The first bites of a slice of pecan pie? Rich decadence, loaded with molasses, brown sugar or corn syrup—sometimes all three. But the next few forkfuls? Too often they skew closer to cloying.

Our search for a less saccharine alternative took us to the walnut groves of the Dordogne region of southwestern France, where people have been harvesting and eating walnuts for some 17,000 years. Less prehistoric is the region’s famous tarte aux noix, a walnut tart that combines a luscious filling of just a few ingredients with a crisp pastry crust.

The tart is simple enough. Most recipes feature a quick filling of honeyed caramel, walnuts, butter and a bit of salt, providing satisfying sweetness without being too sugary. At Milk Street, we adjusted the traditional recipe to deepen its flavor while maintaining its simplicity.

For the tart’s shell, we wanted more flavor and the ease of a pat-in-the-pan crust. Mixing whole-wheat flour with all-purpose flour boosted in a food processor with sugar and salt, then incorporated butter, egg yolk and vanilla. We processed the mixture until it was crumbly enough to form a crust when pressed into a tart pan—no rolling pin necessary. We chilled the dough for half an hour to firm it before blind baking. The pastry baked up beautifully, even without pie weights.

For the filling, we made a quick caramel of sugar, honey and water, then added crème fraîche, butter and apple cider vinegar; the acidity balanced the sweetness and brightened the finished tart. After the caramel cooled, we added egg yolks to enrich the filling to a custard-like consistency that held the nuts together.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the tart’s crust crisped into a delicious, almost shortbread-like texture, and the filling gelled into a nutty, balanced dessert that was much less sweet than pecan pie. 

The resulting tart was still rich, but topped with crème fraîche or unsweetened whipped cream, it was satisfying to the last bite.