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Caramel tart warms cool days

(ran NP edition)

The warm golden colors of this roasted-peanut caramel tart suggest an antidote to winter blues, even before the good taste hits home.

The recipe has been worked out by Karen Barker, acclaimed cookbook author and pastry chef of the Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C. The dessert menu at the restaurant, which she co-owns with Ben Barker, her husband, changes every few weeks to take advantage of both local, seasonal ingredients and the enthusiasm of Barker and her two-person pastry staff.

This tart, an upscale take on the candy bar, would make a fine cold-weather treat, to round off a meal or to cut into the next day.

"I love this tart because it can be served for nearly any occasion or meal," Barker says. She points out that the creamy flavor makes it a good, warm wintertime dessert and that it can double as a great midday snack with a cup of coffee.

Barker, who last year was named the nation's top pastry chef by the James Beard Foundation, offers tips for rookie bakers:

+ Use well-tested, well-written recipes. Make sure to read the recipes through before you start combining ingredients.

+ Invest in good-quality ingredients. Rich, complex chocolates and ripe, seasonal fruits will make a difference.

+ Custards are fairly easy to do, and can look so impressive when served to guests.

Honey Roasted Peanut Caramel Tart

For the tart:

1 refrigerated pie crust pressed into 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom

For the Filling:

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter

} cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons honey

\ cup cream

3 cups lightly salted honey-roasted peanuts

Preparation time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine butter, brown sugar, sugar and honey in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer while stirring over medium heat. Allow mixture to simmer for about 4 minutes. It should reach 240 degrees to 245 degrees when measured with a candy thermometer (just above soft ball stage). Remove from heat and add the cream. Add the nuts and stir to coat.

Transfer the mixture to the tart shell, making sure the nuts are spread into an even layer. The amount of caramel filling will appear scant. Bake tart at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes until the filling is bubbling and crust is golden. Remove from oven and cool completely before serving.

Servings: 8 to 10.

Recipe for the Associated Press developed by Karen Barker on behalf of the American Butter Institute.