As a child, I hated pecan pie. I think it was because (as I’ve come to understand in my adult years) the filling was often overcooked to the point of being curdled.
There is a delicate balance in pecan pie, a fine line that bakers walk between silky smooth custard filling and curdled eggy mess. I’ve encountered very few pecan pies in my life that have been perfectly silky smooth, and have only been able to personally achieve it once.
It really relies on the baker taking the pie out of the oven when the center is still almost liquid, and most home cooks (myself sometimes included) are wary of serving undercooked custard to their friends and family.
Luckily, I discovered a tart about six years ago that incorporates nuts without using an egg-based filling to hold them all together. It was featured in the October 2004 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, and I think it was the photo that really drew me in. Those lovely green pistachios, suspended in creamy caramel, nestled tightly between chunks of walnut and slivers of almond, just spoke to me. The combination of honey and rosewater in the caramel, and the orange zest in the crust, makes for a flavor profile reminiscent of baklava, but so much more complex.
Over the years, I’ve adapted the recipe to suit my tastes (I replaced the walnuts with cashews, and sometimes I use store-bought pie crusts that I roll orange zest into to mimic the original. You could also use your favorite short-crust recipe here), and it has become a staple of our Thanksgiving dessert table. Since we’ve incorporated this tart into our menu, the pecan pie has sadly gone by the wayside.
This year, I almost forewent making it, simply because shelled pistachios were $1 an ounce at the grocery store. It almost seemed ludicrous to spend that much money on a single ingredient. I decided instead to buy unshelled pistachios and shell them myself. It added 15 or 20 minutes to my prep time, and my fingertips are sore, but it was totally worth it.
Caramelized Pistachio, Cashew and Almond Tart
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 35 minutes
2 store-bought pie crusts
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup toasted pistachios (I use salted)
3/4 cup toasted cashews (I use salted)
3/4 cup toasted slivered almonds (unsalted)
1 1/2 teaspoons rose water
Begin by laying one of the pie-crust rounds on a floured surface. Sprinkle the orange zest on top, and lay the second pie-crust round on top of the first. Using a rolling pin, roll the crusts together until you can see the orange zest between showing through. Place the rolled out crust into a 10-inch tart pan, fitting it against the bottom and sides. Trim the excess dough, and place the tart shell in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350F.
Place cream, sugar, brown sugar and honey in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue to boil until mixture darkens and thickens slightly (Bon Appetit originally said for 4 minutes, but it usually takes me closer to 8 or 10 minutes). Removed from the heat, add the nuts and the rose water. Pour filling evenly into crust.
Bake tart until filling is caramel brown and bubbling all over. Transfer to a rack to cool.