This unusual tart is one of my favorite fall recipes to make. The sweet, salty, smoky combination is perfectly balanced and would be enhanced only by a scoop of ice cream — buttermilk ice cream would be my first choice.
The filling is reminiscent of a gooey pecan pie, with a lot of extra goodies mixed in. The tart dough is tender and buttery and an excellent base recipe to have in one’s skill set.
I borrowed and adapted this recipe, with her husband Ben’s blessing, from my late mentor, Karen Barker. This tart was on the menu when I was a pastry assistant at Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina. I remember at that time (2008), we were just starting to see bacon become a more popular ingredient in American desserts. I loved learning this recipe with Karen because instead of being gimmicky or trendy, it stands the test of time. The bacon really plays well with the other flavors — the slight bitterness and earthiness of the toasted walnuts anchors the super sweet dates, the cinnamon and brandy lend warm fall vibes, a little punch from the cayenne and the brown butter gives depth.
Texturally, the crunch from the walnuts, the chew of the bacon, the sticky dates, rich buttery crust — this dessert has everything going on! It’s a perfect example, to me, of what Karen was so good at — making flavors and textures work together so well that they sing. Eating her food, you knew you would always remember it.
My husband Tori (executive chef at The Ordinary) loves this tart and requests it every Thanksgiving. While we were living in San Francisco, it was tough to get home, so we always celebrated the holiday with an incredible group of very talented cooks and restaurant folk. The first fall living there after leaving Magnolia, I was so nervous to bring a dish to our first Friendsgiving potluck. I ended up making Karen’s maple bacon walnut tart — it was a huge hit! It’s been a part of our family’s tradition ever since.
MAPLE BACON WALNUT TART
Makes one 12-inch tart.
1 ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 oz unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons cream
1 egg white
1) Combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (there should be no butter pieces larger than a small pea).
2) Mix the egg yolk and cream in a small bowl and add to the mixture in the processor. Pulse until the dough just comes together.
3) Turn the dough out onto an unfloured surface and knead several times. Pat into a flattened disk, wrap and chill for 1-2 hours (or freeze).
4) Remove the dough from the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes before rolling. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to an 12-inch’ round; turning dough often to prevent sticking.
5) Fit the dough into a 11- or 12-inch fluted metal tart pan. Prick the bottom with a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
6) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a large piece of parchment paper into the frozen crust and fill with rice, beans, or your preferred pie weight. Bake for 20 minutes, then use the parchment overhang to lift the weights out. Continue baking for 5-8 minutes more, or until light golden in color.
7) Remove tart shell from oven and use a pastry brush to quickly coat the bottom and sides of the tart shell (this will create a barrier between the crust and the liquid filling to ensure a crispier crust).
8) Let cool completely. Place the par-baked tart shell on a baking sheet lined with foil and proceed to making the filling.
3 ½ ounces bacon, cut into small pieces
1 ½ cups walnut pieces, toasted and rubbed
6 ounces dates, cut into small pieces
2 tsp all purpose flour
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons brandy
¾ cup corn syrup
¼ cup maple syrup
2 ounces butter, melted and browned
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Scatter the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes. While the walnuts are warm, use a kitchen towel to rub most of the skins off.
2) Cook the bacon over medium heat in a small sauté pan. Line a bowl with paper towels and drain.
3) In a small sauté pan, melt the butter until the solids just start to brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
4) In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugars, spices, brandy, corn syrup, maple syrup, brown butter and vanilla. Transfer to a pitcher
and set aside.
5) In a small bowl, toss the chopped dates with the all purpose flour.
6) Scatter the floured dates, drained bacon and walnuts evenly in the pre-baked shell (on a foil-lined sheet pan) and place in the oven on center rack.
7) Slowly and carefully pour the liquid filling into the tart shell, evenly covering the bacon, walnuts and dates. Do not overfill!
8) Bake for 40-45 minutes until puffed and set. Cool completely before unmolding.