topping it off with chocolate
Have you ever seen a chocolate fountain in action? I mean those huge contraptions that circulate melted chocolate around and around, down in fluid sheets and back up again, tempting you to break the constant ripple and take a taste. To be fair, I’ve always been slightly suspicious of them. Having had my fair share of disagreements with melted chocolate – first it is too hard, getting softer, getting softer, now it is getting gritty, ooh almost saved, nope, now its burnt – I am very wary of whatever secret ingredient is added to maintain that flowing chocolate’s sheen. Regardless, it is hard to deny its appeal. I’ve seen grown men gather around a table, elbow their way past the competition and, without any fear for cuffs or suit sleeves, drown assorted pieces of cake, candy, and fruit until they’ve amassed lumpy chocolate mountains on their tiny snack plates. Adults used to sizing up business competition are reduced to jealously assessing who’s gotten away with the best selection of chocolate-covered treats.
That’s the fun bit – covering the pieces of strawberry and banana, pound cake and cookies, marshmallows and pretzels in liquid chocolate. And why not? If you start to itemize all of the different foods that taste great, and sometimes better, when paired with chocolate you are starting down a long and circuitous road. Apples and pears and bananas and grapes and raspberries and oranges and cherries and figs and coconut and peanuts and hazelnuts and pecans and pistachios and peanut butter and graham crackers and raisins and caramel and peppermint and ginger and lavender and cinnamon and cardamom and coffee and red wine and stout beer. Ok, there are a few spices and beverages thrown in there at the end but you get the idea. If willing and adventurous, chocolate is quite the eligible culinary partner. (Though, like in most relationships, sometimes things can just go too far.)
And so, when presented in a delightful pairing, I’m usually willing to bite. Such was the case one recent weekend when tasked with providing dessert for a dinner party. Browsing through recipes I encounter a classic combination that begged to be made: chocolate tart with pretzel crust. Yes, please. Throw some caramel ice cream into the mix and you are ready for a party.
Chocolate Tart with Pretzel Crust (adapted from a recipe by Colleen Grapes, as seen in Food & Wine)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups coarsely crushed thin pretzels (3 ½ oz)
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted
1. For the crust: in a standing electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter with ¾ cup of the pretzels and confectioners’ sugar at low speed until creamy. Beat in flour and egg. Add remaining ½ cup of pretzels, being sure to leave some pretzel pieces intact (the smaller the better so that the crust doesn’t break up when you are trimming it). Flatten the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 minutes. NOTE: my crust needed a lot longer than 30 minutes; at that stage it was still too sticky to handle. Remember, patience with butter-based dough always pays off. So does throwing it in the freezer for a few extra minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough between the sheets of plastic wrap to a 12-inch round. Peel off the top sheet and invert the dough over a 10-inch circular fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the corners and patch any tears. Trim the overhanging dough and refrigerate the shell for 30 minutes or until firm. NOTE: I used a 13-inch x 4-inch rectangular tart pan instead of a circular one.
3. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dry beans). Bake for about 30 minutes, until nearly set. Remove the parchment and weights and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the tart shell is firm and lightly golden. Cover the edge with foil if it darkens too much. Let the shell cool completely. Brush the melted chocolate over the bottom and up the side and refrigerate for 10 minutes, until set. NOTE: don’t skip this part – this will keep your filling from seeping through the small pores in the crust.
During steps 2 and 3 assemble the filling:
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¾ lb (or three 4-oz bars) semisweet chocolate, chopped (the original recipe called for milk chocolate but I substituted based on preference)
1. For filling: in a medium saucepan bring the cream to a simmer. Off the heat add the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Transfer the filling to a bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
2. To assemble: pour the filling into the shell and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. Just before serving sprinkle the top with sea salt and crushed pretzels.