It probably goes without saying, but Top Chef judge Gail Simmons loves to spend time in the kitchen and this time of the year is especially meaningful for her. "I love cooking around the holidays," she says. "It's an excuse to get in the kitchen, connect, slow down and make a home cooked meal together."
Whether you're hosting or attending a dinner, consider adding Gail's go-to dessert to the menu: a hazelnut tarte au sucre. "My tarte au sucre is a traditional Québécois dessert I serve often," she says. "It's always a show stopper because very few people in the States have ever tried it. It has a sophisticated (and not too sweet) hazelnut crust as well as the most delicious, gooey warm maple sugar center."
Get the recipe below (from her new cookbook Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating) and serve it up the same way Gail does: with cold cream poured over the top, tableside.
Toasted Hazelnut Tarte au Sucre
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Up to 4 tablespoons ice water
1 cup maple sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup chilled heavy cream, plus 1/2 cup for serving
9-inch tart pan with removable bottom
For the crust:
Heat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned and the skins start to blister, 10 to 12 minutes. Rub the hot toasted hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel to remove skins (it's OK if not all the skins come off), then let cool completely. transfer the cooled nuts to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts resemble a coarse meal.
In a large bowl, whisk together the hazelnuts, flour, and salt. Using your fingertips, blend in the butter until incorporated, leaving some roughly pea-sized lumps. Working with 1 tablespoon at a time, stir in 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water, just until the dough holds together. Place the dough in the center of the 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Using your fingers and a flat-bottomed measuring cup, spread and push the dough to evenly cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes or overnight wrapped tightly in plastic.
For the filling:
In a medium bowl, stir together the maple sugar, brown sugar, egg, flour, butter, and 1/3 cup cream until well combined.
Increase the oven temperature to 375ºF with the rack in the middle. Remove the tart shell from the freezer and bake until the dough is just starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Pour the filling into the hot crust and continue baking until the crust is golden and the edges of the filling are just set (the center will be fairly jiggly), 35 to 38 minutes more. Cool the tart in the pan on a rack for 1 hour (the filling will continue to set as it cools), then remove the sides of the pan.
At the table, just before serving, pour the remaining 1/2 cup chilled cream over the top of the tart, then cut into wedges.
The tart, without the cream poured over the top, can be kept, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 day. Bring it to room temperature, then pour on the cream just before serving.
Style Me Pretty Contributor - Ximena N. Larkin is a writer and publicist. She lives in Chicago with her husband and dog.