One of the things that I have loved most about joining the Daring Bakers is that it has given me a fantastic excuse (and the motivation) to buy fun baking supplies that I've been wanting and/or needing for a long time. This month, given the challenge of a Chocolate Caramel Tart - I had a ready excuse to duck into Williams Sonoma and purchase some fluted tart pans and a jar of ceramic pie weights. Pies and tarts are not something I make often. Actually, never is more like it - but that's mostly because I don't have much experience. That's what puts the "Daring" in Daring Bakers though -making something you might not otherwise. Now that I have the supplies - you just might see more tarts coming this way.
This particular tart is a three layer confection, with a shortbread crust, a layer of caramel, and a top layer of milk chocolate mousse. The recipe, from Eric Kayser's "Sweet and Savory Tarts," is very bare bones, and requires a little creativity and improvisation in order to make it work - at least it did in my case. Given that our hostesses acknowledged the need to "read between the lines" hopefully my few little liberties won't be construed as disobedience.
First off, we were allowed to modify the crust by leaving out the cinnamon - I used less (a lot less) in order to just give it a little flavor, since many said it was overpowering. I also went ahead and used ground almonds instead of hazelnuts, A) because I had them on hand and did not have any hazelnuts, and B) because I was fairly sure the almonds would compliment the cinnamon better than hazelnuts. The almonds seemed to work well, though they didn't provide much flavor. I think a little extract - either vanilla or almond - would have helped here, along with a dash of salt and possibly a little more sugar.
I did the whole thing in one marathon session - so instead of chilling the crust overnight as the recipe suggested - I divided it and flattened each piece into a disk - then threw them in the fridge for an hour or so. They were both plenty chilled for rolling at that point, so I rolled them out and lined the pans and then put them in the freezer to chill thoroughly before baking. I did the bottoms only, since I had heard that the crust tends to puff. I lined the crusts with foil and my brand new pie weights and baked for 15 minutes as suggested. I thought the crust was a bit dry and crumbly, and probably not as sweet as it could have been - but this may have been intentional, since the top two layers are so intensely sweet and rich.
When I heated the sugar for the caramel, I couldn't resist the temptation to stir it up a bit as it started to melt. Unfortunately, even after adding the cream and butter, I still had some clumps - but I strained the mixture into the beaten eggs and flour - leaving the remaining pieces behind. The recipe didn't specify to temper the eggs into the caramel, but I did it anyway. Here it is ready to pour into the shell.
I baked the caramel until it set - which took a few minutes longer than the 15 minutes specified. It looked a little strange at first, but it set up nicely when it was cooled. I used about 1/3 creme fraiche and the rest cream. The caramel had really good flavor - it was probably my favorite part of the recipe.
I was worried about using milk chocolate for the mousse - but I discovered that there is a huge difference in flavor between the different brands. Scharffenberger's 41% Milk Chocolate is far and away better than the other brands, including Valrhona, even though their cocoa contents are very similar. I wound up using a little less cream than called for because I ran out after making the caramel - but I still had plenty of mousse for my two tarts.
Milk chocolate is more fragile than dark, so I melted it over the double boiler and allowed it to cool before folding in the very thoroughly chilled whipped cream. I also cheated a bit here, and added some bloomed and melted gelatin (one envelope or 2.5 tsp) so that the mousse would hold up a bit better, since it's been incredibly hot here lately. It worked really well - at room temperature the mousse had just the right texture but didn't melt. The tart shell also came right off the chilled filling - since it's a bit flexible I just sort of pulled it back. I didn't do the dry caramel decorations. I had already stayed up till 2 AM to finish this project, and simply didn't have the energy for more molten sugar. I sprinkled the tart wth a few toasted almond slivers and called it a day. The smaller oblong one was a huge hit at work yesterday, and I'm going to freeze the square one and serve it at a party in a couple of weeks - I may do the caramel decorations then, if I have time.
If you're interested in giving it a try, check Veronica's or Patricia's blogs for the recipe, and be sure to check out the creations of the other Daring Bakers!