Alaska News

Winter pantry looking light on fruit? Try caramel nut tarts.

In the brilliant perfect day of spring, we've decided to "call" our winter season at the lodge. We'll begin the process of preparing for break-up and the two-month transition into summer. Out with the snowshoes and skis and in with the garden equipment and vegetable seed packages.

Our last guests of the winter season have spent the day out with most of our crew sledding, dog mushing, snowshoeing, and skiing. We packed a big cooler full of deli sandwiches, a thermos of hot carrot soup, bags of trail mix and packages of cookies. We added in marshmallows and chocolate and big long skewers to make s'mores in the bonfire that will warm up the crew between sled hill runs.

And, we made a caramel nut tart to take along on the sledding expedition. It's an easy recipe and perfect for the end-of-season pantry when there just isn't yet enough fresh fruit for tarts as we would like. Nut tarts hold up to field conditions when you have to pack a snack that won't be too difficult to eat on the run. We cut the tart into elegant wedges when we serve it at the lodge and into bite-sized squares when it is destined for the out-of-doors.

On the rare occasion that I am alone in the lodge, like today, I enjoy the quietude by watching the scene out my front windows that look out over the lake. Birds of all sizes are showing up to the feeder, flitting between branches of nearby trees and jostling for tiny seeds spilled across the snow. I'll save some of the scraps from our tart-making and add it to rendered suet to make a bird cake to set out for new arrivals.

Back to the kitchen, I make the caramel nut tart by simply combining ground nuts, flour, sugar, and butter to make a crumbly crust and press this into a tart pan with a removable bottom. Next, I combine brown sugar, honey, butter, whipping cream and more chopped nuts and fill the pre-baked tarts. The result, after cooling, is a delicious dessert just waiting for a little ginger ice cream.

I'll soon uncover the white lilac trees in front of the French doors. They've been bundled up and boxed in with plywood to prevent deep snow from crushing any branches. I'll put away the nuts and dried berries, the root vegetables and all those onions and potatoes we've been eating lately. We'll start buying bright pink radishes and deep-green herbs with abandon. We won't think about snow much for at least a good six months.

Caramel nut tart

Caution: This recipe makes two tarts -- one to eat now, one to save for later.

3-1/2 cups chopped nuts
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1-1/3 cups unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch by 1-inch fluted tart pans with removable bottoms.

Combine 1 cup of the nuts and grind them in a food processor along with the flour, granulated sugar, and 3/4 cup of the butter, pulsing until the mixture is finely ground. Use your hands to press the mixture into both tart pans to form the crusts. Bake the tart shells for 7-10 minutes or until the shells are golden around the edges.

While the tarts are baking in the oven, combine the remaining nuts, the remaining butter, brown sugar, honey, and heavy cream into a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil for 1 minute and then pour the hot mixture evenly into the 2 tart shells. Let the tarts set for about 2 hours until they are firm.

Makes two 9-inch tarts (about 16 servings)

Kirsten Dixon is an award-winning chef who has cooked and lived the past 30 years in the backcountry of Alaska. To learn more about her, visit

Kirsten Dixon

Kirsten has been cooking in the backcountry of Alaska for more than twenty years. She is a passionate culinary student, educator, and an avid gardener. Kirsten spends most of her time at Winterlake Lodge, where she frequently teaches cooking classes in the kitchen or gives tours of the herb garden. Kirsten attended culinary school at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and she holds a master’s degree in gastronomy (food history) from Adelaide University in Australia.