As much as the holidays are associated with sweets, coming up with
a dessert that’ll tempt the table after the bacchanalian feast that is Christmas dinner in the South is one tall order. But trust us, you won’t have any trouble finding takers for a slice of Kristen Hall’s nutty rosemary-caramel tart. The Birmingham pastry chef takes caramel to the edge of bitterness, infuses it with a hint of rosemary for a savory note, and then invites any and all nuts to the party. Hey pecan pie, welcome to 2020!
Hall’s passion for pastry led her to leave her corporate fundraising job for the life of a baker and restaurateur six years ago. She’s since opened all-day cafe the Essential with partner and chef Victor King, and this fall, Bandit Patisserie—a bakery whose name harkens to the Baking Bandits, an erstwhile project with her young daughters that involved making sweet treats and surreptitiously leaving them on neighbors’ doorsteps. Her ding dong ditch days are over, but the giving spirit lives on in her work. “For me, pastry is about making something that’s beautiful and being able to share it with other people.”
A Note on the Dough
For this pâte sucrée, or short-crust, Hall subscribes to the fraisage method of blending fat and flour, which is a lot less fancy than it sounds. Essentially, once you transfer the dough onto a work surface, use the heel of your hand to smear it in an outward motion to create long streaks of butter, rather than the pea shape that is often called for in pie dough recipes. Unlike classic pie dough, pâte sucrée performs better when kneaded for two to three minutes.
Have No Fear
Caramel anxiety is real. Luckily, Hall has devised an approach that makes it more manageable. Starting in a dry pan, caramelize half of the sugar called for, then continue adding the sugar in even batches until it’s all golden brown.