PUMPKIN SPICE CARAMEL TARTS with Walnut Buttery Crusts

I spend weeks during the fall thinking of new ways to use pumpkin.  OK.  I lied.  I spend months and I start obsessing in the summer.  

It's during those months that my momentary fixation with all things gourd intersect with my steadfast infatuation with caramel.  And butter-y cookies. 

This year, my sweet dreaming resulted in in a pumpkin spice caramel tart.  I left some naked.  Others I topped with pumpkin ganache.  You can rock it either way and since this recipe is for individual tarts, you can leave some nekkid and others you can dress up in Thanksgiving finery.  Let your guests choose for themselves which they prefer.


(Makes 8)

For the walnut shortcrust

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
3/4 cup brown sugar
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts, divided

Procedure for the crust

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Place eight 4" tart rings on a parchment lined sheet pan and spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside.

Using the large holes in the box grater, grate the butter into a bowl.  Add the brown sugar and work the sugar into the butter with your fingers.  Add the flour and salt and continue massaging the flour into the sugar/butter mixture until you get a crumbly dough that holds together.  Stir in HALF the walnuts. When you pinch a small amount of dough between your fingers.

Divide dough among the tart rings.  Press the dough along the bottom and sides of the rings and freeze for 10 minutes to set.  Line the dough with parchment and fill with rice to weigh down and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the parchment and rice and bake for 5 - 10 minutes more or until baked through.  Allow to cool completely.

For the pumpkin spice caramel

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Procedure for the caramel

Divide the remaining chopped walnuts among the baked tart shells.  Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the maple syrup, brown sugar, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, corn syrup, salt and spices.  Stir over low heat until the sugar melts.  Attach a sugar thermometer and cook until the mixture registered 248ºF on the thermometer.

Take the caramel from the heat and stir in the pumpkin.  Stir over low heat and cook until the caramel mixture reads between 238ºF and 240ºF.  Take from the heat and stir in the butter.

Divide the hot caramel among the tart shells.  Allow to cool.  You can serve JUST LIKE THIS or guild the lily, as my dad would say, by swirling some pumpkin ganache on top of all that goodness.

For the pumpkin ganache

5 1/2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped (I used Callebaut)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Procedure for the pumpkin ganache

Combine the butter, corn syrup, cream, pumpkin puree and salt in a sauce pan.  Stir to combine and allow to come to a simmer.  Add the white chocolate and shimmy the pan so that the cream mixture covers the chocolate.  Allow to sit 2 minutes to melt the chocolate.  Whisk the mixture to combine and refrigerate until cool, about 40 minutes.
(Note:  when piping, use a light hand.  This stuff is sweet.  White chocolate tends to bring it on and this ganache is no exception).
Transfer the mixture to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Mix for a few seconds to thicken the ganache.  Transfer the ganache to a piping bag fitted with a medium plain tip.  Pipe the ganache over the set caramel.  Dust with confectioner's sugar.

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