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Date and Walnut Toffee Tart

The walnut tree did not come to Britain until the fifteenth century, our often cold and wet climate seeming too hostile for such a southern European tree, hut it flourished, nevertheless, particularly on large estates. Some of the latter specialised in different species of walnut and at Wimpole Hall, a National Trust house just outside Cambridge, they grew 40 different varieties.
Recipes using walnuts appeared in Britain in the seventeenth century and it became a favourite in puddings and pies, often mixed with cinnamon, eggs, sugar and cream. The walnut regained prominence in the mid-twentieth century with the popularity of the Waldorf salad.
This tart is based on an early nineteenth-century recipe with a 1950s twist of using evaporated milk.

ingredients

serves 6 - 8
350 g (12 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry
225 g (8 oz) caster sugar
170 g (6 oz) can evaporated milk
55 g (2 oz) butter
90 ml (3 fl oz) double cream
175 g (6 oz) walnuts, finely chopped
55 g (2 oz) dried dates, chopped
55 g (2 oz) ready-to-eat dried prunes, chopped
115 g (4 oz) icing sugar

method

1. Roll out 175 g (6 oz) pastry on a lightly floured surface and use it to line a shallow 23cm (9 in) tart tin. Pre-bake or bake blind. Wrap and chill the remaining pastry. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3.

2. Put the caster sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a wide, heavy-bottomed frying pan or saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, stirring constantly, then bring to the boil and boil very gently, stirring, until it is golden brown.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the evaporated milk, butter and cream before the sugar mixture sets. The mixture may be lumpy - it will certainly be runny and pale gold in colour - but will not look like toffee.

4. Put the pan back on a low heat and stir carefully - the heat will make it start to thicken and turn a rich golden brown. When the residual mark of the spoon stays in the 'toffee' then take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool for 15 minutes or so.

5. Put the walnuts, dates and prunes in the pastry case and spoon the cooled toffee on top.
Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid and place it on top of the tart, pressing the edges to seal. Make one or two slashes in the lid, then place the tart in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until set and golden brown. Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool.

6. Mix the sifted icing sugar in a bowl with 2 tablespoons hot water, to make an icing. Drizzle the icing across the top of the tart in a haphazard manner.

Serve at room temperature or cold on its own.
Cook's Tip - This tart doesn't really need anything to go with it, although the sharpness of creme fraiche is better than ordinary cream, if you must succumb.

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