5.08.2011

Let Me Call You Sweet Tart

A million years ago - or perhaps it was just 30 - I was principal bassist for the Albany Symphony Orchestra. It was my first job - I was fresh out of the conservatory - and life was just filled with possibility. I had my fist apartment (half a small bungalow) and I was ready to be a grown up. The art on my walls would no longer include posters. My furniture would not be a futon. My bed would not have big wedge pillows so that it could double for a sofa. The food I ate would not simply be something that came from a can.

That, of course, meant cooking for myself. I had always cooked with my mother, so I had no fear of the kitchen. On my own, though, I made my share of mistakes - like the time I tried to cook Cornish game hens in the toaster oven for my first Thanksgiving. Disaster. Or when I made my first gnocchi from scratch and turned out like small rubber doorstops. Inedible. (Apologies still go to Susan, my former roommate, for that fiasco! She was kind, though, and kept saying, "But the flavor is really good!")

It was also the time when I began collecting recipes from family, friends and colleagues - inexpensive casseroles from my mother, one for frozen Grand Marnier soufflé from roommate Susan, various cakes from friend Bill, or scalloped scallops from my sister-in-law Lori.

After about a year of playing in the orchestra, a new employee came along - Lois. Lois was an amazing baker. (She didn't eat much 'real' food - but if it had chocolate, watch out!) Probably 10-15 of my favorite dessert recipes come from her recipe box - triple chocolate cake, Viennese chocolate pound cake, Black Jack cake, breakfast cinnamon rolls and more. But the recipe I make most often is hers for chocolate tarts.

This is my no-fail, go-to recipe when I need something to take to a party, or for a light dessert on a buffet. The crust could not be easier and the filling is amazing. And, it is one of the few recipes that is perfect exactly the way Lois taught me to make them. That does not mean that I haven't tinkered with the recipe. I've made several changes from time to time (my variations will be listed below the recipe) but I never replaced the original.

I make these with Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate chips. I have used higher quality chocolate but it just doesn't work as well, producing a chewy, dense filling. I also tried low-fat cream cheese in the crust, but that didn't work at all; it produces a gooey mess.

I use a 24-cup mini muffin tin but once, when on vacation, used a 12-cup regular muffin tin and they worked just fine.

Thank you, Lois, for these small wonders! I know my readers will love them. Enjoy!

- David

Chocolate Tarts

1 cup flour
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
3 ounces cream cheese, chilled
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Place flour in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter in 16 pieces and cream cheese in 6 pieces. Turn processor on and let run until dough forms a ball around the blade - about 30 seconds. (Lois mixed the dough by hand, but using the food processor makes this a snap.)

Remove dough from the food processor and divide evenly in half (a scale helps). Roll both halves into a long snake of dough, and divide each into 12 even pieces. Roll each piece into a ball between the palms of your hands, and then flatten a little. You should have 24 small discs. Place disks in a 24-cup mini muffin tin. Chill for 15 minutes.

Remove from the refrigerator and, using a floured tamper (as shown above*) or your thumb and fingers, bring the pastry evenly up the sides of the muffin tin until it just comes over the top of the mold. Chill while making the filling.

Place the milk, vanilla extract and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth and glossy. Remove from heat and add sugar and egg. Mix quickly so that the egg does not start to cook in the warm chocolate.

When thoroughly blended, remove tart shells from the refrigerator. Fill each about three-quarters full, using a teaspoon. You may have a few spoonfuls of leftover filling.

Bake for 22 minutes or until crust is golden brown and tarts are puffed like small soufflés. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack.

Makes 24.

* If using a tamper, it helps to swivel it as you finish molding the shell to make for easier release. 

Variations: The only change I have made to this recipe is to vary the flavoring in the filling. I have replaced the vanilla with an equal amount of peppermint extract or orange emulsion.

8 comments:

  1. David--
    Can't wait to make these-- and it will make use of the tamper that's been languishing in my drawer for years!

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  2. David this looks wonderful, I love how you made indentations in the crust.. I don't have a mini muffin pan, but I bet I could find one here.

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  3. David, you've hit the spot with these. I wanna make them right away. That first photograph is fetching!

    We have a thing in common, I studied music as well! Of course I never played with an orchestra but my love for music runs deep.
    Magda

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  4. @ Jim - the tamper is one of my favorite gadgets ever! ... Well, at least it is ONE of my favorites!

    @ Elle Marie - I found my pan (which came with the tamper) online. I hope you can find one, as there are many wonderful sweet and savory dishes that can be made in them.

    @ Magda - thanks, Magda - they are so tasty and really (if you can limit yourself to one), they aren't that bad for you! What was your instrument/voice when you studied music?

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  5. David Darling,
    We so remember your wonderful yummy dinners and the beautiful way you set the scene for the evening. Most vividly your Christmas tree with real candles on each branch. What a treat! Your friendship fills my memory bank.
    Love and hugs,
    Norma

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  6. Norma,
    If we could find a fresh Christmas tree in Tucson, we would use candles still. Actually, we still use the candles - just on a wrought iron tree! Much safer! I also remember the yummy dinners at your home - BBE! (Best Brisket Ever!)
    Love, David

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  7. I wanted to let you know that I made these tarts last night to take to a party tonight. You were right about how easy they were to make (I'm more of a savory cook than a baker, but they came out looking just like yours and tasting wonderful)! Mary Beth

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  8. Mary Beth - so glad you enjoyed the little tarts. I love it when people discover how easy they are!
    David

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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