I’ve just returned indoors after a stint spent cleaning the last of this year’s windfall walnuts.
October marks the peak of the harvest but a few stragglers hold on into November.
Each year the harvest is a race against not just time but also the squirrels.
There’s a balance to be made between waiting for them to fall and knocking them off the tree as their casings open to reveal the nuts.
Leave it too long and the rodents make off with your precious nuts, take them too early and the casings are impossible to shake off.
Although, the benefit of the lost nuts often means that throughout the coming year a host of new walnut tree saplings appear across the farm as the squirrels forget where they’ve hidden their loot.
This year, as with many harvests, the walnuts have had a good year.
We currently have five crates stacked in the house drying out slowly and surely. They’ll be dry enough to to eat and bake with in the new year.
When it come to using homegrown walnuts, a whole new challenge presents itself – it’s true to say that shelling them is a labour of love and it takes time, a lot of time (it always makes me wonder how walnuts are shelled so uniformly on a commercial basis).
Whilst I try to use them in new recipes every year, there are a few dishes that deserve to be made year-on-year – dishes that really show off the earthy depths of the walnut.
The nut holds its own in moist, fruity cakes, in granola and blitzed to a fine dust in pastry but my go to recipe is a walnut and caramel tart.
I often worry it’s too simple, but simple is often the very best way.
The walnuts are toasted to bring out their aroma and favourable bitterness, the caramel is oozy and sticky and the sweet short pastry is crisp and thin.
It never lasts very long and is at its best at any time of day – with a morning coffee, an afternoon tea or a glass of crisp white wine in the evening…
Walnut and caramel tart
Sweet short pastry
- 50 g butter diced
- 50 g icing sugar sifted
- 30 g egg
- pinch salt
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 125 g plain flour sifted
- 250 g walnuts ideally halved but however them come out of the shell
- 50 g glucose syrup
- 250 g caster sugar
- 175 ml double cream
Mix the butter and sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment until soft and creamy
In a bowl mix the egg, salt and vanilla extract before gradually adding to the mixer until smooth
Add the flour until just combined, making sure not to over mix it
Shape into a disc, cover in cling film and chill for one hour
Preheat the oven to 160C fan
Roll out the dough thinly and line a 23cm tart ring, leaving some hanging over the edge to allow for shrinkage, freeze for 30 minutes
Bake in the oven until light golden brown - about 15 minutes
Remove from the oven and cool in the pan, reduce the oven temperature to 120C fan
(Once the pastry is cool, trim the excess using a vegetable peeler)
Now make the filling - place the walnuts in a non-stick baking pan and cook in the oven for 10 minutes
In a pan heat the glucose syrup and sugar over a low heat until the sugar dissolves, then boil to a rich caramel brown, this will happen fairly quickly so don't take your eyes off the pan except to do the following point!
While the syrup boils warm the cream in a separate pan
At this point put on your oven gloves to protect yourself from the steam about to come. Take both pans off the heat and carefully pour the warm cream into the caramel and stir it constantly until it stops bubbling
Add the walnuts to the caramel
Pour the filling into the cooled tart case and spread evenly
Chill for at least an hour before serving