Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart

I bet you’ve all just been dying to know why I actually needed some milk chocolate, haven’t you? Well, today is your lucky day (a.k.a. Daring Baker Day)! This post marks my second month participating in the Daring Bakers challenges, and our project this time was a far cry from the fruity, jiggly mirror cake of last month: a Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart from Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts.

Chilled chocolate crust ready to roll

The recipe starts out with a rather unusually constructed chocolate shortbread pastry. For criminy sakes, it called for creamed room temperature butter, confectioners’ sugar, cake flour, and baking powder! Crisp flaky pastry, this isn’t. It also incorporates a small amount of ground hazelnuts (I whizzed up whole ones in the processor—quite a racket!) and calls for cinnamon, though we were allowed to omit the latter if desired, and I did so. Cinnamon on top of chocolate, hazelnuts and caramel seemed a bit much. The rather Playdough-like crust was divided and wrapped into three portions, and chucked in the fridge overnight to rest.

Last month I got the challenge made several weeks in advance, but this time I reverted to my usual state of procrastination, and made the crust dough just this past Sunday. Somehow I didn’t get around to baking on Monday night either, so it all came down to yesterday. In some ways, that was probably a good thing. You see, one of our ferrets passed away early yesterday morning—our oldest girl, a very sweet 8 1/2 year old named Pandora—and I think the baking helped me cope, a bit, with her passing.

Chained, beaned, and pricked

So on Tuesday morning, I attempted to roll out the crust and shape it into my 10″ tart pan. I ended up having to crumble it into bits just to get it to roll, and even though I didn’t have sticking issues on my countertop, I did end up patching little bits into the pan—not pretty, but serviceable. My prior experiences with blind baking are pretty hit-or-miss; half the time, my crusts end up looking like useless shrunken Frisbees despite all the usual precautions of pricking, refrigeration and weights. So I was nervous about this one too, despite its outlandish “shortbread pastry” construction. I stabbed the heck out of it with a fork and weighted it with my pie chain and a pile of dried beans.

Baked chocolate crust

That seemed to do the trick. No shrinking, no swelling, no sticking to the parchment paper. All was well in tartland. But the part I had been dreading was next: the caramel. I was sure it would burn horribly, or boil over when I added the cream, or seize up and get all grainy and lumpy, or burn me beyond all recognition. I suspiciously eyed the very brief official instruction (“In a saucepan, caramelize 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar using the dry method until it turns a golden caramel color.”), and decided to use the alternate wet method instead. Hm, I appeared to be out of corn syrup. Nasty unhealthy stuff, anyway. I forged ahead without it and used just the water and sugar.

Progression of darkening caramel

My caramel boiled and darkened beautifully, as you can see from my lovely photographic progression. The darker it got, the more worried I was that I should be doing something with it rather than just taking pictures, but I think I pulled it off the heat and added the cream (at room temperature, thank you) at just the right time. I wanted a deep dark caramel, to remind me of the sublime Michael Recchiuti fleur de sel caramels Jeremy brought back from San Francisco in March.

Baked caramel layer of tart

I didn’t have any problems with the caramel at all. The cream did boil up somewhat, but I kept stirring and it never seized. While it cooled to room temperature, I whisked the room-temperature eggs with a bit of flour—vigorously, to get rid of any lumps—and that was incorporated into the caramel without a hitch. Into the tart shell it went, looking rather full, and baked for nearly 25 minutes before it was set to my satisfaction. It had just enough time to cool before we had to toss it in the fridge and head back to work.

Moussed tart

After dinner, I headed back in to make the chocolate mousse layer of the tart, the part calling for milk chocolate. Jeremy has been actively campaigning for dark chocolate ever since we found out what the August challenge would be. He’s hard to resist, especially since I actually prefer dark chocolate myself, but I steadfastly refused to break the rules. Milk chocolate it was. The mousse was incredibly easy to make. I dumped 8 oz of milk chocolate chips in my glass batter bowl and nuked it on 70% power for 2 minutes while whipping the cream. After a quick stir, it was melted and ready to drizzle into the cream a bit at a time as I continued whisking. Since that’s all there is to it, I had a hard time calling it mousse instead of chocolate whipped cream, but whatever. It was fluffy and light, and just barely fit inside the crust without overflowing. I have no pastry bag or piping skills, so I just swirled it on with a spatula.

Caramel via dry method

While the “mousse” set up in the refrigerator, I bit the bullet and tried out the dry method of making caramel for my decorations. I’m supposed to be a Daring Baker here, after all, and now I’m not sure why I was so afraid of it. I dumped some sugar in a pot, turned the heat to medium, and stared at it for several minutes while it appeared to do nothing. Then it melted, and I turned down the heat a bit and tilted the pan around to promote even coloring. Once it looked like caramel, I used a spoon to drizzle it into curly shapes on my Silpat. It hardened up in no time, and voila!

Caramel swirlies on the tart

Finished tart, ready to eat

Finished tart, ready to eat

This recipe was definitely more to our taste than the strawberry mirror cake, and now I am feeling a lot more comfortable with the idea of making caramel myself. The crust I could take or leave: it didn’t really taste like much of anything, and even the texture was indistinct. The caramel layer was lovely and rich, very flavorful and creamy without being at all drippy. The chocolate mousse was light and smooth, but I still would have preferred a smooth lake of dark chocolate with that caramel instead, maybe with a garnish of plain whipped cream for relief, or, better yet, a glittering sprinkle of fleur de sel for crunch and contrast. Still, this was very tasty in its official form, taken in small slices to prevent sugar overload, and I have no doubt we’ll polish it off before the week is out.

Slice of tart, ready to eat

Make sure to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll to see everyone else’s stunning creations. Any ideas what to do with 2 tarts’-worth of bland chocolate shortbread dough?

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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