walnut tartlets

So, yesterday was a fun and totally out of the ordinary day in the Smitten Kitchen. First, I cooked while wearing lip gloss, which — and I don’t mean to destroy your vision of your blog hostess looking as cute as Giada each day as she creams the sugar with the butter — um, never happens. Oh and second, some really nice young ladies filmed me while I worked.

my favorite

As part of their grant from PBS’s Road Trip Nation, these recent college grads are going around the country talking to people who have travelled down entirely different career paths in hopes to get a clearer picture of what they’d like to do with their lives. How fun is that, right? And they wanted to come visit the Smitten Kitchen and talk to me, which is really funny considering that the answer to “what kind of career path led you here” is, in short: “What’s a career path?” chased with a guffaw, because I haven’t a clue.

wee tartlets

The video will be ready and online somewhere in the next few months, and I’ll be sure in all of my wanting to pull a bag over my head awkwardness to tell you about it anyway. In the meanwhile, since it was, after all, the Smitten Kitchen, I was of course baking something. I didn’t get much in the way of pictures, being busy yammering to the camera and totally forgetting to suck my stomach in and/or hold my shoulders straight (sorry Mom) but I did end up with a delicious dessert I’ve been wanting to check out for eons.


Unfortunately, it was a near disaster. You see, these tartlets bubbled up and over the sides and frankly, all over the place. Thank goodness I had them on the tray or you would have one very cranky blogger on oven-scrubbing duty today. Nevertheless, I wondered who tested this recipe and went back to the original photo of it from an old issue of Bon Appetit to see clear evidence that their caramel rose up over the sides too. Ha, vindicated! Or something.

Alas, this doesn’t leave me in a really good place to give advice. Cons: This bubbles over and will make an awful mess, so you’ll probably want to not only put your tartlets on a tray, but line that tray with foil. Pro: Oh, it tastes amazing. Like, they were all gone by 5 p.m. (I gave four out as goody bags. Gosh people, I’m not that piggish!) And I have missed them dearly all the minutes since.

walnut tartlets

One year ago: Chile-Garlic Egg Noodles
Two years ago: Wild Mushroom Pierogis

Walnut Tartlets
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 1999

Unfortunately, the cure to the bubbling-over drama is not to fill the shells less (I went about 90 percent full, myself) as the filling shrinks back down and you don’t want a half-empty shell. That said, if you can deal with a little mess, you’ll be duly rewarded with an inordinate amount of deliciousness.

Serves 6

1 recipe Great Unshrinkable Sweet Tart Shell, unbaked
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon whole aniseed (we liked this level, but use 1/4 teaspoon if you’re anise-phobic)
1 3/4 cups walnuts, toasted, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 370°F. Cut pastry dough into six pieces, and roll out each one to a 6-inch circle. Transfer to a lightly-buttered 4 1/2-inch-diameter tartlet pan with removable bottom. Press crust onto bottom and up sides of pan; trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in and press, forming double-thick sides. Repeat with remaining dough disks and 5 more pans and prick them all over with a fork.

Freeze crusts for 30 minutes. Lightly butter six pieces of foil and press them tightly against frozen tart shells. Bake crusts for 10 minutes before taking them out, carefully removing the foil, pressing down any pastry that has bubbled up gently with the back of a spoon and baking them for an additional 7 minutes, or until lightly golden at the edges. [More detailed instructions in this post.] Take them out of the oven and let them cool. Increase oven temperature to 400°F.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Stir cream and next 5 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil until mixture bubbles thickly and color darkens slightly, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in walnuts then salt.

Place crusts on baking sheet lined with foil. Divide filling among crusts. (I had a bit extra. Can we say “best ice cream topping, ever”?) Bake tartlets until filling bubbles thickly and crusts are golden, about 25 minutes. Cool tartlets in pans on rack 5 minutes. Remove pan sides while tartlets are still warm. (Hm, I ignored this and found them easier to remove when they were fully cool, but I’ll let you decide.)

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

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102 comments on walnut tartlets

  1. Bianca

    I am using the great unshrinkable tart pastry for my birthday barbecue tomorrow, filled with the mascarpone-cream cheese-sour cream filling (sans ginger) from your nectarine tart and topped not with nectarine but strawberries, inspired by your fresh strawberry tart. 3 smitten kitchen ideas in one, should be delicious!

    I’m kicking myself I didn’t make these instead though. I love walnuts.

    Catering for 30 people doing everything from scratch is giving me a headache, though.

  2. Nicole

    Of all things, I am curious about this show! Only because my step-nephew did something really similar a few years ago- like exactly that thing, but he found his own funders. Didn’t know it was a “thing”…

  3. Susan

    Question! I bought 20 little 4″ tart pans stacked together at a garage sale for $2.00; good ones too, and I’ve never used them! They don’t have the removable bottoms though (maybe that’s why they were for sale?). Will that make these tarts impossible to get out of the pan? Should cover the edge of the pan slightly with a little bit of the crust to protect from seepage due to boil-over? Do you thing that would help?

  4. Two questions: if i wanted to get tart shells where would you recommend I go? And also how many should I start with? This has been plaguing me for so long, hence I don’t have them yet?

    Congrats on the filming! That’s terrific – can’t wait to see it.

  5. I’m stoked about this video. And I’m with radish… I don’t own tart pans because I’m not sure what size and how many and all that good stuff. But I LOVE tarts. These look fab, even the bubbling over angle.

  6. Love this recipe.
    Who get to clean those pans?
    My husband (dishwasher dude) yells everytime I make sticky tarts!

    I am trying your unshrinkeable dough today for my apple/pecan tart.
    I will keep you posted!
    Stacey Snacks

  7. They are beautiful – the caramel all over the place is what makes them look so divine! You know your tarts, fo sho.

    I don’t know where Deb got her tart pans, but I got mine on eBay. Tons of choices and good prices – at least when I found mine.

  8. deb

    I got my tart pans a couple years ago at Williams-Sonoma, but I bought the wrong ones and definitely want you all to hold out until you find removable-bottom ones. Mine are not. They will cost a few bucks more, but be worth it. I am not sure what I was thinking. I am able to remove tarts fairly easily with a paring knife and sort of prying/popping them up, but why go through this if you can learn a lesson from me?

    In NYC, Bowery Kitchen Supply is one of my favorite places to go for stuff like this. But online, Sur La Table (unless you have one near you) seems to charge an ouchie $6 each for them. This here on Amazon looks like one of your best bets outside a kitchen supply store… nice, heavyweight nonstick (very helpful when your caramel bubbles everywhere) tart pans in sets of 6 (the minimum number you want) and just shy of $3/each.

  9. Jean

    Deb, you are on the top of my Christmas list for sending one of those deliciouss tartlets home to me! My mistake? Sharing with my husband. That won’t happen again!!

  10. Caithness

    oh man i am doing something just like those girls since i just took a leave of absence from school but i’m not filming it i’m writing everyone’s stories down! now i don’t feel so original for it =(
    these tarts look amazinggg though, i kind of like that the caramel bubbled over it makes them look prettier. i love the first photo and well all of your photos are as beautiful as your recipes!

  11. I don’t think it’s any kind of disaster at all when a caramel-like liquid bubbles over the side. When it comes to caramel, the messier and gooier it is, the better. Another winner in my mind.

  12. Debra,
    I will never doubt you.

    I just took my apple pecan tart (NY Times last wk recipe) out of the oven, and used your unshrinkable crust.
    It worked beautifully! Though a bit crumbly out of the food processor, it rolled out nicely and DID NOT SHRINK! YAY! Thank you! You saved me!
    If interested, take a look, I just posted the apple pecan tart on my blog this a.m.
    Thanks again,
    Stacey Snacks

  13. YUM. I adore walnuts. And those TARTS!!!! Thanks for the bubbling over tip, as I am tripping over computer wires to find a bag of walnuts and throw my oven on.

    p.s. do I have to share?

  14. I like pecan pie all right but have been wondering if there are any alternatives, as I dream of one day building a Thanksgiving menu of my own (when I’m 22 and can still go home to Mom’s, there’s not much need to right now). This is so perfect! I’m adding it to my files (and can’t wait to try out that tart crust — a tart pan is on my Christmas list). Thanks so much for the yumminess you add to life, Deb.

  15. Thanks so much again for letting us interview you for our show! Your segment is definitely going to be the most interesting since it involved delicious desert recipes!


    PS- We LOVED the walnut tartlets!

  16. Bocagegirl

    I happen to have the tart pans you pointed out on Amazon, though I purchased mine from a Bed, Bath and Beyond in a set of 6. I love walnuts as well, but, like Rochelle, I immediately thought pecans would also work nicely, especially for Thanksgiving.

  17. Oh dear lord! I JUST was over at PW and decided to revamp my Thanksgiving menu to include the pumpkin/gingersnaps cheesecake goodness, but now… oh serious rethinking. I mean, OTHER people are bringing other desserts, so I can take a chance, right? Hmmm, would have to buy some new tartlet pans, and I always love an excuse for something new in the kitchen…. but what if I mess it up? I am so leaning this way as the PW recipe includes a JAR of PREMADE caramel sauce, but …. but… gotta rethink dessert. Maybe I’ll do both. I am crazy!!

  18. I think the result was worth the mess, they look amazing! We might just give them a go…..
    We think your blog’s great and just letting you know we tagged you on our blog.
    Feel free to join in the fun, no obligation.
    Kat and Kim

  19. Susan

    Kikebibi..I am making that PW cheesecake as well, and will be using Smittens caramel sauce for the caramel layer. If ingredients could marry, they would be a match made in heaven. Do both the tarts and cheesecake. Why one or the other?

  20. Ooh, ooh. Something about this screams “add cranberries” to me, thoughts?

    Also, I absolutely love that you were able to tell the sides bubbled over in the Gourmet magazine picture; I totally laughed.

    I know you must be listed and relisted all over this great, wide, web, but I’ve made several gluten-tree adaptions of muffins and such you’ve made and they’ve all turned out wonderfully. I’ve added you to my blog roll, thanks :)

  21. Heather

    Dana aka Gluten Free in Cleveland – Can you share your gluten-free conversion success? I love Deb’s recipes but haven’t had luck converting the breads/pastries to gluten free. I must be doing something wrong. Deb – Thanks for your great blog. Every recipe has been a hit (and I enjoy your voice and photos as much – or even more :) than the recipes).

  22. Ohhhh, I love Road Trip Nation! Those crazy kids make me feel all hopeful and happy inside. And what an excellent stop for them. They must eat a lot of mehh food in that winnebago and PBS show budget. I’m sure your tarlets tasted like heaven!


  23. Awww I need one (or more) of those! And you gave 4 of them away? Like in totally gone? You’re such a generous person. They look a lot like my disappeared walnut tart act, will try them soon.

  24. I had those same overflowing, caramelly tart edges when I made David Lebovitz’s Chez Panisse Caramelized Almond Tart. Definitely did not stop me from gobbling down half the tart all by myself. :)

  25. deb

    Hi everyone — Not to be a total pill, but I have to ask you all not to leave full recipes in the comments. They take up a lot of space and although I love your enthusiasm for them, it would be more helpful/will add more to the conversation to say what makes it different (i.e. “more sugar” or “a mix of nuts” or “called something else”) and the name of the book it is from or a link to the recipe online. Thanks!

  26. Maril

    Look at how gorgeously glossy those are! Shoot, if I could be sure Amazon would ship me those pans by Wednesday, I’d so make these for Thanksgiving and give my mom a break at least in the dessert department.

  27. kari

    congrats on the filming! i wish i was part of those girls’ camera crew, because goodness knows i could use the help in figuring out a path, or like, a general direction even. anyway, made these, and: amazing! i’m not one for anise, so i used vanilla instead and they were darn delicious. has anyone tried using flavored honey? i used orange blossom, which complemented the orange niceley (duh), but i love lavender honey so much, i’m just wondering if that might be tasty…thanks, deb!

  28. One of those lovely road trip nation ladies is my sister….so you can imagine how excited I am for her reality TV debut.
    I’m so jealous that my Mom got a tartlet and she shared it with Dad? Pffffttttt. Aha haahahaha.
    Well, my family will be happy, I am making your cranberry sauce for them for Thanksgiving. You’re so a part of our family…..well your food is.
    And thank you again SO MUCH for the best birthday cake EVER! Should have pics soon, and I hope the cake lasts forever…but tomorrow night is probably the longest it can hope for! Yum! XOXO

  29. Sarah

    Hi Deb- Those pictures came out great! Thanks again for having us over and letting us enjoy that delicious food. I’ve been an avid follower ever since! Feel free to check out our team blog. It’s Have a great day!

  30. thanks for posting this, and the unshrinkable crust – perfecto! we had them for thanksgiving and they were about 3000% times better than pumpkin pie. (don’t mean to hate on pumpkin pie, but take it as a testament to how good these were instead of how gross pumpkin pie is)

  31. Chris

    These were a hit at a Christmas party. I loved the combination of the anise and orange flavors. The shrinkless crust performed well, though I had to add more yolk to make it come together. My tartlet pans were a bit bigger, 4 3/4″, so I didn’t have the double-thick sides and there was no bubble-over. I’ll make more dough and filling next time.

  32. Emily

    Hmm, I have no mini tart pans but these are just too adorable to pass up! Would the filling be enough for a regular 9-inch tart?

  33. deb

    I haven’t tried it in a 9-inch but my hunch is that it would work. This is because in the past I have swapped a 9-inch tart recipe for 6 small tartlets successfully. Do let us know how it goes!

  34. Emily

    Oh. my gosh. This tart was crazy good. I made it for my dad’s birthday- he adores walnuts, and it worked perfectly. The filling fit nicely in the 9-inch, I didn’t even have any bubbling over! My only tweak would be to cut down on the sugar, as I found it very sweet.

  35. Caity

    I must say, your photo is much more appetizing than the one from Bon Appetit. I’ll be trying this recipe as soon as possible!

  36. kari

    I have made these so many times without a hitch (i’m even comment 63 from 2008!), and they’re delightful! But then tonight, I tried to make the filling three different times and each time it curdled. I have no clue what I did wrong. First time I cooked the cream on med-low heat, second time on low, and third time on low-low. I was using half-and-half. Could that have been it? Definitely not expired (I tried two different bottles). Yikes. Any ideas Deb? So good when they turn out though!

  37. Jayne

    Hmmm… a question. Whole anise means the whole star aniseed or is this the powdered version? We usually have whole ones here (haven’t seen powdered ones before). Thanks!

  38. Heather

    Yum, yum and yum! I’d love to make something like this but full size to compliment my pumpkin pie. Any change you might be posting a pecan pie or something similar in time for Thanksgiving? Thanks!

  39. pi

    I have the same question as sam about “golden” brown sugar… Could not find any at my local grocery. Is light brown sugar ok? Hope so! And also – I’m just a little obsessed with you, Deb. Thank you so much for this wonderful site and all the hard work you put into it. All the recipes I’ve tried are magic. Love love love it!

    1. deb

      I think it would work. The two concerns would be that it could be harder to get it out of the pan because it doesn’t have a removable bottom. (I’d do so shortly after taking it from the oven; after it’s “set” a little but before any spilled-over caramel could glue the crust to the pan.) The other is volume; I’m not sure if it will have the same yield — more likely, it will make more.

  40. Carol Ann Speight

    In Canada we make these BUT use a large muffin tin to bake them in. Use an “empty 28-ounce tin as your pattern/cutter” and carefully fit into the muffin tin cavity.(It is okay if the pastry is a tad up above the tin). Fill 2/3’s full and bake at 425’F for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325’F for another 15-20 minutes. The tops will still “jiggle” but will firm up when the “Butter Tarts” cool somewhat. There are varied opinions IF these little bits of sweetness even need nuts, raisins OR are delish all on their own.

  41. Carol Ann Speight

    I forgot too add that I don’t not bake the pastry first, do not cook the filling on stove-top, nor do I use the anise seed either…BUT next time…think I give it a go…your way!

  42. JuliaBoyd

    Wondering if you could solve the spill over problem (or diminish it a bit) by cooking the filling in a pot on the stove for a bit and blind baking the shells ?? Going to try this…

  43. hi Deb!
    just a note to say thank you for writing! for the last couple months i’ve been lurking your early archives, just out of curiosity (was she always this funny? her recipes are so interesting AND accessible…did she start out writing this way?) Your long-term dedication to this creative endeavor is a total inspiration and you are so deserving of your success. Love reading about your interview with these rad college grads (is the interview available somewhere yet?) As a young person working two jobs and still figuring out the bigger picture, i can so relate to their interest in you. You have a way of stoking my passion for creativity and also just making me laugh when i kick off my restaurant shoes and curl up with smitten kitchen and a baked potato at the end of a long night. And what a delight to find that yes, it’s true, you’ve always been this cool!

  44. Baker

    I was so excited to make these! They tasted good. A little too sweet but yummy. Overnight however they hardened to almost steel like substance. I had to throw the rest away!

  45. Hello. I’m going to make these today in the mini tart pans. I was wondering though, is the filling for this recipe enough to fill a 9 inch tart? I think down the line I would like to make it for one bigger size tart. Please let me know!

  46. Ugh . I never should have left these in so long. I thought 25 min. at 400 would be way too high temp and too long a bake time. I even set it for 20 just be sure. And that was still too long. Next time I will bake for 15 and check them.

  47. So the good, the bad and the ugly!
    The good–its rare I like my desserts as much as everyone else, but DAMN this was grand! To the dough I added spices, orange oil & splash of orange liqueur. Shell was MIGHTY tasty.
    Filling–used pecans instead of walnuts. Added more orange & spices. Used the last of an artisanal honey from a relative.

    The bad I had a premade pecan shell that I split the filling in (made a little more filling) but really didn’t NEED to –the tart shell could have handled it.-I couldn’t get the dough to cooperate w my tart pans ( 4.5 inches upper rim to rim) so after OVERWORKING IT, I just slapped into a 9 inch tart shell.

    The ugly– tart shell SHRANK- a LOT–but I knew it would w the amount of messing w it. Despite it all the crust was delicious!

    The LESSON– press in the dough (not the one for me to make tartlets sadly).
    DEFINITELY would work w a LITTLE bit of extra bitter sweet chocolate. LITTLE being the key here.

  48. Jackie

    Can’t say anything about the finished product as mine are in the oven now however the individual parts are pretty darn tasty- love the combination of orange and anise seed. Made as written however next time, per comments, I think the addition of a small amount of dark chocolate in the filling wouldn’t be a bad thing. Would love to see the ingredients listed by weight but other than that- yet another winner.

  49. Jackie

    As a follow up to my previous posting- I used non-stick tartlet pans that were very lightly buttered and baked the tartlets on a rack in an aluminum foil lined pan. I experienced very little crust shrinkage and very, very little spillover. I unmolded while the tartlets were still a little warm and only wrecked one (which I had to eat, in the name of quality control you understand)- very tasty and will definitely make again.