this morning, with my eyes barely open,
i did one of my favorite saturday morning activities:
i stayed in bed, smelling the coffee downstairs
and listening to the food network.
then, tyler told me his plans for the
next 30 minutes:
beef bourguignon (yum - even as a non-meat eater
i can appreciate the unbelievable-ness of beef
bourguignon) and poached pears (yum, again)
in chocolate sauce. wait, what?
why would he do that to the poor pear?
i asked larry with my eyes still shut.
i went on a rant about how people
always want to add chocolate to
things they shouldn't and they just
can't leave well enough - like a perfectly
fragrant poached pear - alone.
as larry went to go get the coffee,
i thought about fruity desserts versus
chocolate desserts and how i normally
pick the former to make
unless i'm cooking specifically for
someone else. and, that i still pull
and save chocolate recipes for
special occasions, even though
i would never ordinarily make
them, were i only baking for myself.
(however, i can't even think of the
last time i baked just for me. do
people do that?)
take this chocolate caramel tart
with grey sea salt that i made
for my father's birthday last week.
i have mentally bookmarked this
recipe three times:
first, in saveur.
second, when written about in lottie and doof.
and third, when last night's dinner told the story
of her wedding cake and anniversary celebration.
really, though, every time i have
the opportunity to make a dessert,
there are so many things i want to make,
like cookies, fruit crumbles and summer puddings.
but, when my sisters and i decided to
host dinner for my father's birthday last week,
before i decided on
the arugula, grape and gorgonzola salad,
the turkey meatballs with penne
or the cheese and scallion toasts,
i claimed the tart as the official birthday dessert.
after checking with my sisters to make
sure that my father wouldn't be offended,
considering that he would be
served a tart on his birthday
instead of a traditional frosted cake,
i headed to lottie and doof to print
the recipe. and then i paid closer
attention to the story behind his tart
and the comments that followed the recipe:
the crust that was hard to roll out,
the caramel that was possibly delicious
or possibly a little flavorless and the
ganache that seemed straightforward.
and most notably, it was not the saveur version,
but instead, the one published in diner's journal.
it lead me to closely examine the saveur version,
realizing that this one called for using
a candy thermometer on the caramel - something
i never do unless marshmallows are involved -
and that the crust was a mix and press,
not a roll and fit. hmmm.
my dad's birthday was on a saturday.
this tart, simple, but with lots of steps
and lots of chilling, made me realize
that i better start on friday. but by
friday afternoon, when i went shopping,
i still wasn't sure which version to make.
luckily, a lot of the ingredients were
already in the house and the discrepancy
between the two - quantity-wise - wasn't
so crazy that i had to make a decision
before buying everything.
after a lot of time stuck in jersey shore traffic
trying just to get home,
playing the recipes over and over in my head,
i had a plan:
lottie and doof caramel.
fleur de sel a la lottie and doof.
was simple enough to
if you don't count the
botched separated egg.
sure, it wasn't gorgeous
when pressed into the pan,
but i reasoned that people
(read: my family) would only
really see the outer crust.
and, i believed
that even that top part
better after baking.
i don't know why.
so, i chilled the dough,
pierced it all over with a fork
and baked it, hoping
that i wouldn't regret a stay
in the oven sans dried beans
or pie weights.
with about four minutes left
to bake, i noticed a huge
bubble. by the time i pulled
it out, there were four more.
but, luck was on my side.
i grabbed the camera to take
a picture of my deformed crust
and by the time i got the lens in focus,
all the bubbles had deflated.
once the crust was cooled,
i set to work on the caramel,
by far the part of the tart i was
most nervous about. caramel,
as i'm sure you know, can go from
sugar water to a burnt sticky mess in
the blink of an eye and i was determined
to pour it into the crust while it
was still in the amber family.
this was one of the main reasons i
chose not to use the saveur caramel -
many reviewers mentioned that theirs
burnt while waiting to reach the correct
temperature. i only wanted to make
this filling once and i've had a feeling for a while
that my candy thermometer is slightly off,
in need of recalibration. i'd much prefer
a recipe that goes by color, even if it meant
more opportunity for personal error.
and while its true that the color jumped quickly
from clear to lightly golden to dark brown,
i'm glad i used this method. there was
an extra tablespoon of creme fraiche
and a little extra heavy cream, too.
two things that i thought would help
me possibly mellow out the flavor
and potentially firm consistency if i went
too far while simmering. at the last minute,
i worried that it would be too bland and
i sprinkled in a few pinches of kosher salt,
which i'm glad about, but i wish i had had
the guts to add even more.
otherwise, i obeyed the recipes.
i held my breath as i poured the caramel
into the crust, cringing as the hot liquid
reached the very top of the crust. and then,
as luck would have it - or a well written
recipe would indicate - it fit perfectly.
i let it cool, then placed the whole thing
in the fridge, ignoring it until morning.
a minute later, i was jumping up
and down in the kitchen. it was weird.
but, i can admit, completely
true to form.
i planned to use fleur de sel on top
of the tart because that was all i owned.
i really preferred the idea of grey sea salt
called for in the saveur recipe -
doesn't it sound all glamorous and
delicious? - but i refused to buy an extra
salt for one recipe. then, as i opened a
cabinet to put the vanilla extract away,
i saw a container and turned it around,
curious of its contents. grey sea salt.
in spite of having a much more intimate
relationship with everything i own
thanks to our recent move - i had no
idea whatsoever that it was part of my spice
(seriously, i just looked here
and i still can't spot the tin.) i texted my
sister who really tried her best to act
like she didn't think i was crazy and like
she really was just as excited by
grey sea salt as i was.
when i got home from food shopping
the next morning, i made the ganache -
the only part i wasn't worried about.
i smoothed it over the tart the best
i could, wishing at the last minute
that i had used my offset spatula
instead of the regular one, and placed it
in the fridge to set. steps, people.
they're your best friend when baking.
i enlisted one sister to distract my father
and the other to help me remove the
pan's removable bottom from the tart.
we got the cake plate ready and while
i did my best to explain to erin why
we did have to remove the bottom, i grabbed
two spatulas. but, this is one sturdy tart.
with just a little jiggle, the crust was free
and it was so not scary to place it
on the cake plate. instead of sprinkling
the individual pieces, i sprinkled
(grey!) salt over the entire top.
after happy birthday was sung,
i took my millionth deep breath
and cut into the tart. i had read -
that for some, in both versions -
the caramel had pooled out
the first slice was removed.
but, luck was really on my side with this
dessert - the tart cut into perfect
wedges and while the caramel bulged
a bit, it stayed put, wedged firmly
between the chocolate crust and
the chocolate ganache.
i asked (ok, made) everyone to wait a few
minutes before digging in, thinking
that while it was best sliced cold,
it was probably best enjoyed with
the caramel slightly softer.
and, then the ganache began to slide
off the top, so i started yelling,
eat, eat, eat! i'm a little difficult.
in one of the reviews (have i started
to sound like an article in cook's illustrated yet?),
i had read that this tart was basically,
a glorified twix bar. and in some
ways, that's true. but, a twix
bar doesn't boast crystals of
salt and it wouldn't mark
a special occasion at most
dinner tables. the other thing
about a twix is that a bite
doesn't come with crazy high
expectations, like this dessert did.
everyone said they liked it - i
even got a this is my type of dessert
from erin and a reassurance from my
father that he was ok eating a tart
instead of a cake on his birthday.
but, i wanted a little more oomph.
sure, it was pretty and rich and
chocolaty. but, i wished for more
salt in the crust and caramel
and a couple
splashes of vanilla extract in the
latter. larry says often that i have
high expectations and that the tart
was good. here's the thing:
i was hoping for a dessert
that would not just be good,
but one that would be remarkably
i wanted the kind of dessert
that would maybe even make
a poached pear lover add a pool
of chocolate sauce because she
remembers that the last time
she had a chocolate dessert,
it was life changing.
but, like i said, i sometimes
have high expectations.
chocolate caramel tart with grey sea salt
adapted from saveur, diner journal and lottie and doof
i need to say that i think this was a very good tart. it's just that if i make this again, i would follow my instincts and up the salt in the crust (and use table salt instead of the coarser kosher), then add salt and vanilla extract into the caramel. i think this was one of those cases in which a few extras go a very long way. the saveur version called for chilling five hours in between each step; the diner's journal version calls for chilling until firm. i followed the former's advice, which while perfectly fine was probably somewhat unnecessary.
oh, and as for sprinkling the salt on each slice, i understand. i loved the visual of adding it to the entire thing. but, four days later, when larry offered me a bite of his leftover slice, i had already forgotten about the visual, and really, the salt altogether. it had melted into the chocolate, creating a slick top that offered a surprisingly salty bite.
1 1/2 cups flour
5 tablespoons unsweetened dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and softened
10 tablespoons (1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons) confectioners' sugar
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
grey sea salt, coarse sea salt or fleur de sel
in bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder and salt.
in separate large bowl using hand mixer, beat butter and sugar 2 minutes, or until mixture is combine, pale and fluffy. add yolks and vanilla extract; mix to combine. stir in dry ingredients, just until combined. place dough in 9" fluted tart pan with removable bottom; press evenly into bottom and up sides of pan. chill in fridge 30 minutes. meanwhile, heat oven to 350˚f.
place tart pan on baking sheet; pierce crust all over with fork; bake 20 minutes, or until firm, dry and fully cooked through. transfer to rack; let cool.
in large saucepot, stir together water, sugar and corn syrup. cook over medium-high heat 10-20 minutes, or until mixture reaches a medium-amber color, swirling occasionally. (you ultimately want a caramel that's a bit darker and deeper in color, but it does continue to cook after you remove it from the heat.) remove saucepot from heat. carefully drizzle in heavy cream, then the butter, then the creme fraiche (the mixture will bubble). stir until smooth. pour the caramel into the cooled crust. let sit until cool and firm; transfer to fridge and chill 4 hours, or until very firm.
place chopped chocolate in small bowl. in small saucepot, bring heavy cream to a boil. pour cream over chocolate; let sit 3 minutes. using spatula, slowly stir mixture, starting in the center, until the cream and chocolate come together. pour ganache over tart; use spatula to spread and smooth. chill tart for several hours.
when ready to serve, remove the sides and bottom of the tart pan (trick: place the tart on top of a large can and gently wiggle off the side). cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with salt. wait 5-10 minutes before serving slices.