Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.
I remember early on in my days of culinary apprenticeship when a sous-chef nicknamed Pink Floyd I was working with said to me, “Have you chosen yet?” I didn’t know what he meant so I mumbled something about not yet and needing more time. He pressed on and said, “Don’t worry, your talent will chose itself.” This made me panic so I had to ask for clarification and admit I didn’t know what he was talking about. He laughed and said, “Cooking or baking, you can do both but you can only be great at one.”
Since that day, I have had a hard time not noticing that there are some people who prefer to spend time measuring and perfecting cakes and pies and others of us who like the freedom that comes with inventing sauces with an unmeasured splash of this and a pinch or seven of this. Cooking was where my talent was and I avoided baking like the plague for many years after. However, having children changed a lot of that. There were birthday cakes to make, cookies to stir up together and cupcakes volunteered on my behalf to be taken to school. I became a quasi-baker.
So, it it with this somewhat confidence-lacking spirit that I decided I would take it upon myself to learn to make this scrumptious Swiss dessert: the Bündner Nusstorte (also known as Engandiner Nusstorte). This is a shortcrust pastry tart/pie that combines walnuts, cream, honey and sugar into a sticky sweet pie that is perfect for the upcoming holiday season. This tart comes hails from the Graubünden region of Switzerland and is considered a local delicacy. A lot of locals have their own version of the recipe so they will vary from place to place and baker to baker but if you ever visit please know to never ask for a local nusstorte recipe!! These are highly guarded secrets passed down from generation to generation. For this reason, I struggled to find a recipe online that tasted like the one I was familiar with so I combined a few ideas from different sites and have put them together in this version for you. If you are someone that needs help imagining what this tastes like, think of a warm caramel nutty pie/tart. If you add the optional salt, you basically end up with salted caramel pie. Amazing.
This is a pretty rich tart so please keep that in mind while serving. For me, this is the perfect tart with a cup of tea or coffee after a cold afternoon of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Some recipes call for a sweet shortcrust pastry but I prefer the unsweetened version. I’m not convinced sweet shortcrust adds much to the overall taste. IF you are paranoid about making the shortcrust hear me out for a moment. The Julia child quote above is there for a reason because I want you to try and make the pastry, at least once. The first time I made a perfect shortcrust I was ecstatic and there really is a sense of accomplishment in finishing something I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do. If you can’t must up the courage, you can use pre-made shortcrust or pâte brisée.
For the pastry:
- 250g/1 cup plain white flour
- 125g/half cup of COLD unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 chilled egg
- 15ml/1 tablespoon cold water
Process flour, cubed or finely chopped butter and a pinch of salt in a food processor until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with the cold water and add to mixture in the food processor. Process only until it starts to clump together. Please do not over-mix and definitely stop before the mixture starts to resemble anything like a big ball. Dump the mixture out onto a clean work surface and gently knead for a minute or two to bring the mixture together. Divide the mixture into two balls (2/3 and 1/3 respectively) and wrap each individually in cling film. Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours. Alternately, you can make this part the day before and keep in the fridge until ready to roll out.
For the filling:
- 250g/1 cup white granulated caster sugar
- 250g/1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 45ml/3tbs quality honey
- 250ml/1 cup heavy cream (set 50ml/approx 3tbs to the side for later)
- 1 egg, separated
- salt – optional
In a pot place the sugar and 15ml/1tbs of water over medium heat. You want to continue to heat the sugar until it melts and turns into a light golden brown. Add the honey and walnuts. Stir over medium heat for a minute or two until well mixed. Add the cream (keeping some to the side for now) and continue to stir over low-medium heat until the mixture thickens up. Remove from heat and leave to the side for a moment. IF you are a salted caramel fan like me, then feel free to add salt at this point to your taste (I add about 1/2 teaspoon). Stir and leave to settle for a moment.
Preheat oven to 180C/355F.
Remove larger pastry ball from the fridge and place on a work surface covered with clingfilm. Place another sheet of clingfilm on top and gently roll your base crust out. My pie pan/tin is 30cm so I aim to roll my base crust out to about 34-35cm so it can rise up the sides of the pan. Place in a greased pan/tin, gently adding the filling and then repeat with the top crust making sure you roll enough out to create a crust that will close and cover the entire tart. Brush edges of the base crust with the egg yolk (lightly beaten) to allow the top and bottom crusts to stick together. You can get fancy with the top crust if you like but I just like to go over the entire top gently pricking with a fork to allow some steam to escape. Mix the rest of the cream with the egg yolk and brush on the top crust before placing in the oven. (NOTE on the pastry: if your pastry appears too hard to roll when you take it out of the fridge, beat it with a rolling pin for a minute. This old trick works a treat by shocking the pastry).
Bake for 30-40 minutes depending on your oven (take out when the crust is a lovely golden brown all around).
Allow this tart to cool for at least 30 mins before serving. If you are serving this up on a cold winter afternoon, now is the perfect time to put the kettle on and get a fire started. Sit back and enjoy! If you are ever in Graubünden, make sure you stop by the local bakeries and try out several versions of Bündner nusstorte. You won’t regret it!
Photo credit: Jennifer Hart