We recently spotted a stunning walnut cream tart that was topped with grapes, silently stealing the show in the pastry case at one of our favorite local cafes, and we were instantly smitten with the idea of this elegant dessert. We resisted eating pastry cream for breakfast that day, but returned to the kitchen determined to recreate our version.
This recipe begins with a standard pastry crust and is filled with a silky, latte-hued pastry cream. A fundamental recipe in pastry work, pastry cream has endless possibilities once you've mastered the basic technique. It can be infused with spices, such as cinnamon or cardamom, coffee beans, herbs, or nuts, as we've done here. For the topping we reached for the bottle of Saba, an intense syrup of reduced grape nectar, it's brilliant tossed on fresh grapes. We found beautiful, little local purple grapes. Concord and Muscadine also work very well.
Walnut Cream Tart with Saba Soaked Grapes
For the crust:
1 9-10 inch tart pan
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter, unsalted, cut into small pieces and chilled
2 ounces (about 1/4-cup) vegetable shortening or lard, chilled
1/2 cup ice cold water
For the Filling:
1 vanilla pod
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup toasted walnuts
1/4-cup + 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4-cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter, unsalted
1 large bunch of grapes
1 1/2 tablespoons saba
For the crust:
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Add both the butter and vegetable shortening, cutting them into the dry mix with a pastry cutter (or pulsing in a food processor). Add the ice water, just a little bit at a time, until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. You may not need the entire amount of water, so it's important that you add it little by little, bringing it together with your hands (or pulsing lightly in a food processor), adding more water only if necessary. Once the dough comes together, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge, at least an hour, preferably 3 or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Roll the dough out onto a floured surface (the cooler the better). Pin it into a large round about 1/4-inch thick. Gently drop it into your tart pan, nestling the corners in, then cutting the top edges clean. Cloak the filled pan with parchment paper, then add dried beans to weigh it down. Bake this shell for about 20-24 minutes, until golden brown. Cool, remove the shell from the pan and fill with the walnut cream.
For the walnut cream:
Scald the milk with the vanilla (scrape the seeds from the pod, adding both to the milk), sugar, salt and walnuts. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then add the cornstarch, whisking to combine. Once the milk is approaching a boil, remove it from the heat, strain it, then add a cup to the yolk/cornstarch mix, whisking thoroughly. Repeat, adding another cup scaled milk to the yolk/cornstarch, again whisking. Now, return both the hot milk and thinned yolk/cornstarch mix to a medium pan over medium heat, continue whisking. Let the milk cook until it's thickened to a custard, whisking all the while. Once it's reached the custard stage, remove it from the heat, stirring it until the temperature falls back down to about 140°F. Once this approx. temperature is met, whisk in the butter, a piece at a time. It should be silky smooth.
Fill the baked tart shell with the walnut pastry cream then allow it to set, about 30 minutes. In a medium bowl, toss the fresh grapes with the saba, allow them to sit for 30 minutes. Assemble the glossy grapes atop the cooled walnut pastry cream. Serve!