img_9840.jpgfrom Baking: From My Home to Yours, pp. 355-57.

A severe rain-and-wind storm diminished my dinner party this weekend almost by half. I had spent all day cooking happily in preparation for two couples and four youngesters. The pork butt slathered with achiote paste, garlic, ground toasted cumin seeds, and a minced dried chipotle chili was nearly finished braising in the slow-cooker (explanation for using that in another posting). I had made the raw kale and ricotta salata salad, beans, guacamole, and TWO of these tarts. In the end, the car of three of my guests made no headway against the wind gusts over the causeway separating me from Davis.

This was the third time I’ve made this recipe. I believe I have got the hang of the caramel. Actually, making a double batch of it taught me more than another time of making a single batch. I’m glad it worked out this way.

By the way, you might think this would be more elegant with nuts other than the ones Dorrie recommends — Trader Joe’s Honey-Roasted Peanuts — and you’d be right. But the result would be so much less delicious. It must be the slightly sweet and sour effect of the combination.

Dorrie’s version reads like this:

For the caramel :

scant 1/2 c heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar, sifted

1 T light corn syrup

2 T salted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

Pinch of salt if you are not using salted butter

For the ganache:

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 cup plus 2 T heavy cream

1/2 stick (4 T) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

3/4 c honey-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1 9-inch tart shell, fully baked and cooled (the Good-for-Almost-Everything Pie Dough works well)

Getting ready: Because you have to work quickly once the sugar caramelizes, you should have all the ingredients for the caramel measured oout and at hand before you start. Also have a medium heatproof bowl at hand to hold the hot caramel.

To make the caramel: Bring the heavy cream to a boil.

Meanwhile, put a medium skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat and sprinkle in about 3 T of the sugar. When it melts, stir it with a wooden spatula or a fork and sprinkle over another 3 T. When that sugar is melted, add the remaining 2 T sugar — the sugar in the pan may already have started to color, and that’s fine. Stir in the corn syrup and boil the syrup until it reaches a deep caramel color — it will probably begin to smoke, and that’s normal.

Stand back from the skillet and stir in the butter and salt, if you’re using it. The caramel will bubble furiously and may spatter, so make sure you’re away from the action. When the butter is in, add the warm cream — the caramel will bubble furiously again. Lower the temperature just a tad and let the caramel boil for just 2 mins. (If you want to check on a thermometer, the caramel should be at 226 degrees F.).

Pour the seethin caramel into the heatproof bowl and set it aside while you make the ganache.

To make the ganache: Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and have a whisk or a rubber spatula at hand.

Bring the cream to a boil, then pour half of it over the chocolate and let it sit for 30 secons. Working with the whisk or spatula, very gently stir the chocolate and cream together in small circles, starting at the center of the bowl and working your way out in increasingly larger concentric circles. Pour in the remainder of the cream and blend it into the chocolate, using the same circular motion. When the ganache is smooth and shiny, stir in the butter piece by piece. Don’t stir the ganache any more than you must to blen the ingredients — the less you work it, the darker, smoother and shinier it will be.

Cover the ganache with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the surface of the chocolate to create an airtight seal. Set aside at room temperature for the moment. (If it’s more convenient, the ganache can be refrigerated or even frozen for future use.)

To assemble the tart: Using a small rubber spatula, stir the peanuts into the caramel. If the caramel has cooled and is too thick to spread easily, gently warm it in a microwave oven using 3-second heat spurts. (Or you can just hold the heatproof bowl about 10 inches above the burner on your range — keep it over the heat for a couple of seconds, then check the caramel’s consistency and repeat if necessary.)

Spread the caramel over the bottom of the tart shell; you’ll have a thin layer. refrigerate the tart for 15 minutes to set the caramel.

Check the ganache. If it has thickened and is no longer pourable, warm it in 3-second spurts in a microwave oven or over direct heat (see the hints for warming caramel, above). Rap the bowl to break any surface bubbles, pour the ganache over the caramel and jiggle the tart pan to even it.

Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes — no longer — then keep it at room temperature until serving time.

How I’ve adapted it:

Since I got rid of my microwave, I’ve had to adjust to reheating food the old-fashioned way. When I made this tart yesterday, I started it after I had baked a loaf of bread. The warm oven was perfect for keeping the caramel and the ganache pourable. From now on, I plan to keep a heated oven to 200 degrees F .

Valrhona chocolate is the only kind I use now. I’ve tried all the other designer ones (Dagoba, etc) and I just keep coming back to this one.

Regarding the pan to make the caramel in, every time I have used my cheap IKEA $6 nonstick wok. The trick is to control the heat under the pan. I err on the side of keeping the flame lower than it need be.

Also, Dorrie recommends a sweet pie dough. I followed her advice once and decided to use the Good-for-Practically-Everything Pie Dough, which I’ve already posted here.

Caramel, I’ve decided, requires patience. Don’t try to melt the sugar too quickly. Prod the sugar on to the melting point gently. Once I learned how to control the heat and the speed of melting, making caramel seemed easy. But boy is it hot. I’ve never bothered to check the temperature of the caramel, because by the end of the process the sauce seethed so furiously it was hard to imagine that it wasn’t at the proper temperature.

Each time, I’ve chopped the chocolate before I start the whole process. It always takes longer than I expect. Having it already chopped by the time I start the caramel reduces the time that the caramel has to stay warm. I can’t say understand Dorrie’s point about not over-stirring the cream into the chocolate. I stir until it’s incorporated and no more. When the chocolate and the cream have blended, I put the bowl in the warmed oven until I’m ready to pour it into the pie shell.

From here on out, it’s just a matter of pouring.

Last thoughts: This tart demands being served at room temperature — but it ain’t bad cold either. In fact, I took the accompanying photo of the tart when it was cold. At room temperature, the chocolate is darker and looks denser. But when it’s cold, it’s easy to cut up into small pieces, which is exactly what I’m going to do tomorrow to the second uneaten tart before taking it into the department to share.

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