Buttery Walnut Crunch: A Sweet Wish for the New Year
Here’s to a better year ahead! In our epidemic lockdown, I have been drinking a lot of tea; hoping for some hot comfort against the raging storms of disease, devastation, and death we “doom scroll” daily. And I have been liking the taste of tea with honey, a sweetness that up to now I didn’t embrace. Flowing out of that new joy in the cup is an idea here for a festive but rather simple dessert. Shatteringly crisp layers of filo dough, buttered and stacked to line a baking pan, are the stars here. Use a tart pan or a square baking pan (any oven-proof vessel measuring about 10 inches square or round by 2 inches deep—the exact dimensions won’t matter) will work. Make a cuppa to enjoy while starting out the dessert. There’s no pressure here; instead, there’s the pure pleasure of creating something for yourself and any others in your home (or neighbors for a contactless delivery or retrieval). There is a Zen calm that I feel when preparing this—the careful unfurling of sheets of filo dough (you can find frozen filo in supermarkets – just thaw it out, if frozen, in the refrigerator overnight so that the layers will be separable mostly intact—you may find some stuck together – don’t fret). Then there’s the gentle but thorough lacquering of the dough with melted warm—but not hot—butter. After brewing a second cup of tea, steadfastly set to the side on my work surface, I tackle the filling. I like to use a mixture of toasted walnuts, sugar, a bit of clove, allspice, cinnamon, and powdered ginger. After a nice first sip from the top of the cup, it’s time to make the tea syrup, the linchpin that ties all the elements of the dessert together. Here are the “deets.”
Walnut Crisp With Tea and Honey Syrup
1 package filo dough, thawed if frozen; at room temperature if refrigerated – you will be using 6 sheets of the filo for this dessert. (For a festive snack, if any are left over, layer them with melted butter, some grated cheese, herbs of your choice, and a sprinkling of sea salt; then cut into finger-length strips and bake until lightly golden brown. Store at room temperature. These are best eaten on the day they are made.)
For the Filling
- 1 lb. shelled walnuts, toasted lightly in a 350-degree F oven for about 10 minutes—they should be fragrant and only lightly browned
- ½ c. granulated sugar
- 1 t. ground cinnamon
- ½ t. allspice
- ½ t. ground ginger
- ¼ t. ground cloves
For the Assembly
- 1 lb. unsalted butter, melted (you may not use all of this, depending on how liberal you are when brushing the layers of filo). You will use about 2 T to brush the bottom and sides of the baking pan or mold that you are using.
For the Syrup
- 2 c. of brewed Keemun tea (or any other black variety that’s your favorite now)
- ½ c. honey (use to your taste)
Stir the honey into the still-hot tea to dissolve it completely.
You Will Need
- Baking pan measuring roughly 10 x 2 inches
- A pastry brush at hand
Have your work surface ready with a damp, not wet towel, to keep the stack of filo sheets from drying out.
Set the baking rack halfway up from the bottom of the oven and then preheat the oven to 350-degrees F.
Here are the Steps to Perfection
- Gently melt the butter and keep warm. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking vessel you are using.
- Use a food processor with the steel blade to chop the toasted and cooled walnuts with the sugar and spices until they are ground but not oily and then set the mixture aside in a bowl (lacking a processor, hand chop the nuts until they are mostly fine). Place them in a bowl, add the sugar and spices, mix thoroughly and set aside.
- Make the tea syrup above.
- Open and unfurl the filo sheets so that they are flat.
- Take one sheet and move it to an open space on your work surface on which you have placed a sheet of parchment paper, foil, or wax paper – whatever you have.
- Using the pastry brush, lightly but thoroughly butter it. Carefully pick up another sheet and place it on the buttered sheet of dough, laying down one long edge and then gently letting the rest of the sheet of dough settle onto the first sheet. (The sheets should be nicely aligned as you go.) Continue layering and buttering the filo until you have a stack of 8 sheets of filo.
- Place this stack into the prepared baking pan. You may have to be a bit aggressive in making the dough conform to the shape of your pan, pressing it into the bottom and then sides of the pan. Don’t worry if some of the dough juts out over the top edge of your pan.
- Spoon the walnut filling to the dough. These edges will roll over onto the filling.
- Create a second stack of 8 sheets of layered and buttered filo. Trim this stack to fit into the dimensions of the baking pan (bake the trimmings if you like). Place this trimmed stack on top of the walnut filling, compressing it so it rests evenly on the filling.
- Brush the top of the filo with one final layer of melted butter (you may have to rewarm the butter at this point if it has solidified too much).
- Bake for about 45 minutes until golden brown. If it is not quite brown enough (remember color equals flavor so don’t underbake this), continue baking, checking on it every 5 minutes or so.
- A few minutes before it’s done, rewarm the tea syrup and keep it warm. When the dough has sufficiently browned, remove the pastry from the oven and immediately pour half of the tea syrup over it.
- Let stand until just lukewarm. Pour the remaining tea syrup over the dessert and let stand.
- Serve warm or at room temperature with some strong brewed tea.
A dollop of softly whipped cream with a bit of Greek yogurt folded into it would complement this nicely.