Hazelnut Creme Brûlée Tart

Whenever I think of my travels in Italy, I think of hazelnut gelato. My first trip to Italy was when I was 12 years old and it was just me and my Mama. I think I had gelato two or three times every single day of that trip (thanks Mum!). Most of the time, that gelato was straight up hazelnut.

There were tons of flavours in every gelateria, but hazelnut was just something different. I could've gone for chocolate, stracciatella, nutella, or vanilla (all my favourites), but in the end, hazelnut won me out. Now, every time I eat a hazelnut flavoured dessert, it brings me back to Italy with my Mama.

I wanted to recreate the intense hazelnutty flavour and creamy texture of the hazelnut gelato, but turn it into something different. I wanted a tart, but I wanted a custard, too. Why not both? 

I find that a lot of comfort desserts that I make are the ones that remind me of time spent with family. I think that's the same for most people. Food memories are a huge thing. Some of the best dishes in the top restaurants are made by chefs wanting to recreate that warm fuzzy feeling of sharing a meal with loved ones.

I didn't grow up in a huge dessert making household, so most of my food memories are savoury foods or very simple desserts. One very memorable "dessert" that my Mom made us were pastry cookies. Store bought puff pastry, cut into shapes, and baked. But as a kid, that was amazing! To this day, whenever I eat anything with puff pastry, I think of pastry cookies.

Food memories, man. Powerful stuff. It goes to show that you don't need to create the most elaborate and fancy dessert to create a big impact at the end of a meal. If you create a dessert that brings someone back to a special time in their childhood, you've done something amazing.

Hazelnut Creme Brûlée Tart

Praline paste
300 g hazelnuts
150 g sugar
50 g water

Sweet Dough
150 g butter, at room temperature
112 g icing sugar
1 g salt
5 g vanilla extract
50 g egg
250 g all-purpose flour
20 g cornstarch

Hazelnut creme brûlée
350 g heavy cream
150 g whole milk
45 g praline paste
75 g sugar
1 g salt
100 g egg yolks

First, make the sweet dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and cream together. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl and add the salt, vanilla extract, and egg. Mix until combined.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour and cornstarch. Slowly add to the butter mixture until just incorporated.

Remove from the mixer, shape into a flat circle, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.

Take out your disk of sweet dough and let it warm up slightly so it is easier to roll out. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Roll out the dough to about 3mm and line your 9 inch tart tin. Refrigerate the dough until firm.

For the praline paste, preheat your oven to 350 F. Place a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and spread your hazelnuts on the sheet in an even layer. Roast the nuts for about 5 to 6 minutes, until they are fragrant and the skins are dark brown. Remove from the oven, let them cool, and rub the skins off using your fingers or a kitchen towel. 

Before you add them to the caramel, warm them in the oven quickly so they are warm to the touch but not roasted further. You want to add warm nuts to the caramel to prevent the caramel from seizing.

Prepare a silicone baking mat on a baking sheet and set it aside close to the stove.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and the water over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Gently swirl the pot if you need to, but try to disturb it as little as possible. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to medium-high and caramelize the sugar, then add the warm hazelnuts and quickly stir to cover the nuts with caramel, then spread on the silicone baking mat in an even layer. Let them cool completely.

Using a blender or food processor, grind up the caramelized nuts to a paste. Try to get it as fine as possible without breaking your blender/food processor. Store in an airtight container  for up to 2 weeks.

Keep the oven at 350 F. Crumple up a piece of parchment paper and then smooth it back out again. Place it in your tart tin and fill it with dried beans, rice, or pie weights. Make sure to press it into the corners of the tart.

Blind bake the tart shell for 12 minutes, then remove from the oven, remove the parchment and beans/rice/weights, and bake for a further 4 to 5 minutes, until the pastry no longer looks wet, but doesn't have any colour.

Remove from the oven and let it cool completely. Turn the oven down to 300 F.

For the creme brûlée, combine the cream, milk, and praline paste in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

Combine your sugar, salt, and yolks in a medium bowl and whisk until slightly paler in colour.

Slowly temper the cream into the yolks by whisking a small ladleful of cream into the yolks. Slowly add the rest of the cream, whisking vigourously. Strain into a pitcher and skim off any foam.

Place the tart shell in the oven and carefully pour the creme brûlée into the tart shell. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the custard jiggles as one when you move it. Do not overcook it or it will curdle.

Remove from the oven and refrigerate until completely cool, about 2 hours. 

To serve, sprinkle an even layer of sugar and use a handheld torch to caramelize the sugar on the surface. Serve immediately.

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