Dark, Cold, and Sweet: February Meets Chocolate, a Valentine Treat
Yes, the days are definitely getting longer, but they are also a whole lot colder. Nighttime hits hard. We’ve been doing a lot of hunkering down, staying home, and cooking. No complaints from me. This is one of the great winter activities. But I have been having trouble almost every night around 7 p.m. when I get this overwhelming craving, like a force sweeping over me, to eat something sweet. Well, not just anything sweet. Chocolate. It must be chocolate.
I try to ignore it. I really do. I focus on work or watch a good movie, but like most addictions it invades my psyche. Most nights I simply give in by eating a few good quality chocolate chips or a square of excellent dark or bittersweet chocolate. I have finally become a chocolate grown up and given up my lust for milk chocolate. It took years, and trying all kinds of chocolate to realize that to truly taste the quality of cocoa you must eat it without the addition of dairy. Bittersweet, semi-sweet, or dark is the way to go!
Last week my craving was even more specific: I wanted, no I needed dark chocolate, preferably highlighted with some really good sea salt. (Chocolate and sea salt are very good friends. They bring out the best in each other. If you don’t believe me just try the two together.) Rather than fight, I gave in, and set out to bake a chocolate tart sprinkled with Maine sea salt. If you don’t know about the relationship between good chocolate and sea salt this tart is a great introduction.
Late night cravings and last minute guests are the two best reasons for having a well-stocked pantry. I found a bag of amaretti cookies (you know those Italian almond cookies individually wrapped in tissue paper) that someone brought us last year and we never got around to eating. I decided those crunchy sweet cookies would make an exceptional crust. I rummaged further through the pantry and discovered a bar of 60% cocoa chocolate from Bryne and Carlson, one of my favorite local chocolate makers with shops in Kittery, Maine, and Portsmouth, N.H. (I suspect my husband, John, somewhat alarmed at this February chocolate frenzy of mine, hid the coveted bar in the far reaches of the pantry.) And then, I discovered a jar of Maine sea salt (made in Marshfield, Maine) with its wonderful, coarse, briny full flavor.
A few hours later I cut thin slivers of the tart and sat down in front of the fire. “Where did you get this chocolate?” John asked innocently? “Shut up and taste it,” I told him, cutting him a slice just slightly larger than mine. He didn’t say another word, until he got around to asking for seconds.
Rich Dark Chocolate Tart with Maine Sea Salt
For this tart you make a simple crust by crushing Amaretti cookies (those wonderful crunchy Italian almond cookies that come in individual colorful wrappers) and mixing them with a touch of sugar and melted butter and lining a French tart pan. The filling is like a chocolate mousse—good bittersweet chocolate, cream, eggs, vanilla and sea salt. What I love about the tart is that the filing has no sugar -- it’s all about honoring the chocolate and the balance of the sea salt.
Serve the tart in thin slices with hot chocolate (sure, why not, it’s still February) dark coffee, or top it with vanilla-scented whipped cream, frozen yogurt, or ice cream.
The tart makes a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift for someone you love. Even if they are the type who would hide chocolate from you.
Plan on letting the tart cool for at least one hour and up to 12 hours.
1 cup ground Amaretti cookies*
5 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar**
The Chocolate and Sea Salt Filling:
1 ½ cups heavy cream
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (65% cocoa), well chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon good sea salt, see head note, plus some for sprinkling on top
*You’ll need about 20 cookies, depending on the brand and the size. Place the cookies in a food processor or blender and blend until finely ground. You can also place them in a tightly sealed plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin until finely ground. You could also substitute with graham crackers, or chocolate graham crackers.
**I don’t like the pie too sweet. If you like a sweeter crust you can add another tablespoon or two of sugar, but the cookies are awfully sweet.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl mix the crushed cookies, the melted butter and the sugar. Press the crust into a 9-inch round fluted tart pan (with a removable bottom). You can also make this in a regular pie plate but it looses some of its sex appeal! Press the crust into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
Bake on the middle shelf for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile place the cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
Place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Pour the hot cream on top and stir steadily, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
In a separate bowl whisk the eggs, vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt until frothy. Add the whisked egg mixture to the chocolate mixture. Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake on the middle shelf for about 25 to 28 minutes. To test for doneness: gently shake the tart and if the middle wobbles a little (and still appears undercooked) but the sides seems solid it is perfect. The tart will continue to cook when it’s removed from the oven and will firm up when cooking.
Remove from the oven and, while the tart is still warm, sprinkle with about ½ teaspoon of the salt, very gently pressing it into the chocolate if it doesn’t seem to adhere. Let the tart cool for 1 hour. Some claim the tart is best served after that hour of cooling, but I like it best after it’s been covered and placed in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight. Serves 6. Or serves 2 for breakfast, lunch and dinner.