A French Tart

This particular French tart is a what, not a who. It is a dark and intensely-flavored tart based on a traditional French confection, the mendiant, often served at Christmastime. Mendiants (which translates to mendicants or beggars) are chocolate palets topped with dried fruits and nuts that represent the four branches of mendicant Catholicism: raisins for Dominicans, hazelnuts for Augustinians, almonds for Carmelites, and figs for Franciscans, toppings that approximate the colors of their monastic garb. Curious? Keep reading...

I was in New York City last week for business and, while there, I found my dream house: La Maison du Chocolat. I was in heaven.

I set my dripping umbrella in the stand by the door and was greeted immediately with a warm smile from Ivy. I told her about the blog called, and that I was planning a post about chocolate in the near future. "Helpful" scarcely describes her kind and wonderful attention.

Within a few moments, I had a tour of their Easter display of carved chocolate sheep, a sample of several chocolates (the Liselotte – hazelnut gianduja coated with milk chocolate – and her cousin, Anastasia – hazelnut gianduja praline coated with dark chocolate), and a sip of their heavenly hot chocolate.

I left with a catalog, an 8.8-ounce bar of their Kuruba Chocolate (60% cacao), four varieties of macarons, and a tube Tasse de Chocolate, their drinking hot chocolate pearls, which I chose over their cocoa. I know, with a name like Cocoa & Lavender you would think that I would choose the cocoa, but I chose these dark, enticing pearls because I imagined myself next winter by the fire, sipping this deep, dark, rich chocolate and dreaming of Paris.

I told Ivy that I was going to make a Mendiant Tart for the post, using their Kuruba Chocolate, and she brought me to show me their mendiant candies. Almost 15 years ago, I saw my first mendiants at my favorite boutique chocolatier, Byrne & Carlson, in Portsmouth, NH. They made beautiful and delicious little wreaths studded with a variety of fruits, nuts and flowers. They now make mendiant bars with almonds, orange peel, dried cherries, crystallized mint leaves, violet petals and pansies. While not the traditional four fruits and nuts, theirs are so delicious and elegant that tradition doesn’t matter!

The tart I made is a variation on the confection, based on a recipe I saw in the New York Times. I decided to make it French by using Président butter in the crust, filling it with chocolate from La Maison du Chocolat and eucalyptus honey from Provence, topping it with citron glacée from Apt, candied violets from Paris, and fleur de sel from Bretagne, along with crystallized ginger and pistachios (provenance unknown). The honey and the citron glacée are both treasured gifts from friends Susan and Towny of The Modern Trobadors.

This very first mendiant tart was made for Heather, a dear friend visiting from Pasadena, who appreciates chocolate perhaps even more than I do. I wanted to top it with pink Himalayan salt, as pink is her favorite color, but can you believe I was all out? Fleur de sel would have to suffice. Such a lacking pantry have I!

Of the toppings I chose, our favorites were the citron glacée and candied violets - their citrus and floral notes really paired well with the intense chocolate.

Here is my variation of the recipe. My partner, who is not a great fan of chocolate (yes, a character flaw), said it made his knees weak. It is sure to please chocolate lovers and non-chocolate loves alike!

Bon appétit!

~ David

Mendiant Tart With Dark Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from the New York Times

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs
499 grams (3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring work surface
155 grams (1 1/3 cup) confectioners’ sugar
pinch of kosher salt
16 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
Nonstick baking spray

8 ounces 60- to 70-percent-cacao dark chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons full-flavored honey
pinch of kosher salt

shelled pistachios

glacéed citron
candied ginger
candied violet petals
fleur de sel

First, make the tart shell. This recipe will make enough for two tarts - the second shell can be frozen for future use.

In a small bowl, combine the vanilla, 1 whole egg and the yolk of another, reserving the remaining egg white for sealing the baked shell.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Mix on low speed, then add the butter and continue until mixture has a sandy consistency, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla-egg mixture and continue to mix until the dough comes together around the paddle, 3 to 5 minutes. Divide dough into 2 disks and wrap individually in plastic. Chill until dough is cold but not too hard to roll, about 40 minutes.

Heat oven to 325°F. Apply baking spray to a fluted 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness, about 12 inches in diameter. Gently roll dough onto a floured rolling pin, and unroll into tart pan. Press dough into pan’s corners, being sure it remains the same thickness all around. Roll the rolling pin across pan edges to cut off excess dough. Place pan in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Line tart shell with aluminum foil, and fill with pie weights, dry beans or rice. Bake until edges of dough start to color, about 12 minutes. Remove parchment and weights. Return to oven until base of pastry loses its sheen and is slightly golden, another 8 to 10 minutes. Lightly whisk the reserved egg white, and brush it over the entire inner surface of the hot shell. Return shell to oven to dry the egg white, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before filling.

While pastry shell is cooling, make the ganache. Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine cream, honey and salt. Bring to a simmer and immediately pour over the chocolate; allow to sit for 1 minute. Gently stir the mixture to create a silky ganache.

Pour ganache into shell, filling it to the brim. Allow to rest in a cool place for 10 minutes so chocolate can lightly set. Gently place all toppings, except for salt, on the ganache surface. Let rest in a cool place for another hour, or refrigerate for 20 minutes for a faster set. Serve at room temperature, slicing with a sharp knife first dipped in hot water. Serve fleur de sel on the side, letting your guests sprinkle a little on their slices. (If you add the salt to the tart too early, the moisture from the ganache will dissolve the salt. Not pretty and it lacks the crunchy texture, although it tastes fine.)

Makes 1 9-inch tart, 2 9-inch tart shells

Thoughts for variation... I think it might be worth adding some lemon or orange zest to the crust, and perhaps some orange emulsion to the ganache. Just some thoughts... 

These are my mother's wedding china - British pottery, actually - and I only have a few left.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,