Chocolate for your sweetie-pie

A perfect chocolate sweet for this season, when the cool weather makes baking a pleasure, is a tartlet.

chocolate tart 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
chocolate tart 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gift boxes of chocolate have become favorites for celebrating Valentine's Day or expressing love at any time. But a homemade chocolate dessert is the ultimate treat, because of the care you put into making every little morsel. Serve it to someone you really want to please, since you shaped and baked this dessert just for him or for her. A perfect chocolate sweet for this season, when the cool weather makes baking a pleasure, is a tartlet. This sort of petite pie makes a lovely portion for dessert or for afternoon or evening coffee or tea. Tartlets are usually round or boat shaped, but tartlet pans also come in other decorative forms, such as hearts and diamonds. The most luxurious chocolate tartlets I have tasted have a filling of ganache, a blend of chocolate and cream - the same mixture that is used to make chocolate truffles. It's like having a miniature tart and a luscious truffle all in one. When I studied at Le Notre's school for professional pastry chefs in Plaisir, France (near Paris), my teacher, master chef Joel Bellouet, emphasized that there are many ways to flavor ganache, from coffee to caramel to rum to cognac to passion-fruit juice, and any of these can be used to fill tartlets. In his book, La Patisserie - Tradition et Evolution, he presents a new take on traditional French chestnut barquettes (boat-shaped pastries) by adding a layer of creamy chocolate ganache. Using chocolate ganache means that you don't have to bake the filling. Once the chocolate has been blended with hot cream, your ganache is done. You can bake the tartlet shells and keep them in your freezer, making your chocolate tartlets quick to assemble. Thaw the number of pastry shells you need on the day you want to celebrate with a special sweet, and fill them with ganache. Top with a delicate garnish of a few toasted pine nuts, cashew nuts or toasted pistachios, and your beautiful treat is ready. EXOTIC CHOCOLATE TARTLETS Serve these tartlets, with their ganache filling scented with orange flower water and topped with pine nuts (or pistachios, as in the variation), for a special occasion. Make them round, or if you like, use small decorative heart-, diamond-shaped or boat-shaped tartlet molds. The flavor and texture of the tartlets are far better when made with the homemade sweet, buttery pastry below but you can substitute purchased pie pastry or puff pastry if you want to make the tartlets quickly. In that case, add 2 tablespoons sugar to the hot cream when making the filling if your pastry is an unsweetened kind. The shaped unbaked tartlets below can be kept, covered, up to one day in the refrigerator; or they can be frozen. The baked tartlets can also be frozen; keep them in a box so they won't crumble in the freezer. You can keep the filled tartlets, covered, up to two days in the refrigerator. SWEET PASTRY OR RICH SWEET PASTRY (see recipes below) 2 Tbsp. pine nuts 355 gr. fine quality semi sweet chocolate, chopped 11⁄4 cups heavy cream About 6 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. orange flower water, or to taste Be sure dough is well chilled before rolling it. Butter 16 round fluted 7.5-cm. tartlet pans. Let 1 portion of dough soften 1 minute at room temperature before rolling it. Set dough on a cold, lightly floured surface. Tap it firmly with a heavy rolling pin several times to flatten it. Roll it out, flouring often and working as quickly as possible, until it is slightly less than 6 mm. thick. Set 4 or 5 tartlet pans next to each other. Roll up dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll it over pans. With a small ball of dough dipped in flour, gently press dough into tartlet pans. Roll rolling pin across pans to cut off dough at edges. With your finger and thumb, press up edge of dough all around each pan so it extends slightly above rim. Prick dough all over with a fork. Cover lined pans and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Refrigerate scraps about 1 hour. Roll remaining dough and scraps and line remaining tartlet pans. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 200º. Line each tartlet shell with parchment paper or foil and fill paper with dried beans or pie weights. Set tartlet shells on a baking sheet and bake about 10 minutes or until set and beginning to brown. Reduce oven temperature to 190º. Remove paper and beans and continue baking about 5 minutes or until light brown. Cool slightly on a rack; remove shells carefully from pans and cool completely on rack. Toast pine nuts in a shallow baking pan in oven 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cool. Put chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a full boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Pour cream over chocolate all at once. Stir with a whisk until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth. Cool to room temperature. Whisk in 5 tablespoons orange flower water. Taste and add remaining orange flower water if desired. (It may seem like a large amount but it needs to stand up to the taste of the chocolate.) Spoon about 2 tablespoons ganache into each tartlet. Put 3 or 4 lightly toasted pine nuts in center of each. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until filling sets. Serve at room temperature. Makes sixteen 7.5-cm. tartlets. NOTES: a. If you have only 8 tartlet pans, line them, bake them and repeat. b. If you prefer, weight pastry by placing another tartlet pan inside each lined pan, instead of using paper and pie weights; remove inside tartlet pan after first baking period. Variations: a) Substitute pure vanilla extract, adding it gradually by teaspoons to taste, for the orange flower water. b) Chopped unsalted pistachios can be substituted for pine nuts. SWEET PASTRY This cookie-like dough, known in French as pâte sucrée, is delicious and sweet, and is my favorite type for tartlets and fruit tarts, especially those with creamy fillings. The Rich Sweet Pastry in the variation is more delicate in texture, but the Sweet Pastry in the main recipe is easier to roll out. If you've never baked tartlets before, make the Sweet Pastry the first time, and later "graduate" to the Rich Sweet Pastry. You can keep either dough for 2 days in the refrigerator. 11⁄4 cups all purpose flour 1⁄4 cup cake flour 7 Tbsp. sugar 1⁄4 tsp. salt 110 gr. (1⁄2 cup) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into bits 1 large egg, lightly beaten grated zest of 1⁄2 orange To make pastry in a food processor: Combine both types flour, sugar, grated orange zest and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process briefly to blend. Scatter butter pieces over mixture. Mix using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour egg evenly over mixture in processor. Process with on/off turns, scraping down occasionally, until dough forms sticky crumbs that can easily be pressed together but does not come together in a ball. Transfer dough to a work surface. To make pastry by hand: Sift both types flour onto a work surface and make a well in center. Add egg, sugar, grated orange zest and salt and mix them using your fingertips. Pound butter to soften it and cut it in pieces. Add it to well and quickly mix with other ingredients in well until partially mixed. Gradually draw in flour to make coarse crumbs. Toss mixture, rubbing it between your fingers, until crumbs begin to stick together. Blend dough further by pushing about 1⁄4 of it away from you and smearing it with heel of your hand against work surf ace. Repeat with remaining dough in 3 batches. Repeat with each batch if dough is not yet well blended. Using a rubber spatula, transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap it and push it together. For making tartlets, divide dough in two portions and wrap each separately, shaping it in a flat disc square. Refrigerate dough at least 4 hours before using. Makes sixteen 7.5-cm. tartlets, a 23-cm. square or 25-cm. round tart. Rich Sweet Pastry: Substitute 3 large egg yolks for egg. Reduce sugar amount to 6 tablespoons. Substitute 11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour for combination of flours. If dough crumbs are too dry to cling together, sprinkle with ice water, 1⁄2 teaspoon at a time, until dough is moist enough to form sticky crumbs. Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Sefer Ha'ugot (The Book of Cakes) published by R. Sirkis.