One of the rites of passage in any relationship is The Big Trip. It’s essentially a trial by fire – can the two of you survive spending every waking (and sleeping) moment together in a faraway land, or will you crack under the pressure of jetlag, uncomfortable hotel rooms, missed buses and trains, lost luggage, and puzzling foreign customs?
For The Boy and I, The Big Trip came a little before our first anniversary, when we decided to spend a week and a half exploring Andalusia before shooting off to Barcelona by train for a four-day stay.
Obviously, our relationship survived the trip, despite a few squabbles and misadventures along the way. After two weeks, we came home blissfully happy, bursting at the seams with wonderful memories of all the places we’d been, all the people we’d met and all the delicious Spanish food we’d eaten.
This tart is inspired by one of my very favourite memories from that trip…. It starts just a little after sunrise in Barcelona, where we’d just arrived on the overnight train from Cordoba, travelling in style in a sleeper car decked out in impeccable 1970s style, complete with burnt orange carpeting and touches of faux wood paneling. After dropping off our bags at our funky little hostale in Raval, we took a short walk through the sleepy streets and eventually ended up at the MACBA – which, as it turns out, hadn’t yet opened for the day. To kill a little time, we decided to pop into a nearby pastry shop to revive ourselves with a cup of coffee and a bite to eat.
Among the dizzying array of pastries behind the counter, there was one in particular that neither of us could possibly resist – a thick slice of simple shortbread-style pastry topped by a glossy cluster of mixed nuts. Closer inspection revealed a jumble of hazelnuts and cashews and almonds and pistachios barely held together by a sticky-chewy honey syrup, a hint of orange blossom, and a buttery cookie base that was firm, crumbly and not too sweet, like a very dense shortbread. I was smitten. It was love at first bite.
I wish I’d had the presence of mind to ask if the pastry had a particular name in Spanish (or Catalan), but unfortunately I must have been too busy eating to even think of it. The only name I have for it is “That Freakin’ Amazing Spanish Nut Pastry Thingie”, which doesn’t seem to turn up any matches on Google. Sigh.
So, despite my best efforts to find a recipe for that sublime combination of chewy nuts and crisp crust, I’ve yet to find a perfect match.
This tart is the closest I’ve come. It has the same combination of nuts and honey and orange blossom on a crisp shortbread crust, but the filling for this tart is gooey like a pecan pie instead of being sticky and chewy like the original. Close, but no cigar. Still, it’s quite delicious in its own right, which is why I’ve decided to share it anyways.
Besides, I’m thinking it’s time to abandon my quest. Some memories are best left where they are… in a beautiful Art Deco pasteleria on a sleepy weekday morning in Barcelona, with an undiscovered city full of marvellous things to see and do waiting just beyond the front door.
NOTE: I’ve also made this tart in a dairy-free version by replacing the butter in the crust with a vegan shortening (like Earth Balance) and replacing the whipping cream in the filling with a vegan creamer (I used Belsoy). Aside from a slightly crumblier crust, it’s surprisingly similar to the dairy version!
- 1¾ cups all purpose flour
- ⅓ cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 10 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 orange, zested and juiced
- 1 cup whipping cream
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup (packed) brown sugar
- ¼ cup dark honey
- ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, roasted
- ½ cup almonds, roasted
- ½ cup shelled unsalted pistachios, roasted
- ½ cup hazelnuts, roasted
- ½ cup unsalted cashews, roasted
- 1½ teaspoons orange blossom water
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ cup sliced blanched almonds
- To make the crust, combine flour, icing sugar and salt in a food processor, and blend to mix. Add butter and orange zest, and pulse a few times until the butter is mostly incorporated and mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tbsp juice from the orange, and pulse again until moist clumps start to form. If the dough looks too dry, continue adding orange juice a teaspoon at a time until the dough begins to clump together.
- Turn out onto a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press dough evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Transfer to the freezer to chill for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- While the dough chills, prepare the filling. In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the cream, sugar, brown sugar and honey. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for another 4 minutes or until the syrup is dark and slightly thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in the toasted nuts and orange blossom water (do not add the sliced almonds just yet, though).
- Once the crust is fully chilled, spoon in the prepared filling. Scatter the sliced almonds evenly over top.
- Bake in preheated oven until the crust is golden and filling is dark brown and bubbly, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Once the tart is cooled, carefully remove the pan edges. Serve the tart in very thin wedges (it's seriously rich stuff), accompanied by a pot of strong coffee or black tea.