Chocolate Caramel Tart
This is a chocolate tart for fans of intense chocolate flavor. Paradoxically, I achieve this flavor by diluting the chocolate with caramel, which actually intensifies and darkens the flavor of the chocolate while adding a silky, smooth texture that chocolate on its own cannot match. So if you don’t tell your guests about the caramel, they’ll just say that this is the most decadently chocolatey dessert they’ve ever had. (See Notes: A little history of chocolate and chocolate labels.)
Storage: This tart is best if served the day it is made but will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 4 days.
Bain-marie is the French cooking term for a metal bowl or container that can sit over or in simmering water to keep the contents of the container or bowl hot—basically, a makeshift double boiler. Fill a pot large enough to hold a medium-sized mixing bowl on top with 1 inch of water and set over low heat. When the water is simmering, set the bowl on top of the pot. If you are using a bain-marie for a sabayon, simmer the water over medium-high heat.
A little history of chocolate and chocolate labels:
The cacao tree grows in tropical climates along the equator all over the world. There are historically three commonly known types of cacao trees: criollo, forastero, and trinitario. The criollo trees are a very small percentage of the trees grown in the world; they produce a superior, mellow, rich bean with fruity high notes. This cacao tree is susceptible to numerous diseases and is a challenge to grow. The second type, forastero, is a very hardy, reliable tree that produces 90 percent or more of the world ’s cocoa beans. These beans bear the flavor the average chocolate eater associates with most commercial chocolate. The trinitario is a hybrid of the other two, a hardier tree with a rich, fine, fruity-flavored bean. It produces less than 5 percent of the world’s cocoa beans. Today, each of these traditionally named types of trees has numerous varieties and strains, some of which have new names or twists on the old.
Harvesting Cacao Beans:
A cacao blossom, once successfully pollinated, takes about five to six months to become a mature fruit--a football--to ovalshaped squashlike pod with ridged skin, whose color varies wildly. Workers on the cacao plantations harvest the pods, crack them open, and pullout the sticky white fruit pulp that surrounds the beans. Ideally the farmer will allow the sweet white fruit pulp to ferment in lightly covered vessels until the pulp breaks down and bacteria-producing acid becomes rampant, leading to the death of the beans. Enzymatic reactions continue after the death of the beans, leaving a completely chemically transformed bean, in both flavor and appearance. Unfortunately, cacao pulp is sometimes not fermented at all, and when it is, the fermentation process is often randomly managed and poorly judged. The beans--well fermented, semifermented, and unfermented--are dried using various methods (some better for flavor development than others), including artificial heat, sun, and fire, and then examined for moisture content, bean texture, and color by cocoa-bean brokers who buy, rate, and distribute these dried beans.
Processing Cacao Beans:
Once the beans arrive in chocolate factories they are roasted and then crushed by machine. The crushing process fragments the beans and separates the dry husk from the nibs, a term used to describe the edible ground pieces of a roasted cacao bean. The nibs are then pulverized into chocolate liquor, the chocolate mass derived from the beans, containing both the naturally present cocoa butter and the nonfat cocoa solids.
At this point, flavoring is added to the chocolate liquor: sugar, vanilla, and powdered milk in the case of milk chocolate. This paste is passed between huge steel rollers that refine the mixture and reduce its particle size. The last process the mixture undergoes is called conching, named for a method and machine invented by Rodolphe Lindt. Having developed through the years with the advance of technology, today’s conching machine heats, kneads, and agitates the refined chocolate mixture until it is transformed into chocolate the rich dark, mellow, smooth viscous liquid that we all know and love. During the conching process, chocolate producers adjust the composition with added cocoa butter and lecithin, an emulsifier. The chocolate is then cooled and hardened into bars or small round coins, packaged, and shipped.
There are a number of terms used to describe various chocolate products on the market. What follows is a list of these terms, simple definitions, and some clarifications necessary to clear up some marketing misconceptions.
Chocolate Nibs--Nibs are crunchy, earthy, chopped-up bits of roasted cacao beans without any added sweeteners, flavorings, or processes. They are very popular among chefs today to add a crunch to the top of a chocolate dessert, confection, or bonbon or to add a crunchy, bitter chocolate note to a sweeter, creamier preparation.
Chocolate Liquor--This is the chocolate mass sometimes referred to as baking chocolate or bitter chocolate, produced by grinding the cocoa nibs.
99 Percent Chocolate, Unsweetened Chocolate--For some chocolate manufacturers, this chocolate differs from chocolate liquor because it has been conched, which adds a depth of flavor.
Natural Cocoa Powder--When chocolate liquor is compressed and squeezed at very high pressure, most of the cocoa butter melts off and you are left with cocoa powder with a light brown or tannish color. Cocoa powder still contains between 10 and 12 percent cocoa butter.
Alkalized Cocoa Powder--As a result of the fermentation process or lack of fermentation process, cocoa powder is naturally somewhat to very acidic. Often chocolate manufacturers treat cocoa powder with a mild alkali, such as potassium carbonate, to remove some of its acidic qualities. This process of making the cocoa powder more basic was invented by the Dutch and is often referred to as Dutch processed cocoa powder. Alkalization yields a darker, reddish-brown cocoa powder with a less acidic flavor. Some chocolate makers claim that “Dutching” the cocoa removes some of the more subtle flavors in chocolate.
Cocoa Butter--Cocoa butter is the fat that exists naturally in cocoa beans. The cocoa bean is made up of approximately 54 percent cocoa butter and 46 percent nonfat cocoa solid, depending on the origin of the bean and type of tree. Cocoa butter is extracted during cocoa powder production. In most cases, after the extraction process, cocoa butter is filtered and deodorized to remove any cocoa flavors, producing a uniform cocoa fat product. At room temperature it has a yellowish and opaque color, and it maintains an extremely hard and brittle consistency because it is high in saturated fatty acids. Unlike other saturated fats that are solid at room temperature and contain a broad mix of triglycerides with various melting points, cocoa butter contains a few types of triglycerides that have very similar melting points, just below body temperature. When cocoa butter approaches approximately 96°F it melts precipitously, providing the meltin-your-mouth sensation of chocolate. Cocoa butter is highly sought after and valued in the cosmetic industry, and chocolate processors, in search of profit, often sacrifice this essential fat and sell it.
Bittersweet Dark Chocolate--Bittersweet chocolate and semisweet dark chocolate differ from unsweetened chocolate in that they are always conched and contain varying amounts of sugar and, potentially, added cocoa butter. In the United States chocolate must contain a minimum of 36 percent chocolate liquor to be labeled as bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, and it may also contain small amounts of flavoring and emulsifiers.
Chocolate Couverture--Many European manufacturers make various chocolates that are labeled as chocolat couverture, a Swiss French term often translated to English as “chocolate coating.” The use of the word “coating” is misleading for American chocolate consumers. Couverture chocolate has a relatively high proportion of cocoa mass (cocoa solids and cocoa butter) to sugar. As a consequence, this type of chocolate is more easily used for coating and enrobing confections than are chocolates with higher percentages of sugar. For almost all the recipes in this book, I recommend couverture chocolate, with its higher percentage of cocoa solids and lower sugar content, because it has great flavor, a sharp snap as you bite into it, and a wonderful melt-in-your-mouth sensation.
Milk Chocolate--In America, milk chocolate must have a minimum of 10 percent chocolate liquor. Milk solids, sugar, cocoa butter, flavoring, and lecithin are also added to create the flavor we associate with milk chocolate. Some chocolate makers label milk chocolate as they do with bittersweet couverture. Valrhona’s Jivara milk chocolate is labeled as 41 percent. This means that the cocoa solids and the added cocoa butter make up 41 percent of the ingredients.
White Chocolate--White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, vanilla, sugar, and milk solids, and sometimes other fats are added as well.
Chocolate Coating or Confectionary Glaze--This substance looks like chocolate but contains a minimum amount of cocoa solids and little to no cocoa butter. Chocolate glaze contains other saturated fats (most commonly palm kernel oil) that mimic the lower-temperature properties of cocoa butter but can be melted at higher temperatures and can set without tempering. Chocolate coating is used by many bakeries, restaurants, and cookie and candy manufacturers because it is easier to work with and cheaper than using couverture chocolate. Chocolate glaze is often called confectionary coating because a product labeled as “chocolate,” even though it may contain cocoa solids, must, in America, contain cocoa butter as its only fat.
Gourmet Chocolate Labels:
The boom in high-quality chocolate in the last decade has produced a wealth of terminology, used to label and identify chocolates’ origins, types, and styles. It is important to understand these terms in order to distinguish between marketing labels designed to increase a sense of value and terminology that tells you something useful about the quality of the chocolate. You will notice that many of the terms are similar to those used in the wine industry. Chocolate, like wine, comes from a fruit and undergoes fermentation and then multiple ripening processes (drying, roasting, and conching) that further develop its flavor and character.
Today chocolate production has attracted artisan chocolate makers who take an intense interest in how cacao is grown, harvested, fermented, dried, roasted, and processed. They have coined the following terms in hopes of giving the consumer more information about the care and effort behind the choice and origin of a particular cacao bean, its fermentation process, and the formula for a particular bittersweet or semisweet chocolate.
Varietal Chocolate describes a particular type of cocoa tree: eriollo, forastero, trinitario. There are numerous varieties within each of these types of beans. For example, porcelana (often touted as a superior varietal) is a type of criollo from Venezuela; arriba, a type of forastero, is prized and commonly grown in Ecuador.
Estate Chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown on a single plantation, farm, or estate. The provenance is also very important to artisan chocolate makers because the care taken by workers at a given plantation or farm in growing, harvesting, and fermenting the beans from a specific genetic group of trees can be an integral element in good chocolate. A good example of a famous label that denotes high-quality beans from a small area of cooperative farms is Chuao, a small Venezuelan coastal plantation.
Single-Origin Chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown in a single region; for example, various parts of Venezuela, Hawaii, Ecuador, Ghana, Trinidad, Santo Domingo, Madagascar, and so forth. You see this type of labeling on Pralus and Debauve & Gallais chocolates.
Grand Cru Chocolate, a term that mimics wine terminology, was coined by the French chocolate maker Valrhona to identify a line of chocolate made from a blend of select cacao beans from specific regions and estates. For example, Grand Cru Guanaja 70% (Valrhona) is made from crlollo and trlnltarlo beans from South America and contains 70 percent cocoa solids. Amedei, an Italian chocolatier, makes a sample box of Grand Cru chocolates, each bar composed of a special blend from particular estates in certain regions. These special blends are chosen and mixed by the resident chocolate maker of a chocolate company.
Simple Percentages, such as 72%, 80%, 66%, explain what percentage of the chocolate bar is made up of cocoa mass (nonfat cocoa solids and cocoa butter). The remaining amount--28 percent, 20 percent, or 34 percent, respectively--refers to the amount of added sugar. Most chocolate makers add a small amount of extra cocoa butter (more than what is naturally present in the chocolate liquor) to their chocolate in order to achieve a desired consistency. The percentages listed on the labels do not tell you how much cocoa butter there is in relation to cocoa solids.
Some companies such as ScharffenBerger simply describe the chocolate as bittersweet or semisweet with the percentage following. Although ScharffenBerger chooses not to label its chocolate Grand Cru, the company blends various types of beans from regions and select growers all along the equator to make chocolate with distinct flavor characteristics that the chocolate maker desires.
Organic Chocolate is a label of uncertain usefulness. In practice, 80 percent of cocoa beans from around the equator are grown organically, that is, without costly pesticides, on small, Third World, economically challenged farms with diverse flora and fauna. Yet most chocolates are not labeled as “organic.” How these beans are transported, processed, and overseen ultimately determines their organic status and whether the term can be used in marketing the final product.
Organic certification of cocoa beans and, thus, chocolate- differs from one international organization to another, each independently and without coordination of the overseas growing, harvesting, and transportation practices in almost thirty nations worldwide. Some organic labels simply verify that cacao is grown and processed without pesticides, while others indicate land sustainability, support for native communities, and job sustainability in the Third World.
Simply put, the term “organic” can indicate such a wide variety of provenances and processes that it does not in any way guarantee that you’re getting quality chocolate grown in an environmentally friendly way.
Ultimately, good chocolate begins with well-maintained trees whose beans are harvested, well fermented, and dried with great concentration and care. In the process, these beans undergo multiple ripening processes controlled by expert chocolate makers who not only master the complexities of the numerous machines that roast, chop, blend, compress, and conch, but also continually taste and select cacao beans from around the world. Whether or not the beans are “organic,” the care taken in processing is what’s most important. The bottom line for you as a consumer, then, is that you should taste what you buy.
What Chocolate Should You Use for Baking?
I bake with good-quality couverture chocolate. Most of the dark chocolate I use has a minimum of 60 percent cocoa solids and a maximum of 72 percent, except when I recommend the addition of unsweetened chocolate, which is generally 99 to 100 percent cocoa solids.
The best way to select a chocolate is to sit down and taste a few bars from different chocolate makers. Decide what flavors and qualities you like or dislike. ScharffenBerger, Valrhona, Pralus, and Cluizel are some of my favorites. Also consider some bars of Lindt, Callebaut, and Guittard.
Total Timeunder 4 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party
Dietary Considerationhalal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, vegetarian
Equipmentelectric mixer, food processor
Taste and Texturechocolatey, creamy, nutty, rich, sweet
Type of Dishchocolate dessert, dessert, tart
Prepare and bake the Sweet Tart crust or Hazelnut Crust.
Make the caramel cream (see the Note on cooking caramel successfully):
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, ¼ cup water, and a pinch of cream of tartar or a drop of lemon juice. Cover and bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 1 minute, uncover, and continue to cook until the sugar caramelizes and becomes a deep, golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the cream (the mixture will bubble and steam furiously). When the bubbling has subsided, return the pan to the heat and whisk the mixture until it comes to a rolling boil. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Emulsify the chocolate with the caramel cream and the eggs:
In the bowl of a bain-marie, combine the chocolate and butter and stir occasionally with a rubber spatula until melted, about 10 minutes. The subtle texture and flavor of this custard rely on keeping the chocolate mixture from becoming too hot. Test the chocolate mixture with your finger as it melts in the bain-marie; if it hurts your finger, the chocolate is too hot. While the chocolate is melting, combine the egg yolks and whole egg in a metal bowl and whisk vigorously until they lighten in color a bit, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the caramel cream to the eggs, whisking constantly until completely incorporated. Slowly add the chocolate mixture to the caramel mixture, whisking continuously. The batter should be shiny and smooth, and hold the lines of the whisk.
Bake the tart:
Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell and bake on a cookie tray until the top is shiny and smooth and the center is set, about 30 minutes. To test if the custard is done, gently touch the surface toward the center of the tart. If the custard is still partially liquid and it glazes your finger, bake for an additional 5 minutes. Do not let the filling rise; if it begins to rise, you will end up with a denser tart. Allow the tart to cool for ½ hour on a wire rack before removing it from the metal tart ring.
This tart tastes best served at room temperature or slightly warm. It can be served with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. I also recommend the Espresso Ice Cream or the Cinnamon Caramel Mousse.
2006 Kate Zuckerman