Monday, February 7, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Tart

This tart is not a fancy looker, but it is extravagantly rich and chocolatey. The short crust is not overly sweet, balancing the chocolate ganache* filling along with the salted caramel layer hidden underneath.

I would also characterize this dessert as simple and easy to prepare ahead of time - both good things in my book. You'll need to plan ahead to make of the three layers, since the crust, caramel, and chocolate ganache each need to set and cool before the subsequent layer can be added. There is more time necessary for cooling than for actual preparation. I've yet to master the art of making pie crust - and am unlikely to do so since I'm not super into pies - so a tart like this is an easy way of achieving something similar, but more to my taste.

I took it to an engagement party as the chocolate component of a trio of desserts (with a pistachio cake and a lemon parfait of cream and sponge cake, to be posted soon). In my opinion, providing sweets for an event involves trying to make as many people happy as possible, and that means knowing your audience and finding a variety that will appeal to them. For this event, I knew the attendees did not prefer overly sweet desserts, so I looked for less sweet options that were in different media (cake, tart, and creamy) and different taste profiles (nut, chocolate, and lemon). And to keep me happy, options that would be interesting but easy to make!

The tart crust may be used with a wide variety of fillings - glazed fresh berries, baked custard with fruits, nutty creams - you just want to bake the shell ahead of time and then add the filling, to be baked or served fresh.

Chocolate Caramel Tart

Short Pastry (Pâte Sablée)
  • 1/3 C plus sugar (unrefined or white)
  • 1 C plus 2 T flour
  • 7 T butter (salted, or unsalted plus a pinch of salt)
  • 1-2 T ice-cold water or milk

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch tart pan with butter and set aside.

Prepare the pâte sablée. In the bowl of a mixer or blender, combine the sugar and flour. Add the butter and process in short pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (Alternatively, rub the butter into the dry ingredients by hand with the tips of your fingers or a wire pastry blender.) Add a tablespoon of water or milk and mix again, in short pulses, until it is absorbed. The dough should still be crumbly, but it should clump if you gently squeeze a handful in your hand. If it doesn't, add a little more water -- teaspoon by teaspoon -- and give the dough a few more pulses until it reaches the desired consistency.

Pour the mixture evenly into the prepared tart pan. Using the heels of your hands and your fingers, press on the dough gently to form a thin layer, covering the surface of the pan and creating a rim all around. Don't worry if the dough feels a little dry, this is normal. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to one day.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden, keeping an eye on it. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Salted Caramel Filling (optional)

  • 1/2 C light brown sugar
  • 1 T honey
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel or kosher salt
  • 1/3 C crème fraîche or heavy cream**
  • 2 T unsalted butter, diced

Once the tart crust is cooled, prepare the caramel filling. Make sure you have all the ingredients measured out before you start. Combine the brown sugar and 1 T water in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt the sugar slowly over medium-low heat. Swish the pan around from time to time to ensure even melting, but don't stir. As soon as bubbles form on the surface (avoid overcooking the caramel, which would result in a bitter taste afterward), add the honey and stir to combine. Add the salt and cream and stir until blended. Remove from heat, add the butter, and stir to combine. Pour the caramel into the tart shell and tilt the pan slowly in a circular motion to coat the bottom of the shell evenly. Let set in the fridge for 40 minutes.

Chocolate Ganache Filling

  • 10 oz. good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped**
  • 1 C crème fraîche or heavy cream

Once the caramel is cooled, prepare the ganache filling. Put the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl, preferably stainless steel. Bring the cream to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat (turn off the heat just after you've seen bubbles appear around the edge of the surface of the cream). Pour half of the cream on the chocolate (cover the rest), let stand for 20 seconds, and stir gently in the center with a whisk, gradually blending the cream with the chocolate until smooth. Add half of the remaining cream, and stir again until combined. Repeat with the remaining cream. Remove the tart pan from the fridge, pour the chocolate filling into the shell, and level the surface with a spatula, covering all of the caramel layer and spreading the ganache to the edges of the shell. Return to the fridge to set for an hour.

Remove the tart from the fridge 15 minutes before serving. Cut in small slices, and serve on its own or with fresh berries. The leftovers will keep for several days, tightly wrapped and refrigerated.

*Ganache is a smooth and creamy combination of chocolate and cream, similar to what you might find in the middle of a See's Candy chocolate. This recipe details one of several approaches to its preparation, but it is always a simple method.

**The price of butter and heavy cream at Smart and Final is regularly excellent, as is Costco if you have a membership. Trader Joe's is a slightly more expensive option, but still cheaper than most regular grocery stores.

***I like Trader Joe's Pound Plus for an affordable option, which is available in milk, bittersweet, and dark.

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