Totally decadent, rich and chocolaty, satisfying beyond all belief, this week’s dessert is perfect for fancy parties or family gatherings. If making pies scares you, try starting with tarts. Usually the dough is more forgiving (harder to overwork) and because you often press it into the pan rather than having to roll it out perfectly, it is less intimidating. Tarts are a European version single crust version of pie. They are beautiful for presentation because they are removed from the baking pan before serving. The removable bottom facilitates moving the tart to a serving platter.
I know that baking is many people’s nemesis and there is an intrinsic fear of it. Some of us were lucky enough to be introduced to baking early on, before we knew enough to be scared of it. My grandmother was an amazing cook and baker so I never had any fear. I always knew that sometimes it wouldn’t turn out, and that was OK because most of the time it did!
A tart pan has straight sides that are usually fluted (rippled) and most have a removable bottom (a disk that sets into a circular “frame”) that makes it easy to remove after baking. A pie plate on the other hand is one solid piece with sloped sides and you leave the pie in the pan to serve.
Tarts can be either sweet or savory and there are two basic doughs, Pate Sucre (pot sue-creh) and Pate Brisee (pot brih-seh). The primary difference is that the sweet dough has some sugar in it and the savory does not. Standard pie dough does not have any sugar in it. Once you master a tart dough, you can tackle all the other types of pastry dough with gusto!
Probably the easiest filling for a tart is softened ice cream. Prebake the shell, fill with ice cream and refreeze. Serve with a little chocolate syrup or fresh fruit and you’ve got a dessert that people will think took you hours to make.
The filling for these Truffle Tarts is essentially a pudding. A very dense, rich pudding that is spooned into the baked shells and then baked until firm. If you like you can decorate the tops of the cooled tarts with fresh fruit or a dollop of whipped cream. If you want an extra special touch, add a little bourbon to your whipping cream!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Rolling out dough takes a little practice to become comfortable with, but is not hard to do. Start with dough patted into a round disk – why start with a square that you have to turn into a circle! If you’re working with a butter dough, it must stay cold so the butter doesn’t melt. A vegetable shortening dough is a bit more forgiving for the beginner. Start by just rolling out regular pie dough to practice. You can brush it with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, roll it up and slice into rings. Bake it off for a fun treat, but the primary focus is making and rolling dough. It won’t take long before you are an expert!
Kitchen Skill: Prebaking Crusts
Why: For use with non-baked fillings
How: Prebaking crusts is a great way to help wet fillings from seeping through or if your filling is already cooked and doesn’t need further baking, you place it into a prebaked crust. Depending on the type of dough, you may be told to fill the crust with pie weights, beans, or other weighted materials. You do this to hold the crust in place so it won’t shrink or slide down before it is crisp enough to support itself. One trick to this is to fill the pie or tart – not just the bottom. Use enough beans to fill the bottom and come at least part way up the sides. And always cover the crust with parchment or foil before filling with the weights. If you do use dried beans, you cannot cook with them but you can store them and reuse them the next time you bake!
- Chocolate Dough
- 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 stick (4 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tbsp ice water
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
- 6 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 8 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 oz white chocolate, cut into small dice
- 2 oz milk chocolate, cut into small dice
- 4 biscotti, homemade or store-bought (you can use amaretti di Saronno), chopped
- Special equipment:
- 6 (4-1/2 inch) fluted tartlet pans with removable bottoms (or use solid pans with permanent bottoms and just plan to pop the tartlets out once they’re filled, baked, and cooled) or 1 (10-inch) tart pan with removable bottom.
- Line a baking sheet with sides with parchment paper and set aside.
- Remove bottoms from fluted tartlet pans, spray the pans with vegetable oil spray or brush with melted butter. Replace the bottoms and grease those as well. (If you want to make a single large tart, use a 10-inch tart pan and spray as directed above.)
- Make the Dough (in a Food Processor): Place the metal blade in the processor and add the flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt. Pulse just to blend. Add the butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, until the pieces are about the size of small peas. With the machine running, add the yolk and ice water and pulse just until crumbly - don’t overwork it. Turn it out onto the work surface and, working with small portions, smear the dough across the surface with the heel of your hand.
- Gather the dough together and shape it into a rough square. Pat it down to compress it slightly, and wrap it in plastic. Chill until firm, at least 30 minutes. Directions for making dough by hand are at the end of the recipe. The dough will hold in the refrigerator for 3 days, or it can be wrapped airtight and frozen for a month. Thaw the dough, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator before rolling it out.
- Rolling out the Dough: Cut the dough into 6 even pieces. Working with one piece at a time, shape the dough into a rough circle, them tamp it down with a rolling pin. Flour the work surface and the top of the dough and roll it into a circle 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. As you roll, lift the dough with the help of a dough (or bench) scraper to keep it from sticking. If the dough breaks (as it is prone to do), press it back together and keep rolling. It will be fine once it is baked.
- Fit the dough into a tartlet ring, pressing it into the fluted edges and cutting the top level with the top edges of the pan. Again, patch as you go. Use a pastry brush to dust off any excess flour and place the lined tartlet ring on the prepared baking pan.
- Chilling the Crusts: When all the shells are rolled out and fitted into the tartlet pans, chill them for at least 20 minutes.
- Baking the Crusts: Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Prick the bottoms of the crusts all over with the tines of a fork (this is called docking the dough) and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until the crusts are dry, blistery, and firm. Transfer the baking pan to a rack so that the crusts can cool while you make the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
- To make the Filling: Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Put the butter and bittersweet chocolate in a large metal bowl and place the bowl over the saucepan - do not let the bottom of the pan touch the surface of the water. Allow the chocolate and butter to melt slowly, stirring from time to time, as you work on the rest of the filling. Remove the chocolate from the heat when it is melted and allow to cool until it is just slightly warmer than room temperature.
- Put the yolks and vanilla extract in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large mixing bowl. Using the whisk or a hand-held mixer, start beating the yolks at medium speed and then, when they are broken up, reduce the speed to low and gradually add the sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat the yolks and sugar until the yolks thicken and form a slowly dissolving ribbon when the beater is lifted.
- Spoon about 1/3 of the yolks onto the cooled chocolate mixture and fold them in with a rubber spatula. Don’t worry about being too thorough. Pour the chocolate into the beaten yolks and gently fold the two mixtures together until they are almost completely blended. Add the cubed chocolates and biscotti, folding to incorporated the chunky pieces.
- Baking the Tartlets: Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measuring cup, divide the filling evenly among the cooled shells. Smooth the filling with a small offset spatula, working it into the nooks and crannies as you circle the tops of the tarts. Place the baking sheet with the tartlets on it in the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tops look dry and the filling is just set. Remove to a rack and cool for about 20 minutes before serving.
- Storing: Best the day they’re made, these are still terrific after they’ve been refrigerated - they aren’t quite as smooth, but the taste is still very strong. For longer keeping, wrap the tartlets airtight and freeze them for up to a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.
- To make the Dough by Hand: Put the flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt on a smooth work surface, preferably a cool surface such as marble. Toss the ingredients together lightly with your fingertips, then scatter the butter pieces across the dry ingredients. Use your fingertips to work the butter into the flour mixture until it forms pieces the size of small peas. Then use a combination of techniques to work the butter further into the flour: Break it up with your fingertips, rub it lightly between your palms, and chop it with the flat edge of a plastic or metal dough scraper.
- Gather the mixture into a mound, make a volcano-like well in the center, and pour in the yolk and ice water. Use your fingers to break up the yolk and start moistening the dry ingredients. Then, just as you did with the flour and butter, toss the ingredients with your fingers and use the dough scraper to chop and blend it. The dough will be crumbly and not really cohesive. Bring it together by smearing small portions of it across the work surface with the heel of your hand.
- Gather into a square and chill as directed above.
- Yield: 6 servings (6 individual tartlets or 1 (10-inch) tart)