Sunday, July 25, 2010

chocolate caramel tart with grey sea salt


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:

saveur crust.

lottie and doof caramel.

saveur ganache.

fleur de sel a la lottie and doof.


cocoa powder, flour, salt



the crust

was simple enough to

mix together,

if you don't count the

botched separated egg.

egg separating, gone wrong

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.

dough, uneven and forked

and, i believed

that even that top part

would look

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.

heavy cream, bittersweet chocolate

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.

hours later,

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

immediately after

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 birthday tart with grey sea salt

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.


scutlebut said...

Thank you so much, i was pretty concered about attempting the caramel,especially after all the comment on the Saveur site, but your instruction made me confident and i turned out great.


brooke said...

i'm so glad that it worked for you. caramel is always a nervewracking situation for me - you made my day to know that i somehow made i easier for you!