Stilton, shallot and walnut tartlets

Use some of your Christmas Stilton and fresh walnuts to make these savoury tartlets to serve with a warming and welcome glass of Malmsey on a chilly winter evening. The sweetness of the caramelised shallots balances the saltiness of the Stilton perfectly while the walnuts add crunch. The Madeira match complements all of these, but you could, alternatively, serve the tarts as a starter on a bed of salad leaves dressed with walnut oil and washed down with a fruity southern-Italian red.

Makes eight starters or 18-20 canapés

You will need two 12-compartment bun or muffin tins at least 2.5cm/1" deep or eight individual tartlet or Yorkshire pudding tins, each measuring 10cm/4" across 1" deep

Ingredients

The Pastry

  • 75g/3oz walnuts, roughly crushed
  • 1 tsp walnut or olive oil
  • 125g/4oz butter
  • 250g/9oz plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 egg

The filling

  • knob of butter for frying
  • 2-3 torpedo shallots or 6 of the large ordinary variety, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp demerara sugar
  • dash balsamic vinegar
  • about 20 walnut pieces
  • 100-150g/4-6oz Stilton according to taste,
  • finely diced
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200ml/7floz crème fraiche, or other thick cream
  • 75m/3floz milk Freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4

Method

Sieve the flour into a bowl with the salt. Stir in the walnuts. Rub the oil and butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and fork the mixture together, using your (well-floured) hands to render it into a smooth ball and adding a little cold water if it seems too dry. Alternatively, pulse all ingredients in a food processor until a ball of dough is formed. Knead briefly, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.

This is rich, crumbly pastry, so divide into manageable portions and either roll out as thinly as possible and cut to shape using a fluted cutter, or press pastry into the tins by hand. Prick the base of each with a fork and chill again for 10 minutes. If desired, line with parchment and baking beans, and bake blind for 10-15 minutes

Heat the butter in a heavy-based frying pan and when foaming, add the finely sliced shallots. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Reduce heat and leave to caramelise gently for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Remove the pastry cases from the refrigerator. Divide the diced Stilton, walnuts and caramelised shallots between them. Decorate with two or three walnuts pieces per tart. Beat eggs, cream and milk together, season generously with black pepper (the Stilton should provide enough salt) and pour into the cases.

Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes depending on size. The tarts should be golden on top and set to a gentle wobble. They will firm up as they cool

Serve warm rather than hot, and, if making in advance, cover with foil and reheat in a hot oven (200°C /400°F/gas mark 6) for about 10-15 minutes.

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