-by-step of this.
Remove your dough from the refrigerator and cut your dough into 10 equal squarish pieces; you’re rolling these out so you can cut your rounds. Keep as many squares out as you have mini-pans, and place the other squares back in the fridge. Roll out one square on a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper just enough to where you can place the tart pan upside-down on the dough without leaving any holes.
Place the tart pan face down on the dough, letting the inside bottom fall on the dough. Push down as if you were cutting a cookie, then slide your hand under the wax paper and hold it tight to the tart pan. Holding the tart pan with the other hand, flip the whole thing over and peel back the plastic wrap/wax paper; the tart pan bottom will have fallen back into place.
Once you have completed all your mini-tarts, poke a few holes in each with the tines of a fork and place them in the freezer for about 10 minutes to set back up. Once firmed, place them in the oven and bake for 14-17 minutes until crusts are lightly golden and cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.
If you are doing this all at once, reduce your oven temperature to 350˚F.
In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the walnuts over medium-high heat, shaking and flipping the pan constantly to evenly toast the nuts until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the sugar, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon; you will see the sugar begin to melt and caramelize.
Note for those of us who are multi-taskers and like to get distracted by other things: the sugar will not start to melt right away, but when it does begin to melt, it goes quickly. I almost ruined my walnuts by tempting fate and stepping away from the pan for too long. It may feel like watching water boil, but stir that sugar/nut mixture and don’t do anything else during that time. Don’t do it, I’m watching. I know it’s boring.
Once the sugar has completely melted, add the butter and continue to stir until melted. Immediately remove from heat, stir in the honey until evenly coated, and transfer walnut mixture to parchment or wax paper to cool. Once it has cooled completely, break any clusters into smaller pieces (if needed).
Make the filling:
In a large bowl using an electric mixer (my preferred method for most frostings and fillings), beat the cream cheese, goat cheese, and sugar until smooth, 2-3 minutes (depending on the softness of your cheeses, usually.) Beat in the honey, eggs and vanilla until everything is well combined and completely homogenous. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat a few seconds more.
Assemble the tarts:
If your oven isn’t currently on (i.e. had you chosen to make/bake the crusts the day before), please preheat the oven to 350˚F now. If you forgot to turn your oven down after removing your tart crusts, I won’t tell anyone, but turn it down now to 350˚F.
Take your tart crusts and line them up on your work surface. Gather your preserves in heatproof bowls and microwave them in 10-second increments until melted, stirring between blasts. If you are using marmalade, obviously it’s great if you use the entire thing. Preserves on the other hand, carry chunky fruit throughout; for a smooth tart, you can either strain out the fruit or just work around it.
Using a pastry brush, carefully brush each tart bottom with a thin layer of your chosen jam(s), being mindful of drips. How much is truly up to you, although you will want it on the thin side to allow for the cheese filling.
HALT: So you decided to use two jams, yes? or maybe more? I like your enthusiasm. Guess what: you won’t see the jams once you spoon the cheese filling over them. Unless you have a massively accurate memory, I’d suggest marking the tarts in some reasonable way so when you go to spoon the second layer of jam over top, you won’t die a little on the inside. It’s cool to mix and match jam, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t want it to be accidental. Remember your secret code markings when you transfer these to cooling racks as well. You’re welcome.
Spoon the cheese filling over top, aiming for the center of each; the filling is loose enough to work its way towards the edges without much prodding. Fill to about what you see above; there’s very little poof factor here, so what you see is where I filled mine. A few spoonfuls should do it.
Set all of your tarts on a baking sheet and place in the lower third of your oven. Bake for 14-16 minutes, until the filling is just set, being careful not to overbake. Your finished product should look like my photo above; there was no jiggle factor in the center, but it had just disappeared moments before I took them out. They won’t have any color to them; indeed, they shouldn’t. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes.
Zap your remaining jam in the microwave for a few seconds to melt it again, and using a pastry brush, spread a thin layer of the matching jam over top of each tart, and feel good about yourself knowing that you were a wise cookie and coded your jams as I said. Sprinkle with a little of your candied walnuts (remember; no backsies with sticky jam, so sprinkle carefully) and serve either still a bit warm or at room temperature.
You can refrigerate these overnight, but they really are best the day of. Make sure if you do attempt these overnight to store them in an airtight container which will not disturb their beauty, and that you allow them to sit out for an hour or so to come to room temperature prior to serving.
Makes 10 4-inch miniature tarts.
Note: If you are making more mini-tarts than your individual pans will allow you to make in one round, here’s my shortcut to getting your pans back for reuse. Follow my directions about letting them cool, then place them in the fridge. After about a 1/2 hour in the refrigerator, you can (carefully!) unearth your tarts from their pans by pushing them up from the bottom (as you would do normally) and then using a thin knife or spatula to ease them off their metal bases and onto a waiting plate. Wipe them down and repeat the process above with the remaining dough and filling.