Bittersweet chocolate tart with pretzel crust

When I decided that I wanted to make a sinfully chocolate dessert for Christmas dinner with my siblings I went in search of recipes.  There were brownies and cakes, truffles and pots de creme, bread puddings and pies to choose from, but none were quite right to finish off our night of gluttony.  Then I came across this recipe and while it wasn’t perfect, it was workable.

What we have here is a shortbread type of crust which uses pretzels, rather than nuts, for a bit of texture.  The filling is a basic ganache, and it’s topped with simple crème fraiche (but you could also substitute whipped cream, ice cream, or even a yogurt dollop).  It is rich, silky, not too sweet, and absolutely lovely is small servings.  It pairs very nicely with a cup of coffee too 😉

Crust

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups coarsely crushed pretzels

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 large egg

2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted

Filling

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon sea salt

sea salt, crushed pretzels and crème fraîche, for serving

  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with 3/4 cup of the pretzels and the confectioners’ sugar at a low speed until creamy
  • Beat in the flour and egg
  • Add the remaining 1/2 cup of pretzels, being sure to leave some pretzel pieces intact
  • Flatten the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour
  • Preheat the oven to 350°
  • Roll out the dough between the sheets of plastic wrap to the size of your tart pan
  • Press the dough into the tart pan and patch any tears, trim the overhanging dough and refrigerate the shell for another 30 minutes
  • Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (you can substitute a cake pan for the pie weights)
  • Bake the shell for 30 minutes
  • Remove the parchment and weights and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the tart shell is firm and just browned
  • Let the shell cool completely, then brush the melted chocolate over the bottom and up the side and refrigerate for 10 minutes
  • In a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer, then take it off of the heat and add the chocolate and let it stand for 5 minutes
  • Whisk until smooth, then add the vanilla (or you can substitute any liqueur) and sea salt
  • Transfer the filling to a bowl and let it cool to room temp for about an hour
  • Pour the filling into the shell and refrigerate until set (about 4 hours)
  • Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and crushed pretzels. Cut into wedges, top with crème fraîche (or other topping of your choice) and serve

Espresso Dark Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies

In our family, one of the Christmas morning traditions has become this decadent shortbread which melts in your mouth.  My sister came across the recipe a few years ago on Smitten, and we’ve been making them ever since.The cookie is wonderfully buttery, with a tiny bit of sweet, the lovely background aroma of espresso, and itty-bitty chunks of chocolate.

As far as chocolate goes, I will say that my personal favorite for baking in this cookie is Valrhona guanaja.  I am able to buy it at Whole Foods in whatever size chunk I may need, then I cut it up myself, at home, with a serrated bread knife.  This way my chocolate is minus the stabilizers that are used in commercial chips and I get to have a variety of sizes and shapes of chocolate bits.

Ingredients:
1 oz. fresh brewed espresso
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Directions:

  • Working with a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and confectioners sugar together until the mixture is very smooth
  • Beat in the vanilla and espresso
  • Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until blended
  • Fold in the chopped chocolate
  • Using a rubber spatula, transfer the soft, sticky dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that’s 1/4 inch thick.  As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic from the dough so that it doesn’t make creases. When you get the right size and thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, and for up to 2 days
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and cut it open. Turn the chilled dough out onto the board and, using a ruler as a guide and a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares
  • Transfer the squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a fork, gently pushing the tines all the way through the cookies
  • Bake for 18 to 20 minutes (Note:  The cookies will be very pale as they shouldn’t take on much color)
  • Transfer to a cooling rack & cool to room temp before serving or freezing (I make these about two weeks before Christmas and freeze them, then pull them out on Christmas eve to thaw in the fridge overnight)

 

Apple Crumble

If you are anything like me then you can’t refuse the bounty of apples overflowing the farmers markets at this time of year.  Or better yet, you’ve gone picking and have an abundance of beautiful fruits to use.  There are Cortlands and Empires, Macouns and McIntosh, Red Delicious and Ginger Gold, Spencers, Ida Reds…. this list keeps going.  I am a big fan of apples in a pie and I love to mix it up and use a variety of different apples so that each bite is different, some sweet and soft, some tart and crisp.

This particular recipe is based on the Weight Watchers version of an apple crumble pie, so it’s a bit leaner on the butter use than a typical pie.  I subbed in  whole wheat pastry flour for white, and I chose to use dark brown sugar in the crumble because of its intensity of flavor.

Ingredients

Crust

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

2 tablespoons water (maybe a touch more)

Filling

4 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon water

Crumble

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

1/2 cup rolled oats

5 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Directions

  • Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400ºF
  • Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray
  • To make the crust: combine the flour, sugar and salt in bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade and pulse to combine
  • Scatter the butter over the flour mixture; pulse until dough resembles coarse meal. Slowly add water, adding another tablespoon if necessary, until the dough comes together
  • Place the dough in the prepared pie pan and press it up the sides and around the bottom to form a crust; prick the bottom of the crust with a fork

  • To make the filling: combine all filling ingredients in a medium bowl and toss gently to combine

  • Spread evenly over the crust

  • To make the crumble: to a food processor fitted with a blade add the oats, flour and sugar; pulse to combine, then add butter chunks, pulse again, and scatter over apples
  • Bake for 20 minutes
  • Reduce heat to 350ºF and continue baking until both crust and crumble are golden and apples are juicy, about 30 to 40 minutes

You’ll need to let the pie set up for about half an hour after baking before you should attempt to cut and serve it.

J

Peach tart

The tart is somewhat of an archnemesis to me.  It’s the dough, you see, it hates me.  It has such simple ingredients: a little butter, a little sugar, some flour, salt, and egg- how could one screw this up, right?  Well I could, and have, several times.  This is where Smitten comes in.  She took Dorie‘s recipe and she worked it and she published it and she explained that we need not be afraid of it because she had conquered it- and she was right!

I tried this tart shell recipe once last fall and loved the flavor, but the texture did not come together right for me.  I was impatient, you see.  This time I took the time and had the patience, and it paid off.  The dough is like shortbread in flavor and consistency.  In this particular instance, I used local peaches from the Open Square Farmer’s Market in Holyoke.  I baked them into the pillowy love of a goat cheese custard.  It was a marriage made in heaven.

Tart shell

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon frozen, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg

  • In a food processor pulse the flour, sugar and salt together
  • Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in
  • Stir the egg, just enough to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition
  • When the egg has all been added, process in long pulses until the dough forms clumps, and eventually turns into a ball
  • Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic, for about an hour before rolling
  • To roll the dough: Roll out chilled dough on a floured sheet of parchment paper to a 12-inch round
  • Peel off paper. Seal any cracks in the dough.  Fold any overhang in, making double-thick sides
  • Pierce the crust all over with fork
  • Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking
  • To par-bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F
  • Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 15 minutes
  • Let the crust cool on a trivet while you prepare the filling

Filling:

  • 6 medium peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced into 6-8 slices per peach
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup soft goat cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • zest of one lemon

To make the filling:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F
  • Arrange the peach slices in overlapping circles on top of the crust, until it’s completely covered (don’t be afraid to overfill the crust, as peaches will shrink during cooking)
  • Combine the egg yolks, goat cheese, sugar, flour, and lemon zest and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture over the peaches
  • Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, until the custard sets and is pale golden in color
  • Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool. When cool, remove the side wall of the pan

Fantastic accompaniments to this dessert would be vanilla ice cream, freshly whipped cream, and/or a brandy reduction.  Enjoy!

J

Jasmine rice pudding

Rice pudding can be a great way to use up left-over rice (unless, of course, you’re me and typically cook your grains in a savory meat stock).    It’s a little sweet and a lot creamy and, this version at least, full of a variety of textures.  I particularly like to use Jasmine rice because of its fragrant floral notes, but really you can use any grain that you like- be it white, brown, or purple.  If you use something other than jasmine rice, I would suggest adding a splash of pure vanilla extract.

Ingredients:

1 cup jasmine rice

2 cans coconut milk (lite if that’s your preference)

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 cup raisins and/or currants and/or dried cranberries

1/4 cup chopped raw cashews

1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut

Directions:

  • Put the jasmine rice and 2 cups of coconut milk in a small sauce pan with the cinnamon stick and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, immediately reduce the heat to low, give the rice one stir to be sure that it’s not suck to the bottom of the pan, cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes
  • Place the cooked rice in a mixing bowl, remove the cinnamon stick, and add the raisins/currants/cranberries, half of the cashews & half of the coconut, and stir
  • If the mixture is dry, add additional coconut milk until it looks creamy
  • Scatter the remaining cashews & coconut over the top of the pudding and either serve warm immediately, or cover and chill overnight

Personally, I think that this dish makes a wonderful dessert but is equally as good as a breakfast.  It also travels well and is easy to make ahead.

J