brunch, desserts

sweet goat cheese + candied walnut tarts.

sweet goat cheese + candied walnut tarts.

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.

sweet goat cheese + candied walnut tarts.

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.

sweet goat cheese + candied walnut tarts.

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.

sweet goat cheese + candied walnut tarts.

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.

sweet goat cheese + candied walnut tarts.

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.

Make the candied walnuts:

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.

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  • Reply Faygie Moorvitch March 27, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    I can’t stop looking at the pictures on this post–those tarts look SO GOOD. And you know how much I love goat cheese!

    Yet one more of your recipes that I can’t wait to try 🙂

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 11:42 am

      Faygie, i know how much you adore the goat cheese, and you would LOVE these tarts. For those of us slightly obsessed with all things goat cheese, these are insanely good; but even for the non-goat cheese lovers (how do your littles feel about goat cheese? i know that’s not always a kid flavor), I think it’s a total winner.

      I think you and i have the same flavor favorites, for sure. Too many things we love on each other’s blogs. 🙂

      • Reply Faygie Moorvitch March 28, 2013 at 1:45 pm

        My kids, thankfully, love goat cheese, too! 🙂

        • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm

          you are so lucky! It’s good to get them in early on the good stuff, i think. The Wee One is still pretty picky with her eating, but when she loves something, it’s often times very “un-kid-like” flavors. her most recent love is anything which tastes like ginger; of all things! 🙂

          • Faygie Moorvitch March 28, 2013 at 7:33 pm

            Speaking of ginger, I can NOT wait until passover is over, so that I can make a batch of your awesome vanilla-ginger granola. I’ve been wanting some so badly!!

  • Reply Abbe@This is How I Cook March 27, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Well, I don’t know what you were thinking about while building sand castles but I am sure glad it was this. Between the candied walnuts and the honey goat cheese filling…my mouth is definitely watering. Welcome home!

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 11:44 am

      oddly enough, Abbe, it WAS this (and a few other things i’m working on); it’s amazing how a little time away gives you a clean-slate perspective. I was so stuck in winter things that i couldn’t think past it; some warm temperatures and ocean waves gave me a little inspiration, i think. I’m happy you like it! Thanks – good to be back.

  • Reply Emma March 28, 2013 at 3:37 am

    I’m lucky if I get to try out one baking project per week these days, so I understand your desire and need to immerse yourself in projects. Once a week just doesn’t cut it! That said, I can vacation and relax with the best of them… if I ever make it to the beach again. Do you know, I trudged through 11 hours of soggy rainy forest yesterday, and I thought about vacation not once? Sometimes I impress myself. But now, with the prospect of repeating the whole ordeal today, I’m thinking about vacation pretty hard.

    Your tarts look lovely, and are yet another reminder that I need to get myself some tart pans. I love whipping up goat cheese with cream cheese and honey – so good, so light! Looking forward to seeing what else you have up your sleeve(s) 🙂

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 11:38 am

      I won’t even pretend to understand how you manage to do full time forestry work and baking projects at the same time; i bet you miss having more time to work on things in the kitchen. Once a week really doesn’t give you a ton of time to create and fine-tune things. You, my dear, deserve some beach time to counteract all that cold wet work. 🙂

      Thank you; go get the pans! I think i bought mine ages ago, pre-shannon baking all the time. I got them because they looked like fun, and then proceeded not to use them for at least 3 years, until recntly, and now i use them all the time. It’s funny how many things you can think to use them for once you break them in. And, bonus, easy to store (because they’re so small).

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina March 28, 2013 at 5:11 am

    Welcome back. I miss you.

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 11:34 am

      *hugs* thanks. 🙂 missed you too, for sure.

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog March 28, 2013 at 6:47 am

    I missed you! These little tarts look amazing. Hey, we all deserve a vacation; one where we actually relax, right? It sounds like you had a great time. Glad you’re back!

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 11:33 am

      I missed you too! Thanks; these little tarts are going to be making several reappearances this year, for sure; I think i’m going to start showing up places with them and be all “hey; i just made these, no reason, they’re just so good…” Just so i can make one or two for myself every so often. 🙂
      Vacations are pretty awesome; i’ll admit, disconnecting and sticking my toes in the sand for a few days was probably something i needed, if only to refocus myself, you know? I had a lovely time, and it’s great to be back.

  • Reply Ashley March 28, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Hi, my name is Ashley and I am a Goat Cheese Addict….but I refuse to change that. So these are something that will be made and devoured. I suspect I may turn into a snarling, savage beast guarding the plate of sweet goat cheese tartlets (should they have the fortune of even making it to a plate), swatting away any hands that have the audacity to reach for one.

    And here’s another jam idea for you — peach + coriander! I spied a jar in the grocery store and, well, couldn’t resist buying it (it’s jam). But it reminded me of your rosemary-peach preserves.

    And rhubarb!?! I can’t wait to see what you make!
    Welcome back!

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 11:31 am

      The first step is admitting you have a problem; the second is refusing to change your goat cheese ways. 🙂 I too am a goat cheese addict, and i see no point in which that ends; i embrace the addiction. I actually had to give these/throw these at Stella’s grandparents today (toddler’s day out today!) so I wouldn’t wolf them down today in the privacy of my own home. I’m telling you; they are the softest, creamiest cheese tarts EVER, and they have a texture I may never be able to adequately describe. It’s heavenly. They may actually be from heaven.

      PEACH CORIANDER! Oh, my heart; that sounds incredible; one of my favorite herb/flavors is coriander/cilantro, so that’s getting noted in the “must do” notebook, for sure. I would LOVE that, i suspect.

      it is beautiful; i haven’t seen rhubarb this good in seriously, years around here. SO DARK AND LOVELY. it’s in my fridge waiting for me to think of something worth its beauty.
      good to be back! i really did miss all of you.

  • Reply Angie March 28, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Do you think you could make one large tart using this recipe? I’m in charge of Easter brunch & this would be a fun addition, but I don’t want to take on too much!

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Hi Angie! My answer is yes, you could just make one regular size tart with this; like the little lemon tarts I did awhile back, this would yield you a 9-inch tart pretty easily (the walnuts actually bulk this dough up so it’s slightly larger than a normal “serving” of dough, it seems). I would recommend chilling the dough for 1 hour, rolling out on plastic wrap or parchment paper (lightly floured, perhaps, for this), and then using the “flip method” where you grab both sides of the parchmenet/plastic wrap, aim, and then flip it onto the tart pan. It’s pretty forgiving, so push it into the corners and up the sides and cut off the excess.
      As for the jams, i’d be interested to hear what kind you’re thinking of for this! Doing a big one means you could either stick with one or maybe experiment with a pair (cherry/blackberry, peach/raspberry, etc).
      Oh, and in case you were wondering, I think the quantity for the candied walnuts would be perfect for one large tart; aim toward the center and work outward; if you’re using a round tart and cutting it like pie slices, it should be a beautiful little walnut gradient on everyone’s plate. 🙂
      Finally: i’m in charge of easter brunch too, so i wish you the best of luck. If you need help (virtually) at all, let me know!

  • Reply Brianne March 28, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I’m glad you let yourself relax and enjoy your vacation. You know your loyal readers weren’t going to be mad at your for taking a much, much deserved break! I did miss hearing from you, though 🙂 I can’t believe you guys got all that snow! Our snow is mostly gone–we’ve had heavy rain the last few days–but there’s always a chance that we’ll get hit with some crazy snow monster. I just want it to be Spring, dang it! I want to play with rhubarb and asparagus SO bad.

    Also, sweet goat cheese is such a win. Yum!

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Aw, thanks, Brianne; i just felt so weird about it, you know? So funny how things become a part of you in a way without you realizing it; my talks with all of you are such a regular thing that i miss them when i’m away.
      We are so snowy right now!! I feel like we live in upstate NY for all the snow mounds we’ve gotten this year; it’s crazy! today i’m watching it melt; so odd to hear you have hardly any snow way up there and i’m still bombarded with it. 🙂
      Seriously, i know! i want spring to be here now; it was so balmy and warm in Florida that it makes it a little hard to come back to chilly temps, for sure. Bring on the spring fruit and veg!

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats March 28, 2013 at 11:15 am

    I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE BACK!!! And how did I not see this post until just now? I think maybe it’s good that you left your laptop at home and were able to fully immerse yourself in your vacation. Plus, it probably would have ended up with sand it it.

    I love love love cheese danish, so I bet these tarts would be right up my alley. And they’re absolutely gorgeous! I would never think to make a cheesecake type filling with goat cheese, but I’m with you about loving the honey/goat cheese combo. I bet you could make a giant rectangular tart of this, spread it with a little spicy red pepper jelly, cut it into squares and call it an appetizer.

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 9:14 am

      HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS COMMENT UNTIL NOW! It’s like i’m finally having the chance to go back through individual posts b/c i feel like i’m missing something and poof: comments i didn’t answer? how did THAT happen!?!? i’m so good at this normally; shows you what vacation brain will do to you.

      lol i would have ended up with sand in it; and it’s got enough problems right now, it didn’t need “beach inside keyboard” added to the list. 🙂

      seriously, if you’re a fan of cheese danish, these are for you. I actually want to try them with every jam on the planet so i can effectively determine what is best. So far, i’m in love with the orange marmalade the best, but this could change any time now. ooo! red pepper jelly wound be awesome! so many possibilities…

      • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats April 16, 2013 at 6:29 am

        I had given up hope you’d see this comment! But it would be totally understandable given the fact that you were on vacay and then had a bajillion comments to respond to 😉

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats March 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    These look UNBELIEVABLY good. Wonder if I could trick the boy into eating them by not telling him about the goat part…

    We missed you too! But you earned a vacation! It’s really a blessing that you couldn’t post because it forced you to take a real vacation. When you post every day it’s weird, like you don’t really think about it as “work” but when I took my two days off last weekend and baked 23498234 things and realized I was on my feet in the kitchen from 9 am to 5 pm I was like “huh, it’s like I’m using my days off to do work”…. lol

  • Reply Elizabeth @ Eating Local in the Lou March 28, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Just simply divine!

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 9:15 am

      Thanks, Elizabeth! seriously this may be one of my favorite things on the blog, ever, so far.

  • Reply movita beaucoup March 29, 2013 at 6:05 am

    2.0 HATES goat cheese. Which makes these tarts the perfect treat. (For me.)

  • Reply Monica March 29, 2013 at 7:13 am

    These tarts look amazing with the preserves on top. I love food/desserts with nuts and particularly love all those walnuts in the crust. : )

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 9:17 am

      thanks, Monica! i also am fond of desserts with nuts; i know some dislike the combo, but i’m a fan, for sure. i was excited about this walnut crust, too; i really did expect to have an issue with oil here, but i didn’t. I’m going to use this as a foundation recipe for some other nut crusts in the future, i think!

  • Reply Wendy March 31, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Your photos, as always Shannon, make your already amazing food irresistible! As another charter member of Goat Cheese Addicts Anonymous, I need a suggestion. The filling in these has to find its way into my kitchen. The problem is the nuts, which I am sure add great flavor to the tarts, but would also cause me to cease breathing (an issue I would prefer to avoid). Have you used another crust recipe that you think would go well with the filling?

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 9:20 am

      Thank you very much, Wendy; it’s always good to hear from another member of Goat Cheese Addicts Anonymous, for sure, since there’s so many of us out there. 🙂 i don’t know why it doesn’t show my response on this comment…i read this and thought for sure i responded b/c i saw your nut issue (my apologies; i blame vacation brain or technological difficulties). The crust recipe I use for the lemon tarts is a great basic crust recipe for tarts; i like that it’s sturdy and has a similar texture to this one (it’s like a shorbread versus a cream cheese crust). I wonder if using the crust for the lemon tarts and adding maybe a complementary spice to it would provide you with a good substitute? possibly a little cinnamon or nutmeg make work really well with the sweet tang of the goat cheese.

  • Reply Kimberly April 1, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Oh my goodness … yes, please! I adore goat cheese and I adore walnuts and I adore tarts … do you see where this is going? Another brilliant recipe!

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 9:21 am

      Oh Kim, if you adore all of those things, this is totally the tart for you. I see where this is going, for sure. 🙂

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