This morning, I woke early to Mother Nature’s Valentine gift to all of us on the East End of Long Island; an inch or so dusting of fresh snow clinging to tree trunks and branches just as the sun came up. I’ve been away from Southampton for a little over a week and I missed the big snowstorm this past weekend. This was a much gentler taste of a mid February winter wonderland. Also, I’m back just in time for a Valentine Chocolate tart with crunchy chocolate hearts on top.
I’ve been working with and refining chocolate tarts for the past several weeks. I got into some pretty convoluted ones where I was including my own homemade feuilletine, inverted sugar, and varying cacao percentages. I sampled different tart doughs, including a couple different pâte sucrée. Listening to the other gourmaniac’s voice of reason, for once, I offer to you the simplest of the chocolate tarts that I made, and according to the very small cross section of tasters that I used, it seemed to achieve constant high marks for crust and taste.
I used the basic pastry dough I employ for most of my dessert tarts and pies; then I filled it with a very simple chocolate ganache. Finally, I made three crunchy chocolate hearts for the garnish on top.
For the Pastry Dough:
350 g Pastry Flour
14 Tbsp unsalted butter
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp chilled vinegar
6 Tbsp iced water
Place the flour and salt in a food processor bowl and flick it several times to blend. Take the flour/salt mixture, put it in a plastic zip-lock bag and place it in the freezer. Take 9 of the 14 tablespoons of the unsalted butter and cut them up into ½” cubes; put them in a plastic zip lock bag and refrigerate. Cut up the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter into ½” cubes, place them in a plastic zip-lock bag, and put in the freezer. Leave everything to chill for an hour or longer.
Once chilled, put the flour/salt back in the food processor and add the 9 tablespoons of butter from the refrigerator. Flick the on/off switch about a dozen times. Add the 5 tablespoons of butter from the freezer. Again, flick the off/on switch about a dozen times. Add the tablespoon of chilled vinegar (for a change I used rice wine vinegar this time), and then add the 6 tablespoons of iced water. Flick on/off about twenty seconds or so: you’re looking for a texture like rolled oats. Open the food processor, take a little of the dough and press it between your forefinger and thumb. It should stick together, but it shouldn’t be sloppy or wet. If it’s to dry add more water, a tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, add a tablespoon at a time of pastry flour.
When you have the right consistency, dump the contents of the food processor onto a dry work surface, preferably marble, granite or wood, and quickly form the dough into a ball, and flatten it out into a disk shape about ½” thick. Wrap it in plastic wrap and slide it into one of the zip-lock bags that you used earlier. Place it in the refrigerator for at least an hour and-a-half, preferably overnight.
For the Milk Chocolate Ganache
7 Hershey’s Almond bars (1 lb 3.2 oz, 544 g)
¼ cup Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp cognac, Grand Marnier, or Kahlua
Grind the chocolate bars in a food processor with the cocoa powder. Make sure the almonds are rendered into tiny pieces. Empty the ground up chocolate into a mixing bowl. Meantime, bring the cream to a boil and add it to the bowl with the chocolate and cocoa powder mixture. Stir with a spatula until smooth. Add your choice of liqueur and blend well. Allow it to cool for an hour or so until it attains the required frosting consistency.
For the Chocolate hearts garnish:
¼ cup or 40 g. skinned and toasted almonds
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp or 75 g. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp or 62 g. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp or 25 g. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp +1 tsp or 21 g. milk
¼ cup + 1 tsp 37 g. roasted cocoa nibs (look for in health food stores)
1 Tbsp + 1tsp 7 g. sifted cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
In a quart size zip-lock bag, place the almonds and crush with a heavy rolling pin, the bottom of a mortar, or some other heavy object. The idea is to crush them to the size of the cocoa nibs.
In a medium sauce pan combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup and milk and whisk over medium heat until an instant read thermometer reads 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Off heat and stir in the almonds, cocoa nibs and the cocoa powder.
Cut two 12″ pieces of parchment paper: lay the first one “curl side” facing down, and pour the mixture into the center of the paper. Spread it around a little with a rubber spatula. Spray the second parchment paper “curl side” down with vegetable oil and place on top of the chocolate mixture. Then roll the “sandwich“ with a heavy rolling pin making the chocolate “sandwich” as thin as possible.
Place the chocolate/parchment paper “sandwich” in a large baking pan with shallow sides. Carefully peel off the top parchment paper, and slide the baking pan into the oven. Bake for 6-9 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling and you can smell the almonds.
Remove from the oven, slide the parchment paper with the cooked chocolate sheet onto the counter or a piece of granite or marble. Wait a moment until it cools a little, (but the chocolate is still malleable), and cut out the shapes. Work quickly because the chocolate becomes brittle. You’ll have plenty of leftovers which you can serve with the tart, if someone doesn’t eat them all before.
Assemble the Tart:
Take the cooled pastry shell and simply fill it with the chocolate ganache. Smooth the surface if necessary with a frosting spatula, and then place the hearts garnish on top. Place tart in the refrigerator for several hours to set, and remove an hour so prior to serving. Guaranteed to melt your heart.