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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38 thoughts on “Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart

  1. August 29, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Oh what perfect layers! And I love the caramel decorations a lot!

  2. August 29, 2007 at 10:10 am

    I LOVE your sugar decorations!! Your tart looks perfect!

  3. August 29, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Those fancy shapes! They are lovely! Job well done!

  4. August 29, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Wow, you have some impressive caramel decoration over there! good job. As for the shortbread dough, perhaps you can use it to make another dark chocolate/nutella tart/cream cheese & fruit tarts?

  5. August 29, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Beautiful photos and those caramel decorations are just gorgeous!

  6. August 29, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    Sorry to hear of Pandora’s passing…glad that the baking helped you.
    Love your elegant decorations and pretty tart. I do know what to do with the leftover crust…use it as a base for bar cookies. I’ll be posting a recipe in a day or two for just that. It’s a variation on a recipe from Macrina Bakery in Seattle and you may like it. Great post and impressive that you did it starting Sunday.

  7. Anne
    August 29, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    your tart is so gorgeous! The sugar decorations are brilliant!

  8. August 29, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    I love your decorations! Very cute!

  9. August 30, 2007 at 3:46 am

    What a great post and I especially like the pics of the caramel! Lovely decorations too. Great job!

  10. August 30, 2007 at 6:46 am

    Great pics and your sugar creations are beautiful. Sorry to hear about Pandora.

  11. August 30, 2007 at 6:52 am

    Your tart turned out really well…the caramel decorations on top add a very professional flourish! And I am so sorry about Pandora. Losing a pet is just awful.

  12. August 30, 2007 at 8:17 am

    It took me a minute to realize what the sugar pictures actually were – those are brilliant! And the decorations? I am in awe of you.

  13. August 30, 2007 at 8:53 am

    I love your darkening caramel progression and your delicate caramel crowns (or are they half flowers?) are so awesome! I was also quite nervous about my first caramel-making experience but now I’m quite hooked.

  14. August 30, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Your caramel decorations are so beautiful!

  15. August 30, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I wasn’t a Daring Baker yet when they did the crepe cakes and gateaux St. Honore, so this was my first attempt at playing with molten sugar. Fun, and much easier than I thought!

    Elle and Mandy, thanks so much for the suggestions of how to use up that leftover dough.

    I appreciate everyone’s condolences about Pandora also; thank goodness for a recipe I really needed to concentrate on to complete.

  16. August 30, 2007 at 11:11 am

    Sorry to hear about Pandora’s passing. It must be difficult and all my good thoughts to you and hubbs. I know the other pets of the house must keep you busy but I can imagine the void. Hugs.
    Beautiful tart and really cute caramel decorations! hooray for trying dry caramel!!

  17. August 30, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Love the caramel decorations!

    I’m sorry to hear about Pandora. πŸ™

  18. August 30, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    I am so loving the pictures of the different shades of caramel…what a neat idea. Well done.
    So sorry about your pet, always such a horrible thing since they are part of your family πŸ™

  19. August 30, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about Pandora’s passing =( They are like our kids and it’s such a blow to lose a family member.. my thoughts are with you.

    I love those pictures of the varying colors of caramel.. how cool =)

    Your tart is gorgeous and I especially like the sugar art – it looks like sugar flower petals!

    xoxo

  20. August 30, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Congratulations on mastering the caramel. From the looks of your whimsical decorations, it looks like it really paid off!

  21. August 30, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    The Silpat!!! Brilliant!! Your decorations are fab! Clever Girl! I had to chip the caramel off of the waxed paper.
    So sorry to hear of the loss of Pandora, my thoughts are with you. Hugs, too.

  22. August 31, 2007 at 9:07 am

    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your Pandora. Baking for me is usually a stress reliever but I can see how it would also help deal with grief.
    Beautiful job on the tart, and your caramel decorations are wonderful!

  23. August 31, 2007 at 10:47 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss of Pandora. Baking really is a very therapeutic thing sometimes. Your tart is beautiful and those caramel decorations rock!

  24. August 31, 2007 at 11:32 am

    You don’t need piping skills when you get caramel decorations like those! Fantastic!
    Isn’t it great fun to discover you can do some of this stuff that you thought would be so difficult!
    Great post and a wonderful tart.

  25. August 31, 2007 at 11:36 am

    And I am glad that the tart provided a small relief after Pandora’s passing. I got so excited with your decorations it almost slipped pass me.
    The human heart is such a wonderful thing. We somehow can take an animal so into our lives that they become incredible friends with humanity of their own. I’m sorry for the loss.

  26. August 31, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Your tart looks just perfect – and your caramel decorations are incredibly pretty.

  27. August 31, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    I wish I had thought of the great stages of caramel pictures. The finished product looks fantastic, congratulations on a lovely dessert and a extremly informative and wonderfully illustrated recipe/blog. Keep up the good work, you rock…..

    Michael Recchiuti

  28. Amy
    August 31, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    I love the photos of the caramel color stages! Your sugar decorations on top look soooo pretty! And the mousse looks so light and airy. Great job!

  29. August 31, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    Your caramel swirl decorations are gorgeous. You did an awesome job on this tart, congratulations on another challenge well done!

  30. September 1, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Wow – your pictures are kicking all kinds of ass. Great job! Really love the caramel progression pics. And I’m dying to know how you got those perfect caramel shapes! Great job!

  31. September 1, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Again, thanks to everyone for your kind comments, about my tart and my dear little Pandora. My caramel swirlies were indeed intended to be reminiscent of flower petals, in an abstract sort of way.

    Chelsea, Silpats really are ideal for sticky things like caramel, aren’t they?

    MyKitchenInHalfCups, it definitely was a heartening experience to successfully attempt something I thought would be really difficult. I’m still going to need to practice those piping skills, though!

    Michael, thanks so much for checking out the blog. Your key lime pears and caramels are the best! It’s probably a good thing I don’t live near San Francisco, or my hips would be paying for it. Of course, there’s always your book, which has been on my wish list since March… I can dream, right?

    Amy, the mousse hadn’t quite set yet when I took those photos, though it had been in the fridge over an hour. It set more completely overnight, but it really did stay light and fluffy, a good balance for the denser caramel.

    Leslie, I just poured the caramel on my Silpat with a cereal spoon. I tried really hard to be confident about it, and move quickly but not rush. I also kept the caramel warm on low heat as I worked. By the time I got to the last spoonful, it was too cool and blobbed up, but then I had a caramel-covered spoon to suck on. πŸ™‚

  32. September 1, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    I am sorry to hear about Pandora!

    Your tart and caramel decorations are great!

  33. September 2, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    I love your caramel ‘bow’ decorations – so original. Your tart slices look so good. When I first saw your caramel progession photos it seemed like I was looking through a microscope–great photos. I enjoyed your write-up. Wendy

  34. September 4, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    I really liked your caramel progression photos, very helpful for anyone wanting to make the tart. And your sugar decorations are so lovely!

  35. September 5, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Gorgeous! I love your caramel candy decorations and the caramel progression photographs… what a great tutorial!

  36. September 8, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Absolutely beautiful tart. I love the stages of caramel pictures!! Great job this month!!

  37. September 10, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I’m glad everyone liked my caramel progression photos. I wasn’t planning to take photos because I thought I would need to concentrate on what I was doing, but since I couldn’t stir the caramel as it darkened, the camera ended up giving me something to do with my fidgety fingers. πŸ™‚

  38. LeAnn
    June 19, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Oh my goodness–this LOOKS amazing and fabulous! I MUST try it!

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