january 28, 2017
Judging by the proliferation of chocolate and salt pairings on menus for both sweet and savory (salted mocha coffee drinks, chocolate cocktails rimmed with salt, beef dishes braised with chocolate and, of course, chocolate desserts sprinkled with flecks of sea salt), I’d say it’s now safe to admit you like a little salty with your sweet.
When choosing Valentine’s Day sweets for your sweetie, will you add some sea salt chocolate caramels to that candy assortment? I think we have always enjoyed the juxtaposition of sweet and salty, as evidenced by chocolate covered pretzels showing up on grocery shelves years ago, and the salty tang of Reese’s peanut butter cups making them one of America’s best loved candy treats, but now it seems more acceptable to ask for desserts that are less cloying. Not everyone likes teeth-grating sweet, or if they do, a dollop of salted caramel sauce on that dessert plate is a welcome relief to all that icky sweetness.
For all you folks out there who like to end a meal with a sweet-salty kick to the taste buds, this tart is for you. A variation on chocolate chess pie, this dessert has a buttery pecan shortbread crust and a dense chocolate filling with chopped toasted pecans and a topping of speckled cream, very lightly sweetened cream whipped folded with bits of grated bittersweet chocolate. The crust is delicate and shouldn’t get banged around in the freezer, but you can make the tart ahead and store it at room temperature for up to 4 days. The cream stays thick with the addition of grated chocolate and may be made one day ahead; normally whipped cream begins to separate and weep if made too far in advance . Another dense chocolate tart that’s not too terribly sweet is Bittersweet Chocolate Almond Tart, made with shredded zucchini for a nod to nutritious dessert enjoyment.
For all you fans of umami, enjoy a slice of this tart with a cup of black coffee, made from an extra dark roast, naturally.
Salted Chocolate Pecan Tart
makes 10-12 servings
2/3 cup pecan halves
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (72% or higher)
4 ounces (one stick) unsalted butter
1 cup flour (I like Bob’s Red Mill 1-for-1 gluten free blend, but all purpose wheat flour works well, too), plus extra for dusting fingertips
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ cup pecan halves
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted in brief microwave bursts, then cooled
½ cup cane sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream, well chilled
½ tablespoon powdered sugar
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated using small holes on grater
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spread pecans on baking sheet, toast in oven for 10 minutes, then chop finely when cooled*.
- In heavy one quart saucepan, gently melt 4 ounces chocolate with stick of butter,stirring until blended, then set aside to cool while you make tart crust
- Process flour, sea salt, ¼ cup powdered sugar and ½ cup untoasted pecan halves in bowl of large food processor until pecans are minced; with machine running, pour in melted cooled butter until mixture begins to come together.
- On counter surface or in large bowl knead crust ingredients a couple times, then use floured fingertips to pat crust onto bottom and up sides of 10 inch tart pan with removable bottom.
- Place tart pan on heavy baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until light brown at edges.
- Meanwhile, whisk cane and light brown sugars into cooled chocolate mixture, then kosher salt, cornstarch and vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, whisking until well blended.
- Add finely chopped toasted pecans and pour into crust, decrease heat to 325 and bake until set, 25-35 minutes total or until center appears set and does not jiggle.
- Set tart aside to cool to room temperature before serving or garnishing with cream.
- For speckled cream, use electric mixer (or my favorite, an immersion blender with cylindrical beaker, which prevents bits of cream flying around) to whip heavy cream and ½ tablespoon powdered sugar just until soft peaks begin to form; gently fold in grated chocolate and keep chilled until ready to garnish tart.
- Tart will keep at room temperature up to 4 days; speckled cream may be made a day ahead.
*cook’s note : toast pecans while whole, then chop; if toasted in small pieces, those at the edge of the baking sheet may turn dark and bitter.