Here we are, heading into the thick of the holiday season and last week I was just contemplating some new dessert ideas. Out of nowhere while I was doing this, Bon Appétit contacted me with an invitation to enter their "Blog Envy Bake-Off" contest for holiday desserts. It was perfect timing, I eagerly agreed and now we're off to the races. Scrumptious Readers, please vote for my dessert as the stakes are high and I want to win. The winners are largely determined by popular vote and I was invited half-way through the voting so I've got catching up to do. Show me some scrumptious love! There are nominees in each category so after you register, make sure you scroll through to the "Pie, Tart or Pastry" page and vote for my "Pumpkin Custard Tart with Spiced Port Caramel" by clicking on my recipe's picture. It should be posted up there in a couple of days. You should know the tart also has a ginger-pecan crust but that made the name way too long.
I guarantee you're going to LOVE eating this with friends and family in the next few months. Like most tarts or cheesecakes it does take some time investment, but it's definitely going to pay you back handsomely in pleasure and taste.
For years I've struggled with the classic pumpkin desserts because I find them too cloying, too sweet, too filling after an already large meal. So I made a light custard and added just a little bit of pumpkin. It's the reverse ratio of most pies or cheesecakes you see out there. My strategy was a gorgeous vanilla custard with a hint of pumpkin. Also, the ginger-pecan crust is a unique twist that really adds some holiday tradition and also since ginger is a great digestive aid as well as spice, the body will love it as much as the palate. I really enjoy desserts that mix sweet and savory and this one is a perfect example of my approach. Often during the holidays I like drinking spiced wine or a deep port so this was my inspiration to make a spiced port wine caramel. Another unique twist I employed; rather than putting all the holiday spices in the filling you'll noticed I divided them up and put a few in each component. Some in the crust, some in the filling and some in the caramel. With one bite, you get the layers of flavor and all of it composed in your mouth without one element being too strong or overwhelming. I've got a gorgeous combination of textures, colors and flavors here so I hope you vote for me and that you enjoy this during the holiday season.
Here we go, it's a long recipe but I've got extra photos so you don't get bored.
Makes one custard tart
For the tart shell:
1/3 c. pecans, shelled
1/8 c. dried candied ginger, chopped
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/8 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. very cold unsalted butter, diced
1-2 T. very cold water
For the custard filling:
1/4 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped out and saved
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 T. granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten with a fork
3 c. whole milk
2 T. canned plain pumpkin puree (don't use the pre-spiced stuff!)
pinch of kosher salt
For the Spiced Port Caramel:
1/2 c. ruby port wine
4 whole cloves
1 two-inch whole cinnamon stick
3/4 c. granulated sugar
2 T. water
1. Make the tart shell: In a food processor with metal blade, grind the ginger and pecans to fine crumbs using the "pulse" setting. Add the flour, brown sugar and salt and pulse to mix well. Add the diced cold butter and pulse again until combined and resembling coarse bread crumbs. Sprinkle with the cold water and pulse once or twice until dough comes together then stop immediately. Dump the dough onto plastic wrap and quickly shape into a flat disc. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Make the port wine caramel: Measure the port into a glass measuring cup and add the whole cloves and cinnamon stick to the wine so it can steep while you make the caramel. In a medium saucepan bring the sugar and water to a boil over moderately high heat, washing down the crystals on the sides of the pan with a moistened pastry brush. Do not stir! Cook until a deep amber caramel forms, about 6-7 minutes. You should tilt and swirl the pan during this time but do not stir or whisk. When you see the amber color in the 2nd photo below, then remove the saucepan from the heat. Off heat, slowly and carefully pour in the wine and spices. It will steam, sizzle, jump out of the pan and then immediately harden. Return the saucepan to the stovetop and cook over low heat, stirring to dissolve the hardened caramel. Keep cooking and stirring until the caramel is reduced, smooth, thick and coats your wooden spoon nicely. Remove from the heat, take out the cloves and cinnamon stick and pour into a small pitcher or squeeze-bottle. Place in the refrigerator to cool and thicken.
Here's a 3-step look at the caramel. First shot it's just starting boil, second shot is when it's done boiling and ready to add the port and third shot is the addition of spiced port. You can probably tell from the last shot that it's a bit chaotic and it is. Make sure to follow the instructions and add the wine with the pan off the flame. It will leap up and it will be loud and sizzling. You're adding cooler liquid to screaming-hot caramel, so that's normal. The caramel will immediately harden like rock candy. Return it to the stove and gently stir with a wooden spoon. Trust me, keep stirring and it'll go soft and smooth again.
3. Blind-bake the tart shell: Remove the dough from the refrigerator and lightly slap with a rolling pin to begin flattening. Unwrap and transfer to a large piece of waxed paper. Put a second piece of waxed paper on top and gently roll out the dough to a 12-inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. I like to use waxed paper with this dough because it's extra delicate and moist from the ginger and pecans. Work as quickly as possible and get it even on all sides. Peel off the top waxed paper and gently pick up the dough from underneath the second layer. Flip the dough upside down over a fluted tart pan with removable bottom, keeping the waxed paper in place to push the dough gently into the bottom and up the sides. This helps keep it from sticking to your fingers or making the butter too warm. Peel back the second layer of waxed paper and finish pressing the dough in the pan and patch any areas. Cut off any excess dough and place the tart shell in the freezer for about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F with the rack in the center of the oven. Remove the tart shell from the freezer, line it with foil and fill it with dried beans or pie weights. Bake the tart shell for 25 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven, take out the foil and pie weights and bake for 18-20 minutes more, until the shell is golden and smells delicious. Remove the shell and transfer to a rack to cool completely.
4. Make the filling: In a medium saucepan stir together the flour, vanilla seeds, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. Add the egg yolks and stir again to incorporate and make a thick paste. In essence you are making a roux, but using egg yolks instead of butter or oil. Turn the heat on low and gradually add in the milk about 1/4 cup at a time. Cook, whisking constantly like when making gravy, until very thick like the photo below. Whisk in the pumpkin puree to incorporate and remove from heat. Scrape the custard into a medium bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the custard and let it cool.
5. Bake the entire tart: Spread the custard in the tart shell and smooth into an even layer. Wrap the edges of the tart pan in foil, unless you have a cover for the edges.
Bake for about 1 hour 30 minutes, until the tart is firm and a gorgeous coppery orange color. Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and remove the foil ring carefully. Cool the tart to either warm or room temperature. While the tart is cooling, remove the caramel from the refrigerator and let it come up to room temperature. Cut the tart into wedges and squeeze a little caramel on top. I'd encourage to go sparingly, the beauty of this dessert is that we don't want it too sweet and we want everything to be subtle, balanced and in harmony!
Make ahead note: The caramel can be refrigerated for up to one month in advance. Bring to room temperature before using. The tart shell can also be frozen up to one month in advance.
Enjoy my recipe, vote for me and Happy Holidays, Scrumptious friends.