I am an avid reader of cookery memoirs, especially the older ones, where a glimpse into what life was like in bygone days is just as interesting as the recipes. In many of the books, the recipes are too complex or extravagant to be used for everyday fare in modern households. But occasionally, the books yield long-lost treasures that are delicious and easy to make.
This recipe is adapted from one of my favourite cooking memoirs, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954), in which the author writes about living in Paris with Gertrude Stein at the beginning of the last century. This tart is so delicious that I am surprised it isn’t better known; perhaps it’s because more attention is paid to the book’s famous ‘haschich fudge’.
Like many other recipes in the book, the author gives only minimal instructions. Toklas neglects to tell us to let the dough rest and chill before rolling it out; if you don’t, it is impossible to roll as thinly as needed. She also doesn’t stress the importance of sealing the edges of the crusts – if you don’t, the filling will spill out.
Her instruction to mix the filling gently but thoroughly for 20 minutes cannot be ignored – if it’s not mixed for long enough, the filling will be grainy, but if it’s mixed too vigorously, it will aerate and cause the top and bottom crusts to separate. Use a rubber spatula to stir the filling gently – do not use a whisk.
For the dough:
180 grams (61⁄3 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
1⁄4 tsp fine sea salt
140 grams (5 oz) unsalted butter, chilled
1 large egg, chilled
15ml (1 tbsp) iced water
For the filling:
100 grams (31⁄2 oz) whole hazelnuts
2 large eggs, at room temperature
200 grams (7 oz) granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
For sealing and glazing the crust:
1 Make the crust. Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.
2 Cut the chilled butter into 1cm chunks, add to the flour and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Transfer the ingredients to a medium-sized bowl.
3 Crack the egg and put the yolk in a small cup (use the white for another dish). Whisk the egg yolk with the iced water then add it to the flour. Mix with your fingertips until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. The dough should be cohesive; if it seems dry, drizzle in a small amount of iced water.
4 Knead the dough briefly, then divide it into two uneven pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Shape the pieces of dough into flat discs, wrap with cling film then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
5 While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Put the hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake until brown and fragrant (about eight to 10 minutes). Remove the tray from the oven and cool the hazelnuts slightly.
6 Rub the hazelnuts between the palms of your hands to loosen the papery skins. Discard the skins. Cool the hazelnuts to room temperature, then grind them in a food processor until finely chopped.
7 Lightly whisk the two eggs with a fork, then stir in the sugar. Use a rubber spatula to gently stir the eggs and sugar for 20 minutes, to dissolve the sugar. Gently mix in the hazelnuts and vanilla extract.
8 Whisk the egg for sealing and glazing with 10ml of cool water.
9 On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the larger piece of dough until it’s about 2mm thick and at least 22cm in diameter. Use flour as necessary to prevent the dough sticking to the work surface or rolling pin.
10 Gently fit the circle of dough into an 18cm round tart pan that’s 2cm deep, with a removable bottom. Settle the dough without stretching it so it fits into the contours of the pan and let the excess hang over the edge. Brush the beaten egg lightly but evenly over the overhang, then use a paper towel to blot up the excess egg so it’s barely damp (if it’s too wet, the other layer of dough won’t adhere).
11 Gently stir the filling together to recombine the ingredients then pour it into the pan.
12 On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the other piece of dough so it’s a little larger than the diameter of the tart pan. Place it over the filling then firmly press the edges of the dough together so they adhere. Crimp the edges of the dough with the tines of a fork, then trim off the excess dough.
13 Refrigerate the tart for at least 20 minutes while preheating the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit).
14 Lightly brush the surface of the tart with some of the beaten egg then sprinkle lightly but evenly with sugar. Use a paring knife to poke several slits in the top layer of the dough, placing them in a decorative pattern.
15 Place the tart on a baking tray then bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 180 degrees Celsius and continue to bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tart is fragrant and golden brown.
16 Remove the tray from the oven and cool the tart. Serve it slightly warm or at room temperature.
Styling: Rachael Macchiesi